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Top teams eager for postseason tuneup

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 11, 2002

TAMPA -- It's that time in the season when most public school teams grow weary of playing game after game against county opponents. One night, they get a test, the next night, it's a blowout with most of the starters resting.

Momentum, not to mention preparation for the postseason, is a hard thing to come by under these conditions.

This weekend's Tampa Roundball Classic comes at just the right time for four of Hillsborough County's top boys squads.

Wharton, Plant, Jefferson and Brandon get a chance to compete against some of the best teams in the state in the 10-team Classic, which begins at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tampa Catholic.

The break comes at a perfect time for those four teams, who join the host Crusaders to fill out the county side of the field.

"It's a great thing for all of the teams involved," Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said. "It benefits everybody and gives you a taste of what to expect if you are able to play beyond the district tournament."

Tonelli's Wildcats are 11-5 after a loss to Leto on Monday and will look to recover with their 3:30 p.m. game against East Lake.

Tonelli said the level of competition and the intensity associated with a game against a non-county opponent provides a good chance to get back on track.

"It can give you a lot of confidence if you're able to beat a quality team," he said. "If you can come out with a win, it definitely gives you the confidence that you can not only beat a quality opponent, but also an out-of-county team. That's something you don't always have the chance to do."

Brandon, ranked No. 5 in Class 4A, will take on Lake Howell in the opening game. Wharton plays at 3:30 followed by Plant and its four 1,000-point scorers versus Class A No. 2-ranked Miami Christian at 5, a game many are calling the game of the day. Tampa Catholic takes on rival St. Petersburg Catholic for the only time this season at 6:30 and Jefferson will play the Pendleton School from Bradenton, a late addition invited to the field when Lakeland Kathleen withdrew Tuesday.

"That's too bad," Jefferson assistant Henry Washington Jr. said. "We were looking forward to playing Kathleen. We wanted to see how we matched up."

The Kathleen-Jefferson game was to pair the No. 6-ranked Dragons with the top-ranked Red Devils, but Kathleen was forced to withdraw from the Roundball Classic and a tournament in Edgewater later in the month after scheduling too many games this season.

Ironically, Pendleton, which is 12-3 in its first season of FHSAA-sanctioned play, was tabbed to replace Kathleen in the Edgewater tournament as well.

Pendleton, which is associated with the Bollettieri Academy, played Wharton earlier this season. It led 17-2 in the first quarter before losing by 10. Among the players it will bring are former Blake standout Renaldo Balkman and former Orlando Dr. Phillips star Patrick Beck.

"Obviously, we're a little disappointed Kathleen is not coming in," Tampa Catholic coach Don Dziagwa said. "They're a quality program. They kind of threw me for loop (Tuesday) but it should be a good day of basketball."

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