The 2019-2020 season for the Land O’ Lakes High School varsity basketball program is sure to be remembered for some time.
Not only was it the final of 31 seasons for longtime head coach Dave Puhalski, but it also marked the senior campaigns of Mekhi Perry and Chase Farmer — two of the most decorated players in Land O’ Lakes and Pasco County history.
Perry exits as the Gators all-time leading scorer, with 1,616 career points.
Second on the list? Farmer, who finished his Gators career with 1,403 points.
Those figures surpassed former Land O’ Lakes star Jeff Baisley’s 1,394 career points — a record held strong since 2005.
The dynamic guard duo and team captains sparkle school record books in many other categories, too.
Perry, a four-year starter, exits as the program’s all-time leader in games played (101), made 3 pointers (178), second in assists (394) and 10th in rebounds (440), steals (138) and blocks (59).
Meantime, Farmer is the school’s all-time leader in dunks (90), seventh in assists (191) and 10th in blocks (72). He compiled those stats in just three seasons, transferring in from Leto High School following his freshman campaign.
Also, both players have been named Sunshine Athletic Conference Eastside Player of the Year during their career — Farmer his junior year; Perry as a sophomore and senior.
The combo, naturally, won their share of games when on the court side-by-side for three years — going a combined 63-17 and twice reaching the Class 7A regional semifinals.
Their skillsets played off each other well and kept opposing teams off balance.
At point guard, the 6-foot-1 Perry played the role of ball handler and outside shooter.
Farmer, at 6-foot-3, offered more as a slasher and rim finisher from the off-guard spot.
Those complementing styles formed “a match made in heaven on the court,” Puhalski said.
“It was tough for teams to match up with us,” he said, “just because if you isolated on one, the other would kill ya.”
Of the hundreds of players coached at Land O’ Lakes, Puhalski considers Perry and Farmer “together, the best one-two guard combination that we’ve had.”
“We’ve had some really good point guards, good two-guards, but these two were the best together at each position,” said Puhalski, who won 479 career games at Land O’ Lakes.
“They were probably two of the better basketball players in Land O’ Lakes, maybe Pasco County. They’re really special kids.”
Their talents shine
While the two generally had separate friend and peer groups at school, Puhalski noted “once they hit the court they were on the same page.”
The pair was a coach’s and teacher’s dream off the hardwood.
“They were just really two good kids,” Puhalski said. “They were never in trouble. They never had a minute of problems at school, never were suspended, never been to ISS (in-school suspension), never any problems off the court, either. Just great kids. I never had any problems with either one of them.”
Puhalski knew he had something special when he first saw Farmer join offseason team workouts and practices in spring 2017. The Land O’ Lakes coach had only heard of the Leto transfer’s talent secondhand from his AAU coach, Mario Lovett.
Puhalski recalled, “You could tell he was already head and shoulders above the kids, him and Mekhi.”
Perry also salivated about the team’s possibilities in initial workouts with Farmer. “As soon as I saw him play and I saw his athletic ability,” Perry said, “I automatically thought we could be a good duo if we both kept developing.”
That, they did.
The pair made it a point to add strength in the weight room “and that just elevated their game,” Puhalski said.
Farmer went from benching 145 pounds as a sophomore to 260 by his senior year. Perry added some size on his own throughout high school, with the help of his father, a bodybuilding enthusiast.
“They had the skillset, and all they needed was some strength,” Puhalski said. “I think that was the key for these guys, to have that next level body when the college coaches came in and looked at them and said, ‘Well, geez, these guys have a next level body already on them, they’re not that skinny high school kid.’”
Both strived to make each other better every day, too.
“We always wanted to push each other, and wanted to push everybody,” Farmer said. “We knew that me and him could get to a different level, so we just wanted to make sure we helped each other every day in practice.”
The accomplished seniors soon will be going their separate ways — embarking on what they hope are illustrious college careers.
Perry is headed to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. Farmer is off to Cape Fear Community College, in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Both look back fondly on their prep careers and made memories at Land O’ Lakes.
Farmer said he’ll mostly miss the school’s gameday atmosphere, road trips and being coached by Puhalski. (Land O’ Lakes fans will certainly miss his signature breakaway windmill dunks.)
“It’s a really good community. I like the people,” Farmer said. “Coach P just led me in with open arms; we just went on from there.”
Perry, too, appreciates what was a positive basketball experience overall.
“The different teams I got to mesh with, hanging out with all those guys, it was just fun,” Perry said. “Every year we got closer and closer, but the freshman year varsity team (in 2016-2017) being around all those seniors, that kind of like exposed me to what Land O’ Lakes was about and that was probably one of my favorite years.”
Now retired from coaching, Puhalski will make it a point to catch as many of the duo’s college games as possible. He’s already planning dates to St. Petersburg and North Carolina, as well as a tournament in Orlando that’ll feature Farmer’s new team.
Said Puhalski, “It’s really gratifying that these last few years, with these two guys on the team and the success they had, and we had, just makes me feel real good. Now, I can watch these guys play at the next level, and that’s really the best feeling right there.”
The coach added: “I don’t know how well they’ll be at the next level, but they’ll be great citizens, and that’s the important part.”
Published May 06, 2020