They couldn’t quite win it all, but they got pretty darn close — and they’re primed for another good shot come next season.
The Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School varsity boys basketball program’s historic season came to a close in an 85-76 overtime loss against Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian Academy at the FHSAA 3A state championship game at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland on March 5.
The Hurricanes were paced by junior guard Emanual Sharp’s 33 points and enjoyed a solid six-point lead through three quarters of the title game.
But the lead quickly vanished once a sized-up Calvary Christian squad amped up its pressure defense, forcing a slew of turnovers and poor shots.
Calvary Christian — with eight players taller than 6-feet-5 — wound up outscoring Bishop McLaughlin 31-17 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined.
Fatigue and inexperience against Calvary Christian’s defense and heightened level of physicality also were factors in Bishop McLaughlin’s struggles at the close of game, first-year Hurricanes head coach Derrick Sharp told The Laker/Lutz News.
“Our guys kind of rushed their passes or threw weak passes or for whatever reason we just kind of lost the ball and they capitalized quick, and credit to (Calvary Christian) and their players and the pressure that they put on us, and that’s kind of what did it. From there, they had the momentum…and we just kind of lost our way in the end.
“Some miscommunication, a missed shot, a bad shot, a bad decision here, there, kind of cost us the game, but that’s the way it goes. Our guys will learn from it, I’ll learn from it, and we’ll be better from it,” said Coach Sharp, a former University of South Florida standout who played professionally in Israel for 18 years.
Celebrating a banner campaign
Bishop McLaughlin (22-7) joins rare company as the first boys hoops program in Pasco County to reach the state tournament in Lakeland since the 2015-2016 Zephyrhills High Bulldogs. That Bulldogs team lost in the 5A state semifinals that year, falling to Kissimmee Poinciana 70-52.
Moreover, the Hurricanes are the first Pasco boys basketball program in more than 50 years to play in a state title game — when Zephyrhills finished state runner-up in the 1966-1967 season. (Those Bulldogs teams were a force in the 1960s, winners of two state titles in 1962 and ’64, and runners-up in ’60 and ’66.)
The Hurricanes lengthy playoff run has generated quite a buzz about the small private Catholic school throughout the region, said Bishop McLaughlin athletic director Rex Desvaristes.
“Us being in Lakeland (for the state tournament) really opened the eyes of some of our community, not only in the Pasco area, but the Tampa Bay area,” the athletic director said. “This basketball program has helped grow our awareness and everybody knowing who Bishop McLaughlin is and our athletic program, so it definitely helped us.”
He continued: “When you’re in Lakeland and you’re advancing and you’re playing late in the spring, it’s enticing to other people in the community, because they’re tuning into your program. When you’re having success, that’s what happens. You’re getting the attention that you deserve, and that’s what’s happened with us.”
The local hoops program has come a long way in a short time.
The Hurricanes won just two games during the 2019-2020 season and seven the year before.
A roster and coaching overhaul brought in a slew of fresh faces and talent this season, however.
The team’s starting lineup of juniors — Emanuel Sharp, Anthony Davis Jr., Dillon Mitchell, Joshua Watkins, Matthew Webster — all have full-ride college athletic scholarships on the table.
Each of those starters transferred in from elsewhere — Emanual Sharp (Blake High), Davis Jr. (Blake High), Mitchell (Sickles High), Watkins (Brandon High) and Webster (Pasco High).
Better yet, they’re all expected to return next season, as are role players in junior Javy Barber, sophomores Xavier Finney and Will Willard, and freshman Christopher Cruz.
Though the squad came up just short of a state crown, it was a memorable campaign nonetheless for players like Emanuel Sharp.
“It was great that we could all come here and make a difference right off the bat,” he said. “It was all our first year together and we’re still figuring things out to this day,” noting there are still things to fix.
“It was just a great season overall. I’m very happy with what we did.”
The 6-foot-4 combo guard and coach’s son is already looking forward to next year’s possibilities — armed with a full cast that will return older, and perhaps wiser and more skilled.
“It’s exciting knowing that our entire team is going to be coming back next year,” Emanuel said. “I get to play with my teammates, we can improve in the summer and improve in the offseason, and come back next year better than ever, ready to make another state run.”
The team’s offensive system runs through Emanuel, who led all 3A players in scoring — averaging 24.3 points per game and he boasts multiple top-flight Division I offers from the likes of Florida, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Texas Tech and Xavier, among others.
Other double-digit scorers during the season were 6-foot-8 Mitchell (17.8 points) and 6-foot-5 Davis Jr. (12.1 points).
“On any given night, anybody can be the leading scorer, but the guys knew who the best player was offensively for us, so they kind of looked to (Emanuel) offensively to initiate and to create,” Derrick Sharp said.
