St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather

printer version

Panther just loves to play


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2001

TAMPA -- Very little comes between Tyler Azzarelli and his true love.

A couple of weeks ago, Azzarelli was in Gainesville for the wedding of his cousin, Travis McGriff. When the big day arrived, Azzarelli had one thing on his mind.

Finding a basketball court.

As his family primped for the wedding, Azzarelli was practicing his jump shot.

"We were dressed and not sure if he'd get back in time," said Azzarelli's mother, Martha. "He made it with enough time to jump in the shower and go."

It was the same story the previous weekend, when the family vacationed in the Bahamas. Azzarelli's first concern upon arriving was finding a place to shoot.

"He doesn't let it go," his mother said.

Azzarelli did not become the Suncoast's top player by accident. The Plant junior might work harder on his game and be harder on himself than any area player. He spent the off-season lifting weights and running steps to increase his strength and endurance. He sought out former Kansas coach Ted Owens to work on his jump shot.

When not playing, he was watching basketball -- either critiquing tapes of his games or taking notes during the NCAA tournament.

Azzarelli's diligence paid off as the 6-foot point guard led Plant to a school-best 27-5 record and its first state semifinal appearance in 38 seasons.

"He's not the flashy-type player with the dunks and tons of points," said Randall Leath, who watched an Azzarelli-led Plant squad dismantle his Countryside team, 63-39, in the Class 5A regional semifinals. "But make no mistake. He was the guy who made that team go."

Azzarelli was Plant's floor leader, primary ball-handler and top three-point threat, averaging 15.2 points, 8.3 assists and 3.5 steals.

He was the catalyst during separate 11 and 12-game winning streaks and their lone bright spot in a state semifinal loss to Belleview.

After its worst shooting night of the season put Plant in an 18-point, fourth-quarter hole, Azzarelli scored nine points in a 2:35 span to pull his team to within eight. Though the Panthers lost 55-39, he refused to accept defeat.

"There was a sense of urgency," he said. "I was just trying to do whatever it took, biting and scratching, trying to get the win. But we just couldn't get it going."

While being interviewed earlier this season, teammate Mike Williams wondered why he, not Azzarelli, was the subject of the story.

"Tyler Azzarelli is the star of this team," he said.

But Azzarelli doesn't consider himself a star. He prefers another label: winner. It fits. Azzarelli has not been on a losing team since he started playing in sixth grade.

"My ninth-grade year, we were 19-7 and didn't get out of districts," he said. "That's probably the worst team I've ever been on in basketball."

Azzarelli kept track of Plant's playoff success on a pair of practice shoes, marking an X through one of six blocks that ringed the outside of the shoes after each win.

One block represented the victory over Countryside, in which Azzarelli scored a game-high 16 points.

"He just ate us up," Leath said. "He gets everybody involved, controls the tempo, does all of the little things. He's the type of player I love; a hard-working guy who finds a way to win."

Even if it means playing through pain.

Azzarelli broke his left index finger during a Christmas tournament. It was in a cast for 11/2 months. Days after the cast was removed, he damaged a tendon in his right index finger.

Fearing surgery would end his season, Azzarelli chose not to have an MRI.

"The pain was bearable, so I decided to play," he said.

The things we do for love.

Introducing: Tyler Azzarelli

NICKNAME: Tip ("My dad used to call me that when I was little. It's from "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too."').

ACADEMICS: Carries a 3.8 unweighted grade point average, 4.4 weighted.

ACTIVITIES: Key Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honor Society, junior class officer.

INTERESTS: Going to the beach, boxing with friends (who call themselves, "The Goonies").



FAVORITE BOOK: The Old Man and the Sea.



FAVORITE PRO TEAM: Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Back to Sports
Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
Contact the Times | Privacy Policy
Standard of Accuracy | Terms, Conditions & Copyright

From the Times sports desk

  • More boom, less bust
  • Dungy's philosophy -- best available player

  • Devil Rays
  • Vaughn fed up with same old losing Rays
  • Huff doesn't signal rush to get younger
  • Rays tales
  • Today's game: Rays at Orioles, 1:35 p.m.
  • Castilla simmers after benching

  • NFL
  • Vick needs to be strong to handle this week
  • Off-the-field adjustment not easy
  • NFL briefs
  • NFL draft 2001

  • Baseball
  • Seattle gets its chance to gloat
  • Baseball this week on TV
  • Baseball briefs

  • Storm
  • Kaleo, Bowden power Storm

  • Mutiny
  • Missed opportunities cost Mutiny 2-1

  • Letters
  • It is worth paying to see Rays
  • Mizell mailbag

  • NBA
  • Miller has no NBA complaints

  • Lightning/NHL
  • Tortorella has his checklist ready
  • NHL briefs

  • Outdoors
  • Captain's corner

  • Et cetera
  • Highs and lows
  • Week in sports
  • Times wins state awards
  • Sports briefs
  • Horse racing briefs
  • Golf briefs

  • Preps
  • Panther just loves to play
  • Busy Panther has a lot going for her
  • Rams finally win their tourney
  • Results count starting now

  • From the wire

    From the state sports wire
  • Jacksonville's Spicer placed on IR after leg surgery
  • FIU-Western Kentucky game postponed because of Jeanne
  • Brown anxious to face old team for first time
  • Dolphins' desperate defense readies for Roethlisberger
  • Former Sarasota lineman sheds tough-guy image with Michigan
  • Rothstein rejoins Heat as assistant
  • No. 16 Florida has history on its side against Kentucky
  • FSU and Clemson QBs both off to slow starts