For years, decades for heaven’s sake, the Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School boys’ basketball team has worn the bull’s eye.
Twenty-win seasons and state titles attract that sort of attention.
And though it has only been three seasons since the Tiger Sharks ventured to the state final four, a young team with just two seniors on the roster must stamp its own identity.
Coach Derek Kurnitsky has advocated the role of Cinderella.
“We are kind of seen as an underdog,” Kurnitsky said. “We are playing that role a little bit more. Maybe we are a Cinderella that every year in the NCAA tournament does really well. A Butler, Wichita State, every year there is a least one.
“We can be Cinderella. The team is young and is improving. They have really bought into what we are doing; you can see it since Christmas.”
The Tiger Sharks have picked up momentum and at the right time, having won five of their last seven as the District 4-1A tournament got underway this week.
Seeded third in the district – Port St. Joe is 13-12 overall, 5-5 in district play – the Tiger Sharks played host school Liberty County on Tuesday.
A win would pit the Tiger Sharks against second-seeded South Walton Friday night in Bristol.
The key to the upswing to end the season was entirely offensive. The Tiger Sharks spent much of the early part of the season putting up final tallies in the 30s and 40s.
Last week, as example, they scored 68 in a win over Wewahitchka and 69 in a victory over Mosley, Port St. Joe’s first win over a Bay County large school since Calvin Pryor and Roman Quinn graduated three years ago.
“We’ve kind of strung some wins together here, which is good, a good time to do it,” Kurnitsky said. “The kids feel confident. We are hitting our stride and scoring more points.
“No matter how good a defensive team you are you have to put the ball in the basket. You have to score points. We struggled with that early in the season, but we are putting the ball in the hole a bit better. They are young and they are improving.”
With improvement comes confidence. Additionally, since Christmas the health and depth of the team has improved, boosting the Tiger Sharks’ pressing and running scheme.
“We are a little deeper and I think this team feels like they have a run in them,” Kurnitsky said. “They have a lot more confidence; winning helps that. They have totally bought into what we are doing.
“The more we have won since Christmas the more I have seen them buying in. Hopefully we can have some fun here and go on a little bit of a run.”