One team was supposed to be here. The other was built to get there.
When Providence and Ribault take the court on Tuesday in the Class 3A and 4A boys basketball state semifinals, respectively, it’s the continuation of one journey and what one program hopes is the restoration of its storied history.
The Stallions (28-4) reaching Lakeland, where they’ll face unbeaten Weston Sagemont (30-0) at 2:30 p.m. in a battle of nationally ranked basketball powers was essentially assumed last March. On the other side, the Trojans (28-3), who face Coral Springs Charter (18-10) at 8:30 p.m., hadn’t been this far in the state tournament since 2007, the year after legendary coach Bernard Wilkes’ death.
Providence wrapped up just the program’s second state championship last year and brought back just about every vital piece of its roster, including McDonald’s All-American and reigning Times-Union player of the year Grayson Allen. Guard Christian Terrell and center Wyatt Walker, the other two-thirds of the Stallions’ Big Three, also returned.
“I think we definitely expected it. We had the same team returning, we didn't think it was a given, or that we could just walk into it and have it handed to us on a silver platter,” Allen said.
“It’s been our goal this season. Anything short of that [a state championship] is selling ourselves short.”
It’s the third consecutive season that Providence has reached the state semifinals and easily the most anticipated state semifinal game that the school has ever played in.
The star power of Allen, a Duke signee, a top 10 national ranking and 28 wins playing one of the most difficult schedules ever assembled by an area program have propelled the Stallions into one of the country’s main attractions.
The fact that they open against Sagemont, ranked 22nd in the nation, means all eyes will be set on Lakeland Tuesday afternoon for the most high-profile game of the tournament.
“They’re good, really good. They've been good all season,” Providence coach Jim Martin said of Sagemont. “We know it’s going to be a great game. At the end of the day, the team that rebounds better, shoots it better, shoots it better from the free-throw line is the team that’s going to win.”
Trojans first-year coach Dale Green expected his lineup to be solid enough from top to bottom to be in Lakeland this week. Unlike the Stallions, who returned their core, Ribault rebuilt itself with a slew of newcomers. Most of those players, like center Hari Hall (Paxon), and guards Torien Moore (Wolfson) and Daishon Smith (Eagle’s View), were stars at their old schools.
They couldn't all have that role with the Trojans.
“At first it was difficult [to jell with each other],” said Hall, a James Madison signee who has played just two years of basketball.
“Then we started doing stuff together outside of basketball, becoming a team. We win with each other, we lose with each other.”
Green said that he saw the Trojans becoming that team through the rigors of a difficult schedule (21 of 31 games against playoff teams). So close to a championship banner, Green said he’s enjoyed the ride, and seeing passion back in the Trojans basketball community.
“The expectations are high always at Ribault,” Green said.
“Just having the opportunity to build on what Coach Wilkes and Coach [Anthony] Flynn left has been an amazing honor. To get Northside basketball back, I’m just so proud of that and to have these kids.”
Justin Barney: (904) 359-4248