Besides the unique collection of height, athleticism and skill, the coach credited the team’s character and unselfishness nature, noting they bought into being unconcerned with their own stat lines, but rather doing what was needed to best help the team win games.
“It’s truly probably the best group of guys that I’ve ever had the chance to coach,” Derrick Sharp said. “We definitely have the right chemistry and the right love and the right mindset, and everybody plays their role, and it’s only going to get better from here.”
Overcoming adversity, setbacks
The Hurricanes experienced its fair share of adversity along the way.
Emanuel Sharp had to sit out roughly the first two months of the season due to a fractured hand sustained from the fall.
The team also battled a bout with COVID-19, in which the entire varsity squad was required to sit out in the district finals against Carrollwood Day.
Forced to play with their junior varsity squad instead, the Hurricanes suffered a major 69-25 defeat — therefore requiring them to navigate the playoff season entirely on the road.
But they handled the challenge well, downing Clearwater Calvary Christian (62-48), Carrollwood Day (84-66) and Fort Myers Canterbury (47-42) in regionals to advance to the state final four, then beating Jacksonville Andrew Jackson (79-71) in the semifinals before ultimately losing in the championship game. “Our road to states was pretty much on the road,” said Derrick Sharp.
Meanwhile, the program faced a strategically built challenging regular season schedule from November to February.
This included trips to face large in-state schools like Orlando Dr. Phillips and Punta Gorda Charlotte, as well as premier out-of-state tournaments like the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the Hurricanes went up against state powerhouses, including North Carolina’s Greensboro Day School and Ohio’s Archbishop Moeller, among others.
The arduous collection of road games and foes was designed to give Hurricanes players a taste of tougher competition and intensity level; the team can expect another rough slate again next season.
Said Derrick Sharp: “I didn’t care if we won those games or lost them, I just wanted the guys to get that experience and get battle-tested, and that kind of is what ultimately helped us (in the state tournament), so, that’s definitely what we’re going to look for when we’re setting our schedule (in 2022).
He added: “Look at Calvary, they went 17-7, but all their losses were against tough teams and it made them tougher, and it showed in that fourth quarter where they were down and they came out and kind of punched us in the face, and that’s what we have to learn, that type of toughness if we want to be champions…”
2020-2021 Bishop McLaughlin boys basketball roster
Javy Barber, 6-foot-3 junior guard
Christopher Cruz, 6-foot-4 freshman guard
Xavier Finney, 6-foot-2 sophomore guard
Anthony Davis Jr., 6-foot-5 junior guard
Dillon Mitchell, 6-foot-8 junior forward
Emanuel Sharp, 6-foot-4 junior guard
Joshua Watkins, 6-foot-6 junior guard
Matthew Webster, 6-foot-8 junior center/forward
Will Willard, 6-foot-1 sophomore guard
Derrick Sharp, head coach
Kenneth McDonald, assistant
Richard Bryant, assistant
2020-2021 Bishop McLaughlin boys basketball schedule
Nov. 23: Clearwater Academy International (88-77 win)
Dec. 1: Clearwater Calvary Christian (76-60 win)
Dec. 3: American Collegiate Academy (75-55 win)
Dec. 5: West Nassau (52-50 loss)
Dec. 8: Tampa Catholic (76-71 overtime win)
Dec. 9: Land O’ Lakes (80-34 win)
Dec. 12: King (76-49 win)
Dec. 19: Admiral Farragut (80-60 win)
Dec. 21: Dr. Phillips (65-53 loss)
Dec. 22: Pine Ridge (93-50 win)
Dec. 26: South Carolina Cheraw (79-38 win)
Dec. 29: North Carolina Greensboro Day School (66-56 loss)
Dec. 30: South Carolina Gray Collegiate Academy (83-71 win)
Dec. 31: Ohio Archbishop Moeller (56-50 loss)
Jan. 2: Central Pointe Christian Academy (63-60 win)
Jan. 3: Potter’s House Christian (60-45 win)
Jan. 5: Windemere Prep (72-64 loss)
Jan. 22: Bayshore Christian (81-68 win)
Jan. 23: Charlotte (69-58 win)
Jan. 28: Fivay (90-56 win)
Feb. 2: Berkeley Prep (52-47 win)
Feb. 5: Mitchell (87-63 win)
Feb. 9: Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate (70-36 win)
Feb.13: Carrollwood Day (69-25 loss)
2021 FHSAA Class 3A Boys Basketball State Tournament
Feb. 18: Clearwater Calvary Christian— region quarterfinals (62-48 win)
Feb. 23: Carrollwood Day — region semifinals (84-66 win)
Feb. 26: Fort Myers Canterbury — region finals (47-42 win)
March 3: Jacksonville Andrew Jackson — state semifinals (79-71 win)
March 5: Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian Academy — state championship (85-76 overtime loss)
Published March 10, 2021