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By JOHN C. COTEY
Published January 15, 2008
[Atoyia Deans | Times]
Despite Ryan Pannone's relative youth and inexperience - he's 22, still lives at home and is taking college classes - David Thorpe thinks he might have a future.
In the NBA.
That might come as a surprise to anyone who has ever seen Pannone play basketball.
It won't to anyone whom Pannone has ever trained, however, which Thorpe thinks is an unappreciated strength.
Thorpe, who trains college and NBA players and works as a basketball analyst for ESPN, thinks Pannone has an eye for detail and a skill for refining a player's game beyond his years.
Now, if he would just take that skill somewhere else, local high school coaches would be a much happier lot.
If Thorpe is right, Pannone can train basketball players with the best of them.
But the question, then, becomes this: Should he be using a high school basketball team as his internship?
Coaches such as Largo's Phil Price don't think so. Neither do Lakewood's Dan Wright and a good many others.
Pannone's experiment at Oldsmar Christian, where he played after transferring from Dunedin and now coaches, is not one many are embracing.
In effect, he is trying to build a basketball academy, modeled after IMG in Bradenton and Montverde, which is ranked No. 4 in the country.
He is promoting individual players at the expense of team play.
He puts players at positions that will help them get scholarships, he says, rather than win games, and he makes no apologies for it.
He doesn't guarantee anything but has no question he will work harder to get his players into college, thus giving them a better chance at a scholarship, thus making his case for his program.
He has even pulled his team out of the FHSAA state series, making them ineligible for the playoffs and getting out from under the watchful eye of the state organization.
As a result, he can load his schedule with other basketball academies, suffering beatings but hopeful they will be in front of college coaches.
To this end, he says winning and losing mean nothing.
"State titles collect dust in the trophy case," he says.
But Wright disagrees, saying that 15 players can share in the achievement and accomplishment of a state championship, learning lessons that go beyond the court and last a lifetime.
Pannone has seemingly stripped his team of such sentimentality. In its place, papers to be signed.
"You are not any more likely to get a scholarship at Oldsmar Christian than you are playing anywhere else," Price said. "No matter what he says."
The concern, Wright says, is that a promise Pannone says he doesn't make any, but others don't agree will lead 14- and 15-year-old kids into making mistakes they can't reverse.
Other coaches merely fear losing their best players to the promise of greener pastures.
Pannone has been called a cheater, a recruiter and a shameless self-promoter. He denies them all.
But he carries around baggage in the form of a reviled program, many of the problems that weren't his doing (though he was at the school at the time).
In 2004, Oldsmar Christian had to forfeit 18 games because it was discovered that the school's athletic director, Pam Brown, had scrubbed a transfer's grades to make him eligible.
A few weeks later, two more ineligible players were discovered, and more victories, including one in a district tournament, were forfeited.
The FHSAA said at the time it was stunned by the incompetence.
The FHSAA says it has received no complaints about Oldsmar Christian recruiting this year, but over the years the overzealous program has welcomed a few new players every year and left itself open for criticism.
"These coaches don't even know me," Pannone said. "My goal is simple, and that's to help as many kids as I can get basketball scholarships so they can play in college. That's my focus. And we don't promise anything."
To his credit, Pannone is a relentless promoter, a guy who even his most ardent opponents have to concede relentlessly sends videos to hundreds of colleges a week, who wastes no effort hyping his players.
And he has helped kids he didn't even coach, on other teams.
But the focus of Oldsmar Christian is the individual.
For a basketball academy, that is fine.
For a high school?
That's all wrong.
Preps columnist John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or email@example.com.
[Last modified January 15, 2008, 01:06:10]