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Preps

One screams, one soothes; it's a winning combination

In two seasons at Cambridge, coach Karim Nohra, assistant Tommy Jones and the Lancers have done nothing but win.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003


TAMPA -- Cambridge assistant coach Tommy Jones knows something about head coach Karim Nohra that many people don't: He's not a raging lunatic. Really, he's not.

There's more to Nohra than the high-pitched screaming, stomping fits, rolling eyes and flailing arms. The people who giggle nervously and stare from the stands don't know the real Nohra, the Nohra that Jones knows, the Nohra that the players adore.

"When I first saw him, I thought, 'This dude is wild,"' said Jones, who was coaching at Tampa Prep at the time while Nohra was coaching Tampa Catholic.

It didn't take long for Jones to steal some of Nohra's plays, some of which he thought were "basketball heresy" but nonetheless brilliant. Soon after, Jones joined Nohra at Tampa Catholic.

Five years later, the two are inseparable, and for good reason. They might be the most successful duo to ever coach girls basketball in the area, even after switching from Tampa Catholic to a much smaller, younger Class A team at Cambridge two years ago.

Since their arrival at Cambridge, the Lancers are 22-0 in district play, and with a 30-3 record this season, the team has perhaps the best shot of any in the area to advance to the state final four. It's a credit to the coaching style of Nohra and Jones, who start an eight-grader, a freshman and a sophomore.

"Fire and Ice," is what Nohra, who teaches engineering at the University of South Florida, likes to call his pairing with Jones.

"I chew and he soothes," he said. "Of course, the girls know I'm chewing for their own good."

But when they don't, and Nohra's screaming pushes one of his girls to the brink of tears, Jones is there to mend the wounds. When Nohra is extreme, Jones steps in to calm the situation.

Where 45-year-old Nohra demands professionalism and perfection from a group of teenage girls, 38-year-old Jones studies up on popular TV shows American Idol and The Bachelorette so he can gossip with them on the bus.

"The irony," Jones said, "is that when I get myself into a game, and I get caught up and start yelling, he'll take my role and comfort the girls. We're on cue."

The system has worked wonders for the Lancers.

It has helped senior forward Lauren Pawlowski become the steady, all-purpose captain. It has helped 6-foot-3 junior Betsy Brown develop into a blocking machine with a soft shooting touch.

It has helped senior guard Lindsey Samilian become a tough, hard-nosed player who can handle any defensive assignment. It has helped lanky freshman Stephanie Grace become a strong long-range shooter who Nohra considers to be "sort of the spy" when the team throws on the press.

It has even helped eighth-grader Alexis Walker become the team's most fearless driver to the basket. She has bought into the system the most, Nohra said, though she came to the Lancers "with a lot of street ball in her."

The Lancers have several players, such as junior Candace Marie Williams and seventh-grader Caitlin DeBoer, who constantly rotate in and out of the game. They've all contributed to the success of the Lancers, who travel to Community School of Naples on Tuesday for their region semifinal.

"I feel these girls would go to the end of the Earth to be successful," Nohra said. "When you lead an army, you want your soldiers to die for you. I think these girls would die for Tommy and I."

Die?

"I try to tell them it's just a game, it's just like practice, and say a lot of things like that," Jones said. "You want them to feel at ease."

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