By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2001
Memo to Indian Rocks Christian opponents: Get used to it. There appears to be no end in sight to the McMillen brothers dynasty.
Today, senior forward Caleb McMillen and sophomore shooting guard Gabe McMillen, the Golden Eagles' No. 2 and 1 scorers, respectively, will lead IRC into tonight's Class 2A, Region 3 final at No. 2-ranked North Palm Beach Benjamin.
When Caleb moves on to college next year, Taylor McMillen, an eighth-grader on the IRC junior high team, is set to replace him. And from the way the elder McMillen boys talk about the youngest, Isaac, he might be ready for varsity the year after Gabe graduates, in 2003-2004 -- though he'll be just a seventh-grader by then.
For now, though, Caleb and Gabe are carrying the family torch -- with distinction. With 6-foot-4 Caleb handling the dirty work inside and 5-11 Gabe emerging as one of the top guards in the county, IRC has risen from mediocrity to playing for a berth in the final four.
"They're just good kids," fifth-year IRC coach Joe Frost said of his top two players -- and his first two McMillens. "They don't miss school work. They don't miss practice. They say, "Yes sir, no sir.'
"They're the kind of kids you build your program around."
Which is exactly what Frost has done. With Caleb cleaning the boards (he averages just less than 10 rebounds a game along with 15.4 points) and sharpshooter Gabe scoring from all over the court (19.9 points), IRC has been one of the season's surprises.
Frost saw it coming. Thinking his team was ready for a breakthrough, he loaded up the schedule. The Golden Eagles played Armwood (a 4A playoff team) and King (a 5A playoff team) in the preseason and Tampa Bay Tech, Clearwater Central Catholic, St. Petersburg Catholic and Tampa Catholic in the regular season.
IRC lost several heartbreakers but kept improving. Decided underdogs on the road in the regional quarterfinal and semifinal, the battle-hardened Eagles knocked off Tampa Prep (56-47) and Fort Myers Canterbury (50-33), teams whose combined 47-13 record overshadowed IRC's 19-11 mark.
IRC has done it all while overcoming the loss of senior, four-year point guard Jon Joyner to mononucleosis. (He was diagnosed before the district tournament.)
Freshman Chris Curran has stepped in at the point and played with poise. Also making key contributions have been senior forwards Josh Hempstead and Justin Simmons, junior forward Sean Swager, junior guard Colt Martin and sophomore guard Daniel Hedger.
At the root of IRC's success are the McMillens. A lifelong affinity for the game, and being surrounded by people who enjoy it as much, has spurred their development.
Their father, Dean, has built a court in the back yard, complete with a three-point arc and free-throw line.
Hundreds of two-on-two games -- usually Dean and Gabe against Caleb and Taylor -- have helped hone their skills.
The Golden Eagles will be a heavy underdog again today. Benjamin verified its lofty ranking with a 70-46 whipping of Northside Christian in the regional semifinal. Northside defeated IRC, the District 10 No. 1 seed, in the district final, but the Eagles are unfazed.
"Defense and rebounding have gotten us this far. We just have to keep playing together," Caleb McMillen said.
"(Benjamin's success) makes us wary, but we're not going to play afraid."