Thursday morning didn’t exactly bring a victory parade for the FAMU High girls basketball team.
More like a victory lap.
The Rattlers, who won their second straight Class 2A state championship Wednesday night, took time to savor the victory Thursday morning.
The players and coaches slept in – by their standards, anyway – ate a late breakfast and didn’t check out of their hotel rooms until nearly noon. From there, the Rattlers returned to The Lakeland Center to watch semifinal games in some of the large-school classifications before loading up and making the drive back to Tallahassee around 3:30 in the afternoon.
The relaxing pace was welcomed by players and coaches – especially after the excitement of another championship season began to settle.
“We’ve come down here before and didn’t get a chance to enjoy ourselves,” FAMU High coach Ahmad Aliyy said. “Normally after the game we leave and head right back to Tallahassee. But since the game was so late (Wednesday) night, we had an opportunity to stay and savor the moment.”
“These girls worked hard. They should enjoy it. It only happens one time – you can’t go back to high school and replay it. You have to enjoy it while it happens.”
It’s likely that at least some of the memories of this championship season were replayed at the dinner table late Wednesday night (or, rather, early Thursday morning).
The team didn’t leave the arena until well after 11 p.m. Wednesday and ate a late dinner at a nearby Denny’s restaurant.
Aliyy said his players may have been more excited about the game – and the season – Thursday morning than they were Wednesday night.
“With the travel and everything, plus the time that we played the game, I think we were a little tired,” Aliyy said. “Today everybody feels energized.”
The day-after excitement gave Aliyy and his players a chance to reflect on the season and the second straight state championship.
Kiani Sims, one of six FAMU High seniors, said there was a special bond on this team.
“I think it was the fact that we all had to work together,” Sims said. “It helped us knowing that we all had to work together and put in the effort to work as one team. We knew we were a pretty young team. Well, we’re young but we have girls who have been playing for a long time. So we knew we all had to work together if we wanted to win.”
Aliyy praised the efforts of his six seniors – Sims, Chelsei Thomas, Aaliyah Barrington, Mikala Williams, Cayla Pennywell and Katelyn Stevens.
“Some of them don’t play every game or don’t get a lot of minutes,” Aliyy said. “But they still practice and they are requested to work just as hard as those who do play a lot of minutes. They’re very important to our team. We’ve been together a while and we’ll miss them. They’re an integral part of our program.”
Aliyy wasn’t quite ready to look ahead to next season. Not with a five-hour drive back to Tallahassee still awaiting him.
But with junior LaKaris Salter, the tournament MVP and a two-time Big Bend Player of the Year, and freshman Jazmine Jones returning, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see the Rattlers making another trip to Lakeland next season.
Aliyy said he will probably use the same tactic of scheduling tough non-district competition throughout the season to help prepare his team for another possible championship run.
“My position has always been since our district is not that strong and since a lot of teams we meet in our division are not that strong, we have to play up in classification if we’re to be sharp enough to win state,” said Aliyy, who has now won three state titles in 10 seasons.
“Those games realy prepare us for coming down here.”