The Berkeley Prep boys basketball team writes a page in school history when it takes the court at 7:45 tonight to play For Lauderdale Pine Crest (22-7) in the Class 4A state semifinals at The Lakeland Center.
That Berkeley Prep (22-7) is in the final four shouldn't be much of a surprise thanks to a combination of senior leadership and talented underclassmen.
"We knew we had a chance to be good and I thought Lakeland was a possibility with the senior leadership," Berkeley coach Bobby Reinhart said. "But early on it looked like it would be a tough go with football injuries."
The Buccaneers were without senior guards Reggie Barnes and Nelson Agholor for much of the season because of injuries on the gridiron. Agholor, who has accepted a football scholarship to the University of Southern California, missed the first 14 games with a shoulder injury, and Barnes missed the entire regular season with a fractured wrist before returning in the district title game.
Senior point guard Jake Zwiebel provided invaluable leadership on the floor, and sophomore forward Justin Gray, who leads the team in scoring at 19.7 points per game, along with sophomore guard Craig Bowman filled gaps left by the absence of Agholor and Barnes.
"Jake is a team guy who distributes the ball well," Reinhart said. "Craig stepped in and filled the void well. He's long and lanky and gets deflections and steals. He's so good defensively."
The 6-foot-4 Gray, whose older brother Jonathan is a junior starter at Cornell University and former Berkeley Prep standout, made adjustments to his game that have paid off in a big way this season.
"I was 5-8 or 5-9 in eighth grade and I grew about 6 or 7 inches,'' said the younger Gray, who is 16 years old and leads the team in rebounds with a 7.3 average. "It changed my whole game. I had to attack the basket a lot more and take midrange jump shots.
"Playing volleyball in eighth grade helped on my vertical leap. I want to get the ball every single time it goes up. I've always been a lover of physical contact. I don't shy away from it."
The return of Agholor (12.9 points per game) provided much more than scoring punch in the starting lineup. He has 1,002 points in his high school career, but his intense attitude and leadership ability are equally as important as point total.
"I'd love to say I'm a leader; I'd love to say I contribute as much as the bigger leaders," Agholor said. "You have to have physical play and fight for loose balls. That's the attitude I'm talking about. I think it rubs off on my teammates. Many nights I look at my contributions and think I could do more."
Agholor said his absence from the lineup during the first part of the season might have been just what he needed.
"I feel great," he said. "I believe missing those games is a plus. Going hard every game you wear down, but I'm very healthy in many ways."
Reinhart said he will have almost the same game plan against Pine Crest as the Buccaneers used in their 70-62 win over Fort Myers Bishop Verot in the region title game.
"I'm a man-to-man guy, but we faced zone a couple of years ago and focused on it," Reinhart said about his quarter-court defense. "Pine Crest has two big boys (6-7 and 6-8), but they can't score if they don't get the ball. Our zone is 2-3 and designed to slow (Pine Crest) down, not to pressure the ball.
"We saw Pine Crest play (this season in the Academic Cup tournament) and that will help us. There's no pressure at all. It's an opportunity and privilege to play in the final four. The pressure was getting there. I have a sense of relief, but you have to bring your A game."