LAKELAND Maybe it’s that he wanted to present a serious image as a 28-year-old coach in a tournament dominated by older counterparts, or maybe it’s simply the pressure of the moment, but Florida Prep’s head basketball coach remained stonefaced through much of Tuesday afternoon.
But mention that 2009 Cocoa High state title, and Julius Reid can’t hold back the smile.
Just eight years removed from winning a state championship as a Cocoa player, the second-year Falcons coach moved within a game of doing it from the sidelines. In Tuesday’s Class 2A semifinal round, his Florida Prep team blew past North Florida Educational Institute of Jacksonville, 69-41.
Now 23-5, the Falcons will face Miami Christian at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Miami Christian (28-2) advanced with an 86-53 win over Jacksonville Temple Christian, also Tuesday.
Reid started wearing his Cocoa championship ring when the playoffs started a few weeks ago. He did it not to brag but to deliver a message to his current players.
“Just a little reminder,” he said. These are serious times for the Falcons, and this isn’t their coach’s first trip to The Lakeland Center.
His message appeared effective as Tuesday’s game started, the Melbourne school jumping out to a 15-2 lead, but with 1:20 to go in the half, the Eagles (16-9) had leveled the scoring. When Reid called a timeout, his team had pushed its margin by only two more points to 15, at 36-21.
Their coach has some experience with big leads vanishing in the state tournament. In 2009, Cocoa trailed then-unbeaten Springstead at halftime of the championship game, 37-26. Cocoa rebounded, winning the third quarter by 16 points. The Tigers won handily, 75-60, to finish 30-3.
“A lot of them say we were the best team to come through Cocoa High,” Reid said Tuesday. “I don’t know. There’ve been some great Cocoa teams. I only know it was a special team to be a part of.”
Reid’s timeout on Tuesday made sure his Falcons didn’t experience their own collapse. Perhaps as a demonstration of what he told them during the timeout, he asked the five players he brought to the postgame interview room a question.
“How many minutes do we play, fellas?”
They responded in unison, “32.”
Message delivered. The Falcons finished the half with a 9-0 run, and they started the second half as quickly as they started the game. Midway through the third, their lead jumped to 61-26, and the running-clock mercy rule went into effect.
Facing Miami Christian next, Reid said he expects his current team to face pressure. That won’t be new at the state level for him either.
In that 2009 final, his Tigers fell behind 10-0 as Springstead opened in a press that the then-senior called “highly unexpected.” Cocoa overcame it with the halftime decision to press also.
Reid finished that game with 18 points, including a basket from 3-point range. In the semifinal win over Bartow, he had led the Tigers with 21, including three from 3-point range.
On Tuesday, his Falcons were led by DeJoun Smalls, who scored 18 points. Mbacke Diong scored 14 and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Heorhil Kotsiura scored 14.
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or email@example.com. Follow facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum and @Brian_McCallum on Twitter.
Wednesday’s Class 2A basketball final
Florida Prep vs. Miami Christian
The Lakeland Center, Lakeland, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: $10. Parking: $10