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Boys Basketball

Memorable moments 2019-20: Taylor Teeden delivers in the clutch



Plant City celebrating

The season was down to one shot. The chance to win a state title was condensed to five seconds. And there was Taylor Teeden waiting to make everything right.

Plant City tried every other manner of rescuing itself in a game on the verge of disaster. The Raiders made a furious rally, turning a nine-point deficit into a one-possession game in the final two minutes of regulation. They were out of options, at least ones that did not call for some desperation. 

Needing to go the length of the court, Ayden Perez threw a deep inbounds pass to Parker Hancock-Eitenoir, who immediately handed the ball to Teeden. 

After dribbling the ball enough to get within striking range, Teeden made sure he would not fail with the clock short and the scoreboard askew. The freshman heaved the ball, then watched as it bounced off the rim before falling through the net. 

The Raiders erupted, pandemonium reigned, and at the end of the court a blur of orange jerseys danced.

Teeden became Mr. Clutch, hitting  the game-winner as time expired to beat St. Cloud in the Unified Special Olympics state championship game. 

“I was zoned in,” Teeden said. “It felt good when I took that last shot. It’s something I’ve practiced. I was frozen, just standing there waiting for it to go in. I just wanted to do my part to help the team.”

The Unified Sports program joins people with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics athletes) and without (Unified partners) who play together on the same team.

Teeden, the son of Plant City boys basketball Billy Teeden, wanted to be a partner to the Special Olympics athletes after watching them practice in the school’s gymnasium. Taylor shared sports stories. He built relationships. He became more compassionate. 

Taylor already knew about overcoming obstacles in the sport. When Taylor was four years old, he was diagnosed with a bicuspid valve and enlarged aorta, a heart condition that has two flaps on the valve instead of the typical three. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born with the same valve defect and opted to have surgery years later. 

Though Taylor never had an operation, his heart problems kept him from playing basketball on any school-related teams. Still, Taylor stayed active, serving as a coach for AAU and recreational programs. It was not until middle school when doctors cleared him to play.

As a freshman with the Raiders this past season, Taylor juggled his time with the junior varsity squad and the Unified Special Olympics team. His shooting touch helped Plant City advance to the championship game of the Unified tournament, held at Lakeland’s RP Funding Center the same week as the girls state tournament. 

And when the game was tight, when a comeback was needed, Taylor’s coaching acumen came through. 

“Those years of being on the bench as a coach paid off for Taylor, especially in the final five seconds,” Billy Teeden said. “That play, that shot, was executed perfectly, just as if he was a coach on the floor.”

Billy and his wife, Jeannette, were in the stands in Lakeland. They sat in disbelief after their son’s buzzer-beating shot. 

“It was just an amazing moment,” Billy said. 

Afterward, teammates hoisted Taylor on their shoulders, carrying him closer to the Raiders’ fans. Taylor held the trophy while everyone cheered. 

“It was incredible to be a part of that team,” Taylor said. “I loved every minute of it.”

This season, Taylor will be playing for his father on Plant City’s varsity team. As a varsity basketball, Taylor will no longer be able to play for the Unified team, per Florida High School Athletic Association rules. 

“I’ll still be at every practice trying to help out,” Taylor said. “I want to continue to be a role model for everyone on the team.” 

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Boys Basketball

Bishop McLaughlin’s Emanuel Sharp commits to Houston



Bishop McLaughlin’s Emanuel Sharp, who led the program to its first state title game appearance, made his college plans official by committing to Houston on Thursday. 

Sharp publicly made the decision on social media. The four-star recruit, who was rated as the 11th-best shooting guard in the nation by ESPN, picked the Cougars over offers from Florida, Georgia Tech and Louisville, among others. 

Last month, Sharp was named the state player of the year in his classification for the second straight season by the Florida Dairy Farmers.

