Since the re-opening of historic Blake High School in 1997 there has never been a basketball state title winner. The Yellow Jackets have an opportunity to take a first step toward changing that tomorrow in a 4A state semifinal game versus Leesburg. The teams will tip-off at 2:30 p.m.
Winston Davis wants this state title. He has seen his fair share of losing in his 27 years as a head coach of boys basketball in Hillsborough County. The former Blake student (‘68-‘70), spent 17 years coaching at East Bay and the last ten at Blake. The farthest his teams have advanced was last year when the Yellow Jackets lost in the regional semifinals. Asked if he is focused like never before because of this rare chance or if he was thoroughly enjoying the run, he said, “We made it. We want to win it, so you got to focus. We did enjoy being here in this position, but we have to focus now. Finish the mission.”
He has taken steps to ensure that focus. The team practiced briefly on Wednesday before heading to the Lakeland Center to watch Tampa Prep in their semifinal, so that his team could get a feel for the venue before their scheduled game. On Thursday they headed to the Sun Dome on the University of South Florida campus so they could actually practice in an environment with a more spacious shooting background than their own gym.
The fight on the court for the right to play for a state championship on Saturday is secondary to the fight Davis wages against cancer. He had a tumor removed via brain surgery on November 4. He received a “radiation treatment” just last month. Davis did not miss a game. He has slowed a bit, but still fills the heads of his assistant coaches, Charles Smith and Marlin Steward , with advice and expertise.
Smith calls the plays and is all over the place on the sideline while Davis sits. Steward proffers advice to individual players during practice and the games.
Indeed, Davis rarely rises during a game, leaving the play calling to Smith. Davis comes under another watchful eye. “I have an assistant coach who makes me sit down. My sister. She sits behind the bench, ..makes sure I stay under control.”
Blake does have an Athletic Director who knows about state title runs. Jesse Salters was a senior forward on the 1990 Chamberlain squad that reached the state final before losing to Miami Senior. Asked if this Blake squad had the same ingredients as that team, he said, “Definitely, ..the never say die attitude. If the entire team comes ready to play every night, we put ourselves in a position to win [it all].”
“With everything that coach Davis has gone through, and he’s still fighting and he’s still on that sideline, the guys can see that, and not only do they want to win it for themselves, they want to win it for him.”
The venerable members of Blake’s alumni remember the pride of the historic segregated school that originally opened in 1956, and come out in droves to support their athletic programs. Indeed, the median age of attendance at the playoff games Blake hosted fell somewhere in the low 40’s even counting the students that came. After nearly 500 made the trip south to Ft. Myers last Saturday for the regional final, that number is expected to double on Friday and triple on Saturday if Blake plays for a state championship.
BLAKE YELLOW JACKETS 2010-11 Varsity Basketball Team
#32 Xavier Alston – Sr.
#23 Quintin Brewer – Sr.
#25 Brandon Channer – Jr.
#22 Curtis Fountain – Sr.
#10 Wendell Harris – Soph.
#5 Joe Morris – Sr.
#33 Clarence Peterson – Jr.
#3 Andre Smith – Sr.
#35 Chris Thompson – Sr.
#21 D’Shea Williams – Fr.