By JOHN C. COTEY and CHRIS GIRANDOLA
Published December 2, 2005
Yes, it's early. Yes, its victories came against nonplayoff teams.
But yes, it appears that Pinellas Park might be for real this season.
Maybe not "for real" as in a state title contender. But clearly the Patriots appear ready to play spoiler and disrupt a preseason playoff picture in Class 5A, District 9 that includes only Clearwater, Largo and Palm Harbor U.
It took a buzzer-beater by one of the county's top three players, A.J. Tyler , to knock off the Patriots for the first time Thursday.
The 66-64 loss drops the Park to 2-1 but left it convinced it would be in the mix this season.
"This type of game showed as a team the amount of character that we have," coach Alan Carden said. "They grew up a lot (Thursday)."
The Patriots start three sophomores and a junior, making it one of the youngest teams in the county. Though probably a year away, the Patriots' intensity will cover for their youth.
Admiral Farragut transfer James Smith 's ability to run the point and free sharpshooter Cam Carden (19.3 points per game) to concentrate more on scoring as well as improved play from senior Rade Jankovic (15 points per game), makes ending an eight-year playoff drought a realistic goal.
CHECKING IN: Mike O'Donnell , the 2002-03 Times Player of the Year, is starting at point guard for UCF and leads the 4-0 Golden Knights into Gainesville on Saturday for a noon meeting against the Gators. The game will be televised live on Sun Sports. O'Donnell is averaging eight points and 3.3 assists.
Former Oldsmar Christian standout Trevor Ferguson earned a scholarship to Pitt last season but only lasted 10 weeks before deciding he didn't like it. He's now playing at New Creations Academy, a prep school in Richmond, Ind., and according to Oldsmar assistant coach Ryan Pannone , has already received interest from Kentucky, Baylor and North Carolina State.
QUOTABLE: "Even as young as we are, I never would have dreamed we'd go into a drought like that. In all my years coaching, I don't think I've seen one last that long." - Bogie coach Randy Shuman after his team shot 3-for-26 in the second and third quarters, including 11 minutes without a basket ... and still beat Clearwater 62-61 in overtime.BY THE NUMBERS: In both its wins this season, Gibbs (2-0) has had seven players score at least six points. GAME OF NEXT WEEK: Clearwater hosts Largo at 7:30 Friday in the first of two meetings between the 5A-9 favorites. The Tornadoes (1-1) are rebuilding with a new cast this season after reaching the state championship game last season while Largo (1-0) returns everyone from a team expected to be much-improved.[Last modified December 2, 2005, 01:14:18]