Tomorrow night and somewhat improbably, I will be on the bench for my fourth district championship game. The excitement has steadily built within me since the final horn last night. I hope our players value the opportunity in front of them.
Last season, I returned to Trinity Prep for the first time since I left in 2004. Instinctively, my eyes looked for it. 2004 District Champions Boy’s Basketball. There it was. As it should be. A testament to the accomplishments of a special group of guys. We progressed over three seasons to win that District Championship. We won it in style. We finished 24-5. Entered the district as the top seed. Won our semi-comfortably, and met Mount Dora Bible in the final. We had already beaten them twice. Our kids believed in what we were doing and what we were. In the locker room before the game, they watched “Hoosiers” and kept running outside to shoot on an outdoor goal. We were loose and confident. We drilled “the Bible” by 30. We wore pre-made disctrict champ t-shirts, took pictures and celebrated.
Next season, Matt Hixenbaugh and I were at Winter Park. It was a trying season. We had high hopes, but entered the district 16-9. We groped around all season for motivation. From Trinity we brought with us the breakdown “play hard, play smart, team”. Midway through our first season in Winter Park, we took it away. Had the players determine what their breakdown would be and can assure you I have no recollection of it at all. We read that Bill Belicek played motivation clips to his team several hours before games to give the motivation time to marinate. Before our boarding the bus for our district final, we watched the opening speech in “Patton” and the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech. I never boarded a cheese wagon so hyped. We lost a tough game to Travis Jones Edgewater team. We played hard, but just weren’t ready to get it done.
In 2006, we were and we did. We played Evans, yep them. We were again the top seed, and had cut Evans heart out in January when they took an 17 point first half lead at home, and we methodically carved them up to win 75-57. In the final, we controlled the game behind 17 points and 18 rebounds from Francis Aihe, our 6-9 post player. (see @therealaihe on twitter man’s got more music videos than lil wayne). At the end of the game we celebrated, no shirts, but I took a picture with me, Matt Hixenbaugh and Doc Rivers. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of that, but I do have the memory and always will.
It’s the memory that will linger with the players after tomorrow night. Nothing that happens before nor after will matter. We will have 32 minutes to define ourselves for all time. District Champions or not.