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Local hoops need more hope, hype

By VINCE THOMAS
Published January 15, 2006


Andrew DeClercq and Matt Geiger.

When I asked some of our sptimes.com blog readers to come up with the bay area's most famous basketball products, that's what I got, two journeymen centers in the NBA who fouled more than they scored or rebounded.

I was expecting a deluge of names, sort of like what I would have gotten if the same question were posed about football or baseball. But Geiger is no Jerome Brown and DeClercq is no Wade Boggs. If we focus the quest for basketball greats to our own Hernando County, the pickings get even slimmer, like Eva Longoria slim.

Last week Alex Ruoff, a product of Central, returned to the bay area as a freshman with No. 16 West Virginia. Most would say Ruoff is the greatest basketball talent to come out of the county. But neither Ruoff, nor Hernando's Kyle Swanston, are on the level of, say, two recent Orlando area grads, Keith Brumbaugh and Darius Washington.

To be honest, I was pretty surprised by the low stock of basketball talent in a metro area that produces stables full of athletes.

I was expecting much more.

First, a little history: I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. Buff's metro population is about 1-million (give or take a few Bills fans), which is a couple 100,000 less than Tampa Bay's. In my lifetime (26 years), we gave the basketball world, most notably, Christian Leattner (Duke), Cliff Robinson (UConn), Damone Brown (Syracuse) and Julius Page (Pittsburgh) - Leattner and Robinson are in the NBA, Brown and Page pop in and out of the pros. That roster isn't exactly ready to battle with Chicago products, but Buffalo isn't known for producing athletes. Florida is though.

Since my Buffalo days, I've lived in Washington, Atlanta and Orlando. At each stop, I reveled in the opportunity to catch future basketball stars on the ground floor playing preps. Kids such as Delonte West, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Louis Williams. Brumbaugh was Orlando's trophy piece when I swooped through Central Florida, an area that just blessed us with Amare Stoudemire. When I made my way west, from Orlando to the bay area, I was expecting the same. No dice though.

Why? Or, better yet, how? How can an area churn out a slew of football stars and baseball stars and track stars, but mention Dwayne Schintzius as one of its hardwood greats? That's so sad, it's almost funny.

Even nearby Polk County counts Vin Baker and Tracy McGrady as its sons.

* * *

Central coach John Sedlack was asked a similar question in a recent Times article. "A lot of the kids up here don't seem to be focused athletically," he said.

But they are when it comes to football. Football can inspire near manic passion in most Floridians. Some use that as a reason for the lack of basketball enthusiasm.

But football reigns supreme in Orlando and Miami, too.

It all seems to come down to structure: middle school programs, summer basketball, rec leagues, ... you get the drift.

"The kids (in Hillsborough) don't get the opportunity to play like the other counties provide," said former Gator and Tampa product Renaldo Garcia in a recent Times article, whose comments also relate to Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. "If you take a good athlete that has just started the game as a ninth-grader and compare him to a kid who has played three or four years prior to that, the kid playing longer has the edge."

And what's with kids in this area, particularly in Hernando, not participating in AAU basketball? Not traveling to Marion County or an eight-team tournament in Kissimmee, but real national tournaments.

If Springstead's AB Rodriguez, Hernando's best player, had traveled to national tournaments the past few summers, he likely would be even more talented. Perhaps more importantly, he would have a higher profile. He would have played in front of coaches from the nation's top programs, plus mid-major and small ones.

Same goes for Ethan Selph's summer plans. The Eagles' 6-foot-7 center spoke of playing with Springstead's summer squad, which is great for team morale and familiarity, but might not be the best way to get a scholarship. What about Shareka Maner? Three summers on the AAU circuit and she might be Hernando's next Bernice Mosby, the 2001 Hernando graduate that made a good bit of noise with the Gators.

DeClercq played eight games for the Orlando Magic last season. He averaged 1.1 points and 1.3 rebounds, and is out of the league now. Let's hope Ruoff or Swanston or St. Petersburg Catholic's Aaron Holmes or Pasco's Darrell Davis blow up in college and keep exploding in the NBA, so that when we raise our glasses to toast Tampa Bay hoops, only the tart champagne makes us wince.

Feel free to praise or pan Vince at vthomas@sptimes.com or 352 848-1430.

[Last modified January 15, 2006, 01:47:20]


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