TAMPA — Nine times.
That’s how many trips Tampa Prep’s boys basketball program has made it to Lakeland, the site of the state tournament. Of those nine appearance, the Terrapins walked away as state champions once, getting it on the eighth try in 2012. They have finished as state-runner up four times, the last time this past March when the team lost to nationally ranked Weston Sagemont in the Class 3A final.
But several key players return from the 2014 final four team, one being a 6-foot-11 junior rated among the best in the country, leading many to believe Tampa Prep will make its 10th final four appearance at the end of the season.
“The pieces are in place,” said longtime Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon, who owns a career record of 670 wins and 260 losses. “It’s how quickly we can bring them together will determine how far we can go.”
Junior center Juwan Durham, the 2014 Tribune boys basketball player of the year, averaged a double-double last season with 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, along with a Hillsborough County-leading 5.7 blocks per game. The two-time MaxPreps All-American surpassed 1,000 career points as a sophomore, and this past summer attended the NBA Top 100 camp and a camp organized by USA Basketball.
“I feel we have a good chance this year,” Durham said. “We’ve got some more size down low. I’m confident we’re going to play good together as a team and I’m just ready to take the next step.”
Durham, rated the 21st best junior in the country, has offers from Florida, Florida State, Miami, South Florida and Louisville.
“I had to mature as a person and young man as well,” Durham said. “I had to mature my body. It probably doesn’t look like it but I’ve been in the weight room faithfully. I had to step up and be more of a vocal leader on my team because that was (former guard) Yoni’s (Wasser) role of being the vocal leader of the team. I’m encouraging the team to be better.”
Senior guard Michael Fridella was the second-leading scorer last year behind Durham and was an all-county second-team selection. He will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Amari Goulbourne and senior Marcus Ransom.
“We have a pretty good shot of making it back. We just have to see how practice plays out and how chemistry comes together,” Fridella said. “If all that comes together we have a good shot.
Tampa Prep also will play arguably its toughest schedule, accepting invitations to play in the Battle of the Villages, Wally Keller Invitational, the Bartow Stinger, and the ARS Hoop Fest, a national tournament hosted by Berkeley Prep in which Tampa Prep will face No. 1 nationally ranked Montverede Academy and Jacksonville Arlington Country Day, the No. 9-ranked team in the nation. All in addition to hosting its own City of Tampa Championships, which features the top teams from Hillsborough County.
“If you want to be the best, you have to play against the best,” Fenlon said. “Not that we are going to be the best, but we’ll be challenged and it’s how you handle those challenges that determines how far you can go.”