A look back at the sequence that ended Windermere Prep basketball's hopes of repeating as state champions.
The texts and phone calls kept coming, even after Ben Wilson took the day off that Friday to get out of town for the weekend.
His hope was to clear his head and get away from all the noise, but the messages kept rolling in.
Many had photos or videos pertinent to what had happened a few days earlier on Feb. 21. Other were asking what could be done. Still more were simply offering support or concurrence that the Windermere Prep basketball team had gotten a raw deal.
This is what happens when a season with championship dreams ends on a controversial call.
The setting for this story is the regional semifinals of the FHSAA Class 5A Playoffs. Windermere Prep — last year’s state champion in Class 3A and a favorite of many to win it all in Class 5A this year — hosted The Villages Charter and, as Wilson will admit, his team wasn’t playing to its full potential (more on that later).
Despite that, with 7.7 seconds remaining, senior star and Memphis signee David Nickelberry was driving to the rim with a chance to tie the 72-70 game. His shot did not go down, but a tip-in follow by Shaquan Jules with about two seconds to go, did.
Immediately, though, the game-tying basket is waived off by an official for basket interference — a call with which many, including Wilson, disagree.
“My view was right by the view of the ref who made the call,” Wilson said. “I honestly thought it had just come out of the cylinder.”
Allegedly, there are photos and video that suggest the ball came out of the cylinder and that Jules’ tip-in was clean, but the controversy also does not stop there, either.
In the confusion, the game was called for time expiring, although the moment in question appeared to have occurred with around two seconds remaining — as evidenced by a photo circulated by Twitter user Daniel Rosario (@DanielPrepHoops) that shows Jules tipping the ball in with 2.3 seconds remaining.
So, even if the basket interference call was correct, The Villages Charter should have had to try and inbound the ball again, with Windermere Prep having an opportunity to steal the ball and get off one last shot or immediately foul.
But none of that happened, as fans from the visiting team stormed the court to celebrate, and fans from Windermere Prep were left in disbelief.
“Instead of the three-man crew getting together (to review) … they all just made for the locker room and got out of there,” Wilson said. “In a lot of ways, I was frustrated with the ending.”
High-school sports officials certainly aren’t perfect, and Wilson is not a coach known for shouting at officials. He also refuses to cite that sequence as the reason his team lost that night.
“I try to make that (officiating) the last excuse for why we lost a game,” Wilson said. “(That is) including this game we’re talking about — I still don’t say that’s why we lost.”
Nevertheless, Wilson, his team and the campus community believe their boys should have been playing in an overtime period, and since that didn’t happen it is a tough reality — especially for the seniors.
“That was the worst part of the whole situation for me … you look at your five seniors and they’re mad, they’re crying, they’re upset,” Wilