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Is it the skills or the school?

Bayshore Christian senior guard Joe Rawlins averages 23 points per game, has a 3.6 grade point average and doesn't exist to college recruiters.

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2001


TAMPA -- Joe Rawlins' family gets junk mail and bills.

Joe Rawlins waits.

Waits for college basketball programs to send him some letters, some inquiries, something.

So far, interest in the Bayshore Christian standout has been nonexistent.

It's hard to figure that at least a Division II school hasn't taken notice after such an impressive season:

Rawlins, a 6-foot-2 guard, ranks second in the county in scoring, averaging 23 points per game.

He increased his vertical leap six inches during the past year, and improved his free-throw shooting from 50 percent last year to more than 80 percent this season.

And most important, he has led Bayshore Christian (33-3) into Wednesday's Class A state semifinals.

Then again, Rawlins noted, maybe the problem is that he's going to the Class A final four.

"I just don't think a lot of college coaches look at a little school like a Bayshore Christian," he said. "But maybe now that we're in the state final four we can get some recognition."

Wednesday's opponent is Grand Ridge, a 26-10 perennial power that just knocked off No. 1-ranked Laurel Hill, 57-43, in the Region 1 final.

Rawlins said he "can't wait," because few people relish a challenge more than he does.

And maybe even fewer are as cool in the clutch.

In Bayshore's 66-52 regional final victory on Saturday over R.J. Hendley, Rawlins led all scorers with 23 points after making 13 of 13 foul shots, including 10 of 10 in the final period.

"None of that surprises me," teammate Sam Smith said. "When the game is on the line, Joe is the first one I'd think to throw the ball to."

Bayshore coach Tom Dibble agrees.

"Put it this way: When we get into a tight situation and we do put the ball in Joe's hands, everyone at Bayshore Christian has a smile on their face," the coach said.

"No one here has any doubt that Joe Rawlins won't get the job done."

But it hasn't always been that way.

Rawlins played on the junior varsity team as a freshman at Robinson, though in a limited role. Rawlins said the experience, "Got very, very frustrating."

That's when he decided to check out Bayshore, where he played varsity but still wasn't a standout.

So he practiced harder every day -- shooting, jumping rope, doing squats, calf raises. He practiced so much he wore out the basketball hoop behind his house.

"The rim was all bent, the backboard was beat up," he said. "So my mom had to buy a new backboard."

And he kept shooting, and struggling just a bit.

His free-throw percentage remained about 50 percent. Undeterred, he kept shooting, even between classes, and more and more of his shots started falling through the net.

Last summer, he once made 82 consecutive foul shots.

"I worked on the position of my elbow and the release," he said. "I worked on everything a whole lot."

Dibble said he has watched Rawlins' talent mix with his work ethic and now the coach can't figure out how Rawlins isn't getting more looks from colleges.

"I have worked with a lot of talented players," said Dibble, who has coached 7-footer Nick Smith (Illinois), J.R. Russell (Louisville) and Joey and Stephen Graham (UCF) with the Spirit of Tampa Bay AAU team. "I'd put Joe right in the best mix of players we've had on the Spirit.

"I definitely think Joe can play for a Division I school somewhere."

If not, Rawlins (3.6 grade point average) has already been accepted to Florida. "I always have that to fall back on," Rawlins said. "But I really want to play. I still have basketball left in me."

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