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Citrus no stranger to Orlando Jones

Hurricanes have Tiger by the tail, players say.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 4, 2003

The question was simple. The answer direct.

Have you faced a team as talented as Orlando Jones?

"No way," Citrus forward Joel Miller said. "They have speed, they have size, they have everything you can ask for."

The Hurricanes have watched the fourth-ranked Tigers in person (they played in the same holiday tournament) and on tape. At 7:30 tonight in Orlando, they will be up close and personal with what might be Class 3A's most talented squad.

"They have the whole package," Citrus coach Jimmy Thomas said.

The 'Canes (26-2) advanced to the regional semifinal with a 55-51 win over defending state champion St. Augustine Nease. Jones (26-5) beat South Sumter 80-50.

The Tigers are known for their athleticism. They are led by 6-foot-4 shooting guard Travis Aikens, who coach Jerry Howard calls a Division I prospect. Small forward Bernard Morris signed to play quarterback at Marshall. Jones' sixth man, point guard Jermaine Jefferson, will play baseball at Central Florida.

"We're well-balanced," Howard said. "Aikens is our go-to guy, but on any given night anybody can step up. And on any given night, we've had two or three step up."

As many as 15 Tigers see floor time. Four were starters last season.

"They really believe in themselves now," Howard said. "They've got some experience."

Howard, in his third year, led Eatonville Wymore to seven final four appearances in 11 seasons and a Class A state championship in 1990.

Jones plays in Orlando's Metro Conference, which includes Class 6A-No. 1 Orlando Edgewater and 6A-No. 6 Orlando Boone. The Tigers had three straight losses and fell to 3A-No. 1 Eustis by a point.

"It definitely helps when you play in the Metro," Howard said. "Night in and night out, you've got to be ready to play."

Citrus has not lost in more than a month. Its only defeats are to 3A Wesley Chapel and 4A Ridgewood, both ranked and alive in the playoffs. The win over Nease was Citrus' first in the postseason in 42 years.

Controlling the tempo will be crucial to the Hurricanes' success. Orlando Jones likes to run and gun on offense and press from end to end on defense. Citrus normally plays at a quick pace, but not tonight.

"They're big and pretty quick," 'Canes guard Jamaal Galloway said. "We're just going to slow it down. We don't want to get into a running match with them. We've just got to play like we're capable of playing."

A victory would move Citrus to within a game of the final four. "Our kids have been ready for this all year long," Thomas said.

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