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By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001
For 25 years Dan Wright has been the Lakewood boys basketball coach.
Tonight, before the final home game of Wright's silver anniversary season, about 25 of his former players are going to pay tribute -- and show him he has been much more than just a coach.
"He does a heck of a lot for all of the players," said Anthony Lawrence, Lakewood Class of '88, who is organizing the event. "I wasn't a great student all of the time. I'll tell you what, Coach Wright, he stayed on me. He showed me no slack. It really made a difference in my life."
Lawrence, a business representative for Gateway and the girls basketball coach at Shorecrest, earned a basketball scholarship to Alabama, and later played for and graduated from Miami.
Many credit Wright with giving them guidance and direction.
"I was a kid that was consistently having some discipline troubles in school, and Coach Wright, he was always there. He was always that father figure for me," said Barry Brown, a 1988 Lakewood graduate who has a master's in education and is an on-campus intervention instructor at Boca Ciega. "I would definitely attribute a lot of (my success) to some of the things that I've gotten from Coach Wright."
Wright, 48, said with a fresh crop of kids coming in every year, it doesn't seem like he's been there for a quarter of a century.
"At first we were just trying to fill a team. Now we expect to win championships," said Wright, who has guided the Spartans to four final four berths and a 16-2 record this season.
"I remember the ups and downs. I have a lot of great memories of outstanding players.
"Sometimes in the barber shop, (former players) come by and they say that at the time they thought I was too hard on them, but they see now what we were trying to do and they're thankful. It's nice."
Will there be a 50-year celebration?
"I have no plans at all to be around that long," Wright said. "Maybe another 10, 15 years. I'm still motivated and energetic about what I'm doing."
Lawrence collected contributions toward a gift for Wright, a watch. Wright also will be presented with a plaque and a few remembrances from former players such as Chris Blackwell and Dwight Latimore, who are now assistant coaches on Wright's staff.
"We'd all load up in coach Wright's big, white ... well, I don't know what it was," Lawrence said. "But he had a big, huge something we'd all load up in and travel around the state to play.
"He's the man."
THE REMATCH: St. Petersburg Catholic beat Clearwater Central Catholic 74-69 on Jan. 5 at home in one of the best games of the season.
The Class 3A, District 11 rivals will need a tie-breaker to determine the district's No. 1 seed should CCC (7-2 district record) turn the tables on SPC (8-1) on its home court tonight at 7:30. BRING ON THE BIG BOYS: Two of Pinellas' top teams play Saturday against top-flight Class 6A schools. Countryside travels to Orlando Dr. Phillips (17-8) and CCC, less than 24 hours after meeting SPC, hosts Southwest Miami (20-3) at 6 p.m. on senior night.
Southwest Miami is ranked No. 2 in the 6A state poll.
PCAC: The Pinellas County Athletic Conference title game is Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at Countryside between the Cougars and Lakewood -- if Countryside can beat either Palm Harbor U. tonight or Dunedin on Feb. 9.
The Cougars, 5-0 in the PCAC North, beat Largo 73-64 on Nov. 29 to put themselves in control.
Countryside finished 8-0 in 5A-10 and is the district's No. 1 seed.
ON THE FLY: Surging East Lake outscored Ridgewood 33-7 in the fourth quarter of its 75-67 win over the Rams on Saturday. ... In two games since becoming academically eligible, Northeast's Terrence McKay has 42 points and 20 rebounds.