Posted: 8:55 pm Saturday, March 5th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
LAKELAND — I’ve seen Dwyer play a solid 10 times this year, and none of the opponents I saw pushed the Panthers the way Lake Wales did on Saturday in the Class 5A finals (read more on the game here). And Dwyer still won by 15.
I was courtside at the Lakeland Center, so here are some of my postgame thoughts on what transpired here in Lakeland.
If it wasn’t for the first quarter, when Lake Wales’ bus came late and rolled in with about two minutes left and Dwyer already led 22-6, this would’ve been a contest. But that fast start was Dwyer’s goal, and coach Fred Ross got exactly what he wanted. Vic Adams scored a bunch of his 18 points during that fast start, and then Jacoby Brissett got his points when his team needed him to.
From that point on, Lake Wales sped the game up. Dwyer actually committed 21 turnovers (bringing its weekend total to 52), but the Panthers just had too much size and too much defense to ever let Lake Wales get within striking distance. Biggest lead was 19, closest it got was nine.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
1. Too much Brissett. Like I said, I watched Dwyer a lot this year, and this was really only the second game where he was the dominant player I’d heard about. He handled the ball relatively well (he still had six turnovers), but he did well enough to get it up the court. That’s all you can really ask. He was an animal on the glass (12 rebounds) and had five assists, but his best asset is his ability to attack the basket.
He has an inside-out dribble (or a fake crossover) that really gives him enough space to bully his way to the tin. He used it to perfection Saturday, especially late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter. I hate the phrase, but he “took the game over.” He scored eight straight points during one stretch, and those eight points were part of a 10-0 run that took the game from 51-42 to 61-42.
“When that happened, I was checking back into the game and one of our coaches just said, ‘Play like Jacoby Brissett plays,’” Brissett said. “I felt like whenever I got the ball and I knew what I was going to do, I felt like no one was going to stop me.”
Lake Wales was impressed.
“He’s a physical player,” Lake Wales guard Kevin Capers said of Brissett. “For a big man, I didn’t know he could dribble as well as he could. Coach said we had to contain him and not let him touch the ball, but somehow, he got the ball and scored and got open shots for his teammates. He’s a great player.”
This was a personal trip for Brissett and his fellow seniors, particularly 6-7 forward Greg Louis, 6-7 center Derrick Davis and 6-1 guard Montel Williams, who were all key players on last year’s team that crashed out in the semifinals with huge expectations. They also lost in the semis as sophomores.
“Third time’s a charm,” Brissett said. “I thought it was fake for a minute … I came to Dwyer to play basketball. I remember my freshman year, after losing, sitting outside our school with Coach Ross and him telling me I was gonna get two rings. Seeing that come true is big. This just takes my breath away.”
That prompted the natural thought: With all kinds of personal accolades and a state title in both basketball and football, Brissett has to be one of the greatest — if not the greatest — two-sport athletes of all-time in Palm Beach County.
“I don’t look at it like that,” Brissett said. “I feel like there are players getting overlooked who are just as good as me or better. Without the players around me … that’s what made me the player that I am, the person that I am.”
Then he joked, “I think the county is too little for me. I’m trying to be the best player in the country, to be honest with you. If that’s how you look at it, then you can say that.”
2. Fast start, slow freeze. Like I said, Dwyer started out fast, taking a 22-6 lead and holding it to 29-13 after the first quarter. After that, the quarters looked like this:
Lake Wales 14, Dwyer 13
Lake Wales 15, Dwyer 13
Dwyer 17, Lake Wales 15
Had the first quarter not been so one-sided, we would’ve had a ballgame. But that was exactly how Dwyer wanted things to go, according to Ross.
“We felt real comfortable yesterday,” Ross said. “After we watched them last night, we just felt like, if we played our game, we were the better team. We wanted to get off to a fast start and try to take the home crowd out of it and take away any momentum.”
The crowd was quiet in that first quarter.
3. You’re as cold as ice. Lake Wales coach Billy Dee Washington put it pretty succinctly: “The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
Granted, even that was an understatement. Lake Wales couldn’t hit anything early on. The Highlanders shot 28 percent in the first half, and they didn’t get much better in the second, when they shot at a 34-percent clip. They made 2 of 10 3-pointers, they were 13 of 21 from the foul line and they seemed to be flustered enough early on that they were even missing bunnies, much like Fort Walton Beach yesterday.
“It’s not unusual for us to come out with a slow start,” Washington said. “We’ve had slow starts periodically throughout the year. We have come back many times. Once we settled in, we were OK. There wasn’t any panic from them or from me. What we were trying to do was get the lead down to 10 or maybe even single digits going into the fourth quarter. We cut it to (nine) but we could never get it past that.”
Washington’s lead guard Russell Wilson added to that thought:
“They tried to intimidate us because they were taller than us,” Wilson said. “Then the crowd was pumping for them. We tried to fight back, we tried to fight back, but the lead got too big. They just were playing defense and outrebounding us.”
When you miss shots and are outrebounded by 16, you usually lose games. And that’s what happened.
4. Finally … they fed the Elephant. Yesterday, Dwyer’s 6-10 center Joel James said he was more like an elephant than a shark after hearing Fort Walton Beach coach John Lavin compare Dwyer to sharks that smell blood in the water. The past few games, Dwyer hadn’t really fed the big guy in the post, and Ross found out why.
“We looked at film yesterday and we weren’t giving him enough time to establish his post position,” Ross said. “He’s kinda slow. The big guy’s slow. So we held the ball longer. We really wanted to get Joel the ball inside. The last four or five games, he hasn’t touched the ball enough. He’s 6-10, 290 pounds, and nobody else can match it. We’ve got great perimeter shooters, but to win a championship, they had to sacrifice.”
So they tossed it inside a bunch in the first quarter. James got four easy layups for eight points — including the first four points of the game — and finished with 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks. His stats would’ve been bulkier but he left the game in the third quarter because of a “popped ligament” in his foot, for which he said he will not see a doctor.
5. Ranking his title teams. A reporter asked Ross to compare the 2011 champs to his previous two title teams (2004 and 2005). It took a little while to get to the answer, but when he did, he settled on this year’s version as the best.
“This is probably — from 1-to-14 — probably the most talented team we’ve ever had,” Ross said. “I was talking to the Alabama coaches and they nicknamed Vic Adams ‘Get Buckets.’ That opens the floor. (Louis) learned how to play in traffic, and now at the foul line he’s deadly. We’ve just got so much. We’ve got two kids coming off the bench (Williams and Davis) who have been starters for most of their careers.
“I had to run in the locker room before they saw me (get emotional). To be fortunate enough to win a state championship is great. We just sit there and yell, but the kids do all the work. They run all the suicides and I just stand on the sidelines and yell. This team probably got to me a little more. They do the work, they deserve the credit.”
So there you have it. And just like Summit Christian and Grandview Prep, Palm Beach County’s other two state finalists, Dwyer has plenty of talent returning next year.
As for me, that’s it from Lakeland. Hope y’all enjoyed reading the coverage. If you have any suggestions for how to do it better next year, let me know. In the meantime, enjoy the offseason, folks.