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Trinity Baptiste makes history by reaching Women’s Final Four

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Arizona qualified for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament for just the eighth time this season, the last coming in 2005. 

The wait was worth it. 

After struggling for years, the Wildcats went on a charmed run, culminating with Monday’s 66-53 victory over Indiana to reach the Final Four for the first time. 

Trinity Baptiste, a former standout at Hillsborough, played a pivotal role in Arizona’s moment on the national stage. The senior forward finished with a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Elite Eight victory. 

She made bay area history, too.

Baptiste (featured photo of above courtesy of Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics) is the first player from Hillsborough County and just the third ever from the area to play in the Women’s Final Four. 

Dominique Redding, who starred at Clearwater, played at Tennessee and won a national title in 2007. She still is the only area player to be crowned a champion at the Division I level. The only other local to make a women’s Final Four is Lakewood’s Necole Tunsil, who started for Iowa when the Hawkeyes advanced in 1993.

It was a long road for Baptiste’s inclusion into that elite company among area players.

She started her college career at Northwest Florida State College before transferring to Virginia Tech. She played in every game for the Hokies during her sophomore and junior seasons, even earning ACC Sixth player of the year honors last season. 

But she never made the NCAA tournament — until now. 

The challenge is tough. On Friday, the Wildcats face Connecticut, which is making their 13th straight Final Four appearance. 

No matter. This is why Baptiste transferred to Arizona as a senior. 

Now she has a chance to cap her college career with a national title. . 

Boys Basketball

Emanuel Sharp out nearly four months with broken fibula

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Bishop McLaughlin’s Emanuel Sharp, the Class 3A player of the year, will be out for nearly four months after dislocating his ankle and breaking his fibula during an open practice session according to his father, Derrick Sharp.

The younger Sharp, who committed to Houston last week, had surgery two weeks ago and will have his cast removed in about three weeks, his father said.

Two months ago, Sharp led the Hurricanes to their first state title game appearance. He 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 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 while at Blake. 

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. He is ranked as the 11th-best shooting nationally in the 2022 class by ESPN.  

Because of ability to pile on the points, Sharp was a coveted recruit. The four-star prospect ended picking the Cougars, a Final Four participant, over offers from Florida, Georgia Tech and Loisville, among others. 

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Boys Basketball

Bishop McLaughlin’s Emanuel Sharp commits to Houston

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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

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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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