A year ago, Sharp (featured photo above courtesy of Willie Kelly) took home 5A honors after finishing as the state’s fourth-leading scorer and ranking among the top 20 in the nation with an average of 31.9 points per game. Better still, he helped Blake go through a remarkable turnaround. The Yellow Jackets went from a losing record during the 2018-19 season to finishing 22-6 and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last season. 

In the offseason, Sharp switched schools, transferring to Bishop McLaughlin to join his father, Derrick, who took over head coaching duties. After missing the first six games of the season with an injury and enduring a 17-day layoff for contact tracing related to COVID-19, Sharp found his groove. 

The junior guard finished with a team-leading 24.7 points per game and led the Hurricanes to their first state title game appearance in school history. Those numbers, coupled with the playoff run, were the main reasons Sharp won again, this time as the 3A state player of the year. 

He is the first male at Bishop McLaughlin to win a state player of the year award in the school’s classification.

Sharp is one of the prized prospects in the 2022 class for Houston, which went 28-4 and lost to eventual national champion Baylor in the Final Four this season.

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Boys Basketball

Former St. Petersburg star Serrel Smith Jr. commits to USF



For years, the USF men’s basketball program has tried to land a prized prospect from the bay area, extending offers to local stars such as Tampa Catholic’s Kevin Knox and Thomas Dziagwa, Tampa Prep’s Juwan Durham and St. Petersburg’s Serrel Smith Jr..

All went elsewhere.

On Friday, one of those standouts decided to give the Bulls a chance. 

Smith Jr., who played two seasons at Maryland before transferring to East Tennessee State, announced on his Twitter page that he was committing USF.

The move comes exactly two weeks after Smith Jr. entered the transfer portal. This is Smith Jr.’s third school in as many seasons. Still, the latest stop gives the Bulls a homegrown star, something that has eluded the program for years. 

Only three other locals — Hudson’s Mark Calleja, Seminole’s Henry Beard and Oldsmar Christian’s Troy Holston, have made the USF roster in the past five seasons. Calleja and Beard were walk-ons. 

Smith Jr. was a coveted recruit who continued to receive interest from the Bulls a year ago when he transferred to East Tennessee State. 

“The way the transfer portal is now, players are constantly coming and going,” Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell Jr. said. “Their journeys are always evolving but eventually they end up playing where they should have been all along.

“I’m happy for Serrel. He’s back home, and it should be a good situation for him.”

During his two seasons at Maryland, Smith Jr. played sparingly, averaging 10 minutes and 2.6 points per game. Last season, Smith Jr. averaged seven points and 2.3 rebounds per game at East Tennessee State.   

He was a star throughout his high school career at St. Petersburg. As a senior, Smith Jr. was named the Florida Dairy Farmers Class 8A state player of the year after averaging 29. 3 points per game and helping the Green Devils reach the state semifinals for the third time in his four seasons with the program. 

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Boys Basketball

Tony Livingston transfers to King



Tony Livingston, a two-sport star who committed to Florida earlier this month, has transferred from Carrollwood Day to King. 

The rising senior will play football and basketball for the Lions. 

“We’re happy to have him for his last year,” said King basketball coach Chris Senoga-Zake, who previously coached at Carrollwood Day. “He’s grown a lot from the time I had him as a freshman and has been working hard this off season. I’m hoping we can change the culture at King and give him the opportunity to showcase his true talent on the court.”

Three weeks ago, Livingston became the first area player in the 2022 class to commit to the Gators. . 

Livingston (featured photo above courtesy of JJ Battle/Battle Tested Photography) is a 6-foot-6, 250 pound offensive tackle who is athletic enough to play tight end, too. The four-star recruit is rated as the 18th-best player in the state and 19-best offensive tackle in the nation in the 2022 class according to 247 Sports’ composite list.

Though Livingston’s primary sport is football, he also played a key role in helping Carrollwood Day’s basketball team win a district title and reach the Class 3A region semifinals. Earlier this month, Florida became the first school to extend offers to Livingston in both sports. 

He could end up playing both in college, much like his former Carrollwood Day teammate Mike Trigg plans to do at Southern California this coming fall.   

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