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Optimistic Cougars meet Tornadoes in opener

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001

Randall Leath is well aware that Countryside's legacy consists of two NBA centers (Andrew DeClerq and Matt Geiger) and ... well ... that's about it.

After five years of trying, he thinks that might be about to change.

Leath loves this year's team, loves the kind of players that make it up and loves the feeling that maybe, just maybe, the Cougars turned a corner last year.

"This is probably one of the first teams I've had here that really understands what we're trying to get done here," Leath said. "Last year, those kids worked hard, but this group is the first one that all came through the program."

There's the word: program.

After years of bad teams followed by decent teams followed by more bad teams, Leath thinks his program has finally taken root and will produce the kind of consistency associated with tonight's season-opening opponent, Clearwater, and other respected teams such as Lakewood and Boca Ciega.

"We've had one or two good years then boom!, it drops down for one or two years," Leath said. "I want to put some consistency into my program."

That means exceeding the standards set by last year's team, which went 20-9 and advanced to within two games of the final four.

Sharpshooters Will Wightman and Scott Brown return, as does talented Julian Mascoll, who Leath says has the ability to be one of the country's best players.

But for once, a final-four berth appears at hand. Leath's biggest concern is replacing graduated big man Jeff Bronson in the middle, but having an improved 6-foot-11 Taylor Yanchar makes doing so less stressful.

"Taylor sat on the middle school bench as a 6-6 butterball, now he's a 6-11 college prospect," Leath said. "We have those stories up and down the bench."

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