Rickards High girls basketball coach Chariya Davis knows her team has to get off to a quick start in today’s Class 5A state semifinal.
In fact, the Raiders have no choice.
A 10 a.m. tip-off means Rickards and St. Petersburg Lakewood will both be shaking off the morning cobwebs when they play for the chance to advance to Saturday’s championship game. Davis said she has drilled into her team all week the importance of starting the game with energy.
“At that time in the morning, the team that wins the game is the team that is up and ready to play,” Davis said. “If your team takes until the second half to get going, it will be too late.”
Davis, one of the best players from the Big Bend area the last 20 years, speaks from experience. As a senior at the old Quincy Shanks High, Davis played in the dreaded 10 a.m. game for legendary coach Johnnie Williams.
“We got off to a good lead and then I got in foul trouble,” Davis said. “They actually took the lead on us but we were able to come back and get the win.”
Davis remembers enough about that 10 a.m. start time 18 years ago to know one thing:
“I don’t like it,” she said, laughing. “It’s not fair that you get this far and then you have to play at 10 o’clock in the morning. I can see 12 o’clock, but I don’t like 10 o’clock at all.”
But Davis said she has tried her best to make the early start a non-issue for the Raiders. The team practiced at 10 a.m. on Thursday before making the five-hour drive to Lakeland.
“We tried to simulate (Friday) as much as possible,” Davis said. “They had pretty good energy at practice. I think we’ll come in energized (Friday).”
Davis said her plan Thursday was to have her players asleep by 9 p.m. to give them plenty of rest for today’s 6 a.m. wakeup call. A light breakfast – “cereal and fruit. Nothing too heavy,” Davis said – will be polished off before the team arrives at The Lakeland Center at 8 a.m. today.
The Raiders may have a unique advantage with the early morning tip-off. Davis has a 15-player roster and she’s not afraid to use it. So if one player doesn’t show energy early, another one will be at the scorer’s table ready to check in the game.
“That’s an advantage for us,” Davis said. “I tell my girls, ‘We may not be the most talented or the most athletic, but we’ll always have more energy than the other team.
“We never know who it is that will come in and score those six points that we need. No one can account for who will take that one big shot. The last couple of years, I don’t know which of my 15 players will be the top scorer each game. That’s something we like to use to our advantage.”