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Fathers figure in

It's easy to trace the talent on Berkeley Prep's roster to the dads.

By JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
Published January 17, 2008


TAMPA

He positions his angular 6-foot-6 body in the lane, receives an interior pass, pivots and deftly banks the ball off the glass for an easy bucket.

At that point, Berkeley Prep junior Austin Suarez resembles a chip off the low block.

He shuffles subtly to the top of the key against a 2-3 defense, receives a pass from the baseline, spots up and lets fly a textbook jumper that whips through the bottom of the net.

At that point, it's clear Buccaneers junior Johnathan Gray is an acorn that hasn't fallen far from the 3.

Suarez, Gray and their teammates are hardly an imposing lot. Collectively, they are decent-sized but far from super-sized. They are fleet for sure, but not breakneck. Their bench? Some soap opera story lines possess more depth. But that's merely a superficial look at the state's top-ranked Class 3A boys basketball team.

A more comprehensive assessment requires reading between the bloodlines.

Five of the Bucs' top eight players have fathers who played college basketball. During extended holiday layoffs Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas break, the dads lace up their sneakers, loosen up their middle-aged hamstrings and man up against their offspring during a series of supervised 20-minute scrimmages.

"It's not close; we always win," said junior guard Daniel Nilsson-Cole, whose dad, Happy, played at onetime NAIA power Webber College in the early 1980s. "They try to stay with us, but ... they do put up a good fight."

At this, Happy Cole and Gray's father - former USF standout Jerome Gray - cup a hand over their mouths and scoff.

"Coach (Bobby) Reinhart always gives his boys the benefit of the doubt," said Cole, a 1979 King graduate who now earns his living as a professional comic. "There are some times where I'm pretty sure we beat them, but Coach Reinhart calls some innocuous foul, some mystery foul."

Reinhart's retort: "Well, you know, Happy's a comedian, so we'll take that one as a joke. A bad one."

With that exchange, one uncovers the essence of the 16-2 Buccaneers: a team forged of family. A functional one, at that, Reinhart insists.

"It's one of the things we've been talking about for two years. It's really our balance that makes this team very good," Reinhart said. "But not only are they balanced, they just don't care who gets the points. ... Our guys are not statistics-minded, and in this day and age, that's rare."

No player averages 20 points, but four average 9.9 or better. No one comes close to a double-figure rebounding average, but four players average at least four. The top three scorers combine to average more than 11 assists.

What's more, Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon says, "they never turn the ball over."

Fuse that unselfishness and efficiency with the genetically transmitted athleticism, and the result is a team that has lost only once - against Fenlon's team Saturday - to an instate opponent this season.

Suarez's dad, Manny, was a low-post standout at Jacksonville who owns a framed, blown-up, black-and-white picture of him jostling for a rebound against two Clemson players, including eventual NBA player Tree Rollins.

Forward Archie Barnes' dad, Russ, was a sleek guard at Division I Manhattan College in the early '80s. An Air Force colonel, he still can dunk at age 47.

"Russ still has some game, for sure," Reinhart said. "Happy's not too bad, Jerome's still pretty decent. They're still pretty solid."

Shortly after Berkeley's 76-58 home victory Tuesday over Tampa Catholic, Russ brandished his verticality by launching his lean 6-2 body skyward and easily grabbing the front of the iron.

Such displays aren't prevalent, however, when Russ Barnes and his contemporaries scrimmage against their kids. On those days, when Berkeley Prep's camaraderie is further galvanized, the dads aren't often above the rim. Nor are they above humility.

"You're talking 40- and 50-year-old guys trying to handle these young kids," Jerome Gray said. "They really hand our lunch to us, to be honest with you."

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

Spawning a state champ?

Five Berkeley Prep players have fathers who played college basketball:

Archie, Reggie and Russ Barnes (Manhattan College, 1979-81)

Playing size: Archie, 6-5, 185; Reggie, 6-0, 160; Russ, 6-2, 185

Shining moments: Archie said his 25 points in Tuesday's 76-58 win over Tampa Catholic were a career high. ... Reggie is a member of the Bucs' eight-man rotation - as an eighth-grader. ... In a 44-point loss at Notre Dame late in the 1979-80 season, Russ scored on a putback over 6-9 All-American (and eventual NBA player ) Orlando Woolridge.

Austin and Manny Suarez (Jacksonville, 1974-78)

Playing size: Austin, 6-6, 190; Manny, 6-6, 210

Shining moments: As an eighth-grader, Austin got to play with his older brother, Brandon, in a playoff loss to Tampa Prep. ... Manny held UCLA All-American Marques Johnson to four points (all free throws) in the first half of a game at Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 1, 1976. According to Manny, JU went to a zone in the second half and lost 99-68.

Johnathan and Jerome Gray (USF, 1975-77)

Playing size: Johnathan, 6-3, 170; Jerome, 6-5, 210

Shining moments: Johnathan scored 25 in a seven-point win over rival Tampa Prep in the 2007 Headmasters' Challenge. ... Jerome hit the winning basket in USF's 85-83 win against South Carolina - his native state - at Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa on Jan. 17, 1976.

Daniel Nilsson-Cole and Happy Cole (Webber College, 1979-83)

Playing size: Daniel, 5-8, 150; Happy, 6-2, 185

Shining moments: Daniel scored 19 (including four 3-pointers) in a 22-point win over Admiral Farragut in early December. ... Happy was ranked among the nation's top 12 in scoring at the NAIA Division III level at one point during his college career.