LAKELAND - Forgive Admiral Farragut coach Mike Wells for not wanting to dredge up one of the toughest moments of his 26-year coaching career just minutes after the best moment.
Last season the Blue Jackets led in the Class A state semifinal, seconds from their first state title game, when a last-second steal and layup resulted in a one-point loss.
"Can we talk about something else?" said Wells, his players seated around him, laughing nervously. "I forgot about last year."
There was plenty else to talk about Saturday afternoon after third-ranked Admiral Farragut's 66-57 win over No. 9 Delray Beach American Heritage in the Class 2A state championship.
But the seeds of the Blue Jackets' first championship in three trips to state were sown in that 2003 loss. It was the school's coach, a veteran of 20 years of leading Pinellas County teams, who had to pick up the pieces from that loss. How did he do it?
Wells recognized that game as a difficult but valuable lesson.
"We had to keep our heads up, grow from it and keep working hard," he said. "We had three kids leave who started at other schools. But we got stronger. The kids we still had just worked harder."
The schedule changed, too. Admiral Farragut lost to Pace, ranked No. 1 in 3A, and Winter Haven, the top-ranked team and state runnerup in 4A, but defeated St. Petersburg Catholic, the 3A runnerup, and Northwest Christian, the Class A champion that beat them in last season's state semifinal.
"Last year when we lost in the state semifinals, our schedule wasn't as hard as this year," said junior Felipe Schmidt, the tournament MVP. "So we got here and we didn't know what to do in certain situations of the game. So it was our decision and his decision to schedule harder teams."
Saturday's win was especially satisfying for a coach who has waited so long for his shot. Wells started his coaching career in Orangeville High in Illinois in 1980. Three years later he was at Keswick Christian, where he spent 15 years. In 1999 he came to Admiral Farragut, where he is 128-39.
His career record is 572-268. He has won double-digit games in 23 of his 26 years, three times won more than 30 games and now has his first state title.
"I've won 70 percent of my games, I've got close to 600 victories, but you've got to be lucky to win state, you really do," he said. "You've got to stay healthy, the balls got to bounce the right way, you have to have the right kids and the right pieces have to come together."
But what if it had not come together for him Saturday?
"Someone asked me "Coach what happens if you don't win after 26 years?,' " Wells said, "and I said, "I'll go another 20 and see if I can win one.' "