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Spartans' quest complete

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2002

LAKELAND -- It took 25 years, and some painful losses in the state finals along the way, but coach Dan Wright is finally bringing a championship trophy back to "The Wood".

LAKELAND -- It took 25 years, and some painful losses in the state finals along the way, but coach Dan Wright is finally bringing a championship trophy back to "The Wood".

"So this is what it feels like," a smiling Wright said moments after his Lakewood Spartans completed one of the greatest seasons in Pinellas County history with a 59-52 win against Belle Glade Glades Central on Saturday in front of 4,091 fans at the Lakeland Center.

The win, it's 20th in a row, gives Lakewood the Class 4A state championship, the first boys basketball title in school history. It finished with 33 wins and two losses -- one to a team ranked No. 1 in the country at the time and a second that it avenged in the regional finals.

"Coach wanted to turn the program into a national power and I think he's done it," said forward Marcus Morrison, who scored all 10 of his points in the first half.

The Spartans got another great all-around performance from guard Kevin Dorsey (23 points), point guard Maurice Robinson (seven rebounds), center Brian Ligon (12 points, nine rebounds), Kory Crumbley and a bench that played a pivotal role.

Lakewood's championship is the first in boys basketball for Pinellas County since Boca Ciega in 1994.

For Wright, it's his first title after failing in four previous trips to the state tournament.

"I think he can take a deep breath now," said Morrison, who also had nine rebounds. "He can say we finally won one. I think he downplayed it a little bit, but him and Coach McGee and Coach Lat (Dwight Latimore), they'll be talking about this for years to come. I know it."

The Spartans trailed only once (6-5) before putting together one of their only runs, a 15-4 burst in which Dorsey scored seven points and Morrison had a pair of putbacks.

But Glades Central (27-8) never let Lakewood get too far ahead. The Spartans' biggest lead was 12 points in the second quarter before the Raiders chipped away.

Sam Tarver, who finished with a game-high 35 points, scored consecutive baskets to pull Glades Central within 48-45 heading into the fourth quarter.

Flummoxed by the Raiders' press, the Spartans could not take advantage of two steals and a block by Ligon on consecutive possessions, turning the ball over or missing a layup each time. A pair of Jermaine Frederick free throws pulled the Raiders within 50-49 with 4 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.

Pushed by Glades Central, Lakewood did what is always seems to do -- it shoved back. Dorsey cooly drilled a 3-pointer seconds later and then found Ligon under the basket for a layup.

"They came out in the second half with a zone press and we played sloppily through it, but did what we had to do to get through it," Dorsey said.

Once they did, the Raiders couldn't answer, missing five 3-point attempts in the final three minutes. A basket at the buzzer was only the second of the quarter for the Raiders, who shot 0-for-14 from beyond the arc in the game.

Including the win against Leesburg in the semifinals, the Spartans allowed only five baskets in the fourth quarter, and two of those were uncontested.

"Defensively, we were good," Wright said.

Wright also had to dig deep into his bench, even calling on seldom-used Mike Brown, and at one time playing a lineup composed of four reserves and Dorsey. Freshman Sean Morrison had seven rebounds off the bench, and Theodric Watson had a key rebound and took a charge for the Spartans.

As the final horn sounded, Wright was embraced by his assistant coaches, his players took turns mugging for the television cameras, and Brown leapt into the arms of best friend Marcus Morrison.

After the team received its medals and trophy, the greatest team in Lakewood basketball history met one last time at center court, huddling beneath their raised arms as Wright smiled and told his players something he has been waiting to say for years:

"Guys, we got one."

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