LAKELAND — The personal awards are nice for Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons, but first things first and that means three years of unfinished business must be taken care of at the Lakeland Center. Calathes was named McDonald’s All-American earlier in the week and he and Parsons are playing in the Michael Jordan game but this week, there’s a championship to be won.
The two Florida signees took the first step toward rectifying three years of bad memories in Lakeland Wednesday night when they combined for 55 points and 27 rebounds to lead Lake Howell to an 86-60 win over Dillard in the state Class 5A semifinals. That sets up a Friday night showdown with St. Petersburg Lakewood for that state championship that has eluded the Silver Hawks the last three years.
“We’ve been here three straight years and we haven’t won,” said Parsons, who scored 18 first half points and 28 for the game. “We really do want to go out with a championship. That would make up for the last three years.”
Parsons finished the game with 14 rebounds, six assists and two steals. His 14-point outburst in the first quarter got Lake Howell off to a big lead that they never lost. Parsons hit a three-pointer six seconds into the game, made the perfect pass on the break to Brett Chance for a layup to make it 5-0 Lake Howell 50 seconds later, and 90 seconds later converted a midcourt steal into a dunk.
“I really wanted to get off to a good start,” he said. “I really haven’t shot well here, especially last year.”
Parsons shot well on this night. He was 12-19 from the floor, 2-4 from the three-point stripe.
The lack of a state championship is about the only thing missing on the Calathes resume. He’s been on everybody’s radar since he started on Lake Howell’s Final Four team as a freshman. Now that he’s a senior he has plenty of records but no state championship.
“To finish up with a state championship would make a lot of bad memories of this place go away,” said the 6-6, 190-pounder, whose stat line read 8-16 on two-point shots, 1-4 on three-pointers, 8-11 from the foul line, 13 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocked shots.
Calathes had a quiet first quarter as Parsons did most of the damage for Lake Howell’s 23-13 run to open the game up. Calathes had 11 points at the half and another 11 in the third quarter as the Silver Hawks stretched their 42-31 halftime bulge to 63-45. Calathes scored six points and Parsons added four more to send Lake Howell on a 12-5 run to start the fourth quarter, increasing that margin to 75-50 with 3:03 left in the game. That’s when the Lake Howell starters sat the rest of the way.
Critical in Lake Howell’s winning strategy was a move to a zone defense a couple of minutes into the second quarter when Calathes, Parsons and 6-8 Jerimy Jackson all had two personal fouls. Dillard’s leading scorer and best outside shooter Edward Lonon also was in foul trouble, so the switch to the zone meant big problems for the tall, athletic Panthers. Their big guy, 6-8 Kore White, was a terror on the boards but with Lonon sitting on the bench for a long stretch after he got his third foul in the second quarter, there was no one else to shoot the Silver Hawks out of the zone. Lake Howell stuck with the zone the rest of the way, throttling the outside even though it meant giving White a little extra room on the inside.
Getting the win in the semifinals means only half the job is done for Calathes and Parsons. Finishing the job will require a win over a very quick, tall and athletic Lakewood team that pulled away in the final minutes to score a semifinal win over Jacksonville Robert E. Lee.
“We’ve got one more game to win,” said Calathes. “We got to the finals before (2004) but we didn’t finish. Getting the personal awards like the McDonald’s game is a dream come true for me but it won’t mean as much if we don’t win the state championship.”
Parsons knows that Lakewood will present challenges similar to what Dillard brought to the table Wednesday night.
“They’re a really good team and they’ve got a lot of great athletes,” he said. “We have to play our best game of the year because they’re so tall and so athletic.”
Like Calathes, he appreciates the recognition of being selected to the Jordan game (he was also a finalist for the McDonald’s game), but he’d rather win a title in his last go-round.
“Personal awards are nice, but what matters is winning a championship,” he said. “We haven’t done that yet.”
TOURNAMENT NOTES: Florida assistant Donnie Jones was at both the afternoon and evening sessions along with former Florida assistant Anthony Grant, now the coach at Virginia Commonwealth. While Jones was at the tournament to check out Calathes and Parsons as well as freshman prospect such as Brandon Knight of Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest and Dillard’s Kore White, Grant got a good look at two of his signees: P.K. Yonge’s athletic 6-4 forward Myk Brown and Lake Howell point guard Joey Rodriguez … Knight is a 6-3 14-year-old that averaged 25.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He had 22 in Wednesday’s semifinal loss to P.K. Yonge … The two players everybody will be watching Thursday are Rayford Shipman, a high flying 6-5 junior guard for Miami’s Monsignor Pace (Class 4A) and Pompano Beach Blanche Ely’s 6-2 sophomore Kenneth Boynton, who is averaging 29.1 points per game in the 6A semifinals.