Land O’ Lakes boys basketball coach Dave Puhlaski got his 400th career win when the Gators defeated Sunlake High 76-40 on Feb. 3.
Many expected the longtime coach to reach the milestone on Jan. 29, when his team held a sizeable 20-point halftime lead over River Ridge, but the Gators collapsed and ultimately lost in overtime, 57-55.
“I thought we might get it then and could focus on the district (tournament) totally, but it didn’t work out,” said Puhlaski, who’s in his 27th season as head coach at Land O’ Lakes.
While a 400th win is an impressive coaching milestone, Puhlaski deflected credit for his accomplishment —instead praising his players, assistant coaches and his wife, Erika.
“It’s just been the combination of a lot of good players over a lot of years and a lot of good assistant coaches,” he said. “And, my wife — she’s been at every win and every loss — she’s been an integral part of it.
“It just means I’ve been around for a long time,” he added.
While Land O’ Lakes (14-9) enjoyed a 36-point victory over Sunlake (0-17), the Gators trailed 15-12 at the end of the first quarter in the Class 6A, District 8 semifinal.
“We were trying to do too much in the first quarter,” said senior guard Taddeus Dixon. “The team just came together and said, ‘We have to (work) together and not individually.’”
Puhlaski said both defensive breakdowns and turnovers were to blame for the early deficit against an overmatched Sunlake squad.
“They hit a few shots on us, and usually we try to live off our defense, but we weren’t collapsing or pushing the ball to the middle of the floor,” he explained. “We were not gelling.”
After the initial back-and-forth, the Gators pulled away in the second half, outscoring the Seahawks by a 39-15 combined margin in the third and fourth quarter.
“It felt really good for the whole team,” Dixon said about the win and his coach’s milestone. “We always say it’s never over ‘til it’s over.”
Land O’ Lakes athletic director Karen Coss said Puhlaksi’s 400th career win “definitely shows his dedication and his commitment to the school.
“That is one heck of a milestone, that’s for sure,” Coss said.
Puhlaski’s success over the years also can be attributed to his passion and his ability to motivate, said Tedd Poore, who’s had three sons — Max, Jake and Nick — coached by Puhlaski.
“Everybody ‘s real excited for Dave. He’s been an institution in this community for over 20 years,” Poore said. “A lot of kids have come through his program, and he’s been instrumental in advising and guiding boys when they needed it the most.
“He really cares.”
Puhlaski didn’t say how much longer he plans to coach at Land O’ Lakes, but there’s some indication he may stick around at least until his son David Jr., who’s a sophomore, graduates from the school.
Coaches in Pasco County serve on annual contracts, but Coss said she doesn’t foresee any changes occurring with Puhlaski’s role with the program “as long as he’s teaching (physical education) here and wanting to coach here.”
Prior to being named the Land O’ Lakes head coach in 1989, Puhlaski served as an assistant at Ocala Vanguard for three seasons. That was followed by a one-year stint as an assistant at the University of Tampa.
Published February 10, 2016