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Chemistry finally right for Saint Leo newbies and veterans

By STEVE LEE
Published January 9, 2007


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ST. LEO - The promise of tomorrow might already be here for the Saint Leo men's basketball team.

Coming off an eight-win season and following another lackluster start, the Lions have won four straight and five of six. Perhaps the most notable win came Wednesday, 70-58 at Sunshine State Conference rival Tampa.

"It brings some publicity to the team," Saint Leo assistant Luke Runka said.

Saturday's 72-66 defeat of Palm Beach Atlantic made it four in a row and helped the Lions overcome a 2-4 start. Saint Leo (7-5, 1-1 SSC) hosts conference rival Eckerd on Wednesday night at 7:30.

While seniors Richard Blue, J.J. Turner and George Eshesimua have provided leadership, nine newcomers have contributed. None from that group has had more of an impact than starting freshmen forwards Saladeem Dewberry (Wesley Chapel) and Jordan Prais.

Dewberry, who averages 11 points per game, scored a career-high 21 Saturday and Prais added 16. That marked the second time Dewberry, who as a senior was named the Times and Sunshine Athletic Conference player of the year, has led Saint Leo in scoring.

Prais, whose game high is 26, has been even better. The Lions' scoring leader has a 13.4 average and has been the team's game-high scorer five times.

"They're great basketball players," Runka said. "They've learned our offense real well. They're getting rebounds and put-backs."

Prais also is the team's rebounding leader with a 6.2 average. Dewberry is third in that category at 3.3.

"We didn't expect them to put up such big numbers," Runka said. "They definitely exceeded our expectations."

As hot as the Lions have been of late, Runka said he, along with coach Mike Madagan and the players, would prefer playing games daily to extend the streak.

"It's been fun," Runka said. "Hopefully, we can continue it."

COACH GETS AWARD AND PLAYER: Pasco-Hernando Community College volleyball coach Kim Whitney received an honor and signed a player last week. Whitney, 90-32 in three seasons at PHCC, was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association's two-year college coach of the year for the northeast-southeast region.

Last season, the Conquistadors went 28-9 and finished ninth in the AVCA national poll. But PHCC, which made nationals in each of Whitney's first two seasons, did not get past the state tournament.

Meghan Hirsch, a Crystal River senior, signed an academic/athletic scholarship worth most of the $3,000 annual tuition at PHCC. A 6-foot midde hitter, Hirsch had 140 kills, 15 aces and 43 blocks for the Pirates last season.

Steve Lee can be reached at lee@sptimes.com or (352) 521-6517.

[Last modified January 8, 2007, 23:59:02]


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