In the last couple years, Academy at the Lakes has become a basketball factory – girls basketball, that is.
The Wildcats girls hoops team, under the direction of Karim Nohra, advanced to the Class 1A region finals a year ago after losing all 15 games the year before. Nohra's team is currently 9-1 and the No. 1-ranked team in The Pasco Tribune's Top 5.
Some of that good fortune has rubbed off onto the Wildcats boys team. Athletic director/boys basketball coach Tom Haslam, in his third season at Academy at the Lakes, has his team off to a 5-3 mark and second place in Class 2A-District 8.
Academy at the Lakes' losses are to 2A-8 leader Cambridge, 6A Lecanto and Lecanto Seven Rivers, a 1A region finalist last year.
"We've only got one senior that's getting any kind of playing time so we're very young," Haslam said after the Wildcats 51-48 loss to Seven Rivers in the semifinals of the Bishop McLaughlin Christmas Tournament on Tuesday. "We're young in another way because we've only had about five practices with the whole team. The football team went deep into the playoffs so we're young in age and also in time together. We haven't even had time to practice things like last-second situations."
Against Seven Rivers, the Wildcats starter horribly – trailing 23-7 after one quarter and 38-21 at halftime. But they battled back, outscoring the Warriors 25-8 in the second half to send it into overtime.
But Haslam knows its games like the Seven Rivers one that will get his Wildcats ready for the district tournament.
"We need games like this. We need grow-up type games," he said. "We faced adversity early where we were down by 18 at the half and we had the chance to come back. We showed character and you always want to coach a team that has a lot of fight in them. A game like this can only make us better."
Haslam's son, Ethan, is the leading scorer with an 18.1 average. Only a freshman, he started as an eighth-grader. Jarrett Harvey, their only starting senior, and Bobby Arrington, Evan Gordy, Ahkil McGill and Bobby Smith played football.
Battle for No. 1
Tonight, the top two teams in The Pasco Tribune's Top 5 battle when No. 1-ranked Anclote travels to Wesley Chapel to face the No. 2 Wildcats with first place in Class 5A-District on the line.
Both teams are undefeated through Monday's games – Anclote is 6-0 overall and in 5A-8, while Wesley Chapel is 9-0, 6-0 in district play.
Anclote is led by the 1-2 scoring punch of Chris Gregory (20.0) and Brandon McWhorter (16.2). Junior forward Erik Thomas leads the Wildcats with 21.8 points and 14.0 rebounds a game.
The two teams will meet again Jan. 27 at Anclote before the district tournament begins Feb. 7 at Hudson.
Hudson getting it together
After dropping their first six games, the defending district champion Cobras have won four in a row (through Monday) to being their record to 4-6, 3-2 in 5A-8.
A big reason for the upswing is senior guard Jamal Branco. A broken foot sidelined him but in the last three contests, Branco has averaged 14.3 points, including 22 points in a 72-59 win against Ridgewood.
The only in-county tournament will be the 23rd edition of the William C. Holden Port Richey Rotary Ram Classic Dec. 28-30 at Ridgewood.
The eight-team tournament includes county teams Anclote and Ridgewood, along with Bradenton Southeast, Brandon, Clearwater, East Lake, Lakeland Jenkins and St. Petersburg Catholic. There are four games scheduled with the final Dec. 30 at 7:15 p.m.
Others will be traveling next week, including Fivay at Lecanto Holiday Tournament (Dec. 27-28); Hudson at Lake's Great 8 at Eustis (Dec. 28-30); Land O' Lakes at Manta Ray Holiday Shootout at Lemon Bay (Dec. 27-28); Sunlake at Northeast Christmas Invitational (Dec. 26-28); Wesley Chapel at Buffalo Wild Wings Holiday Classic at Alonso (Dec. 27-29), and Wiregrass Ranch at Jim Clark Classic at Orlando Bishop Moore (Dec. 27-29).