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3A finalists find starters throughout the world


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001

LAKELAND -- When Melbourne Florida Air Academy and Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy meet in Friday's Class 3A final, eight starters are expected to be from outside of the United States. In Wednesday's 73-59 victory over Baker County, Florida Air started Alvin Cruz, Israel Pizarro and Andy Gonzalez from Puerto Rico, Juan Mendez from Canada and Evgueni Sokolov from Russia. Two reserves, Max Shanin and 6-foot-10 senior Sergei Krasavtsev, are also from Russia.

Sokolov, a 6-8 senior, made 6-of-7 three-pointers and led his team with 20 points.

In the other semifinal, in which Westminster defeated Gainesville P.K. Yonge 82-61, Westminster started Helgi Magnusson and Jakob Sigurdarson from Iceland and Jan Fikiel from Germany.

Westminster is 33-2 (8-28 including forfeits for an ineligible player), and Florida Air is 30-0.

RESTORING A LEGACY: Plant has made 12 playoff appearances since 1944, but just three in the past 28 seasons. The Panthers lost their opening-round game in 1992 and went 1-1 last season. Plant last advanced to the final four in 1963, losing in the title game. The Panthers won their only state title in 1958, when former coach Bill Burns guided his team to the Class 2A title.

Current coach Mike Phillips has taken Plant to the playoffs twice in his five seasons.

DEFENSE FIRST: Plant limited 13 teams to less than 50 points this season, including post-season opponents Countryside (39) and Port Charlotte (41).

Only two of the Panthers' last 11 opponents (Brandon and Belleview) scored more than 48 points.

GUYS AND GALS: North Palm Beach Benjamin could become the third school in state history to win boys and girls basketball titles during the same season. Benjamin's girls, which defeated Tampa Prep 64-30 in the regional semifinals, won the 2A final last week 54-39 over Miami Northwest Christian.

Benjamin's boys (26-1) play Port St. Joe (27-6) in today's 2A semifinal at 11:30 a.m.

The other two schools to win boys and girls titles in the same season are Ocala Vanguard in 1982 (3A) and Jacksonville Ribault in 1994 (3A).

POINT OF EMPHASIS: The word, "sportsmanship" appears 10 times in the FHSAA's 56-page program. Five advertisements, including four full-page ads, are devoted exclusively to the subject.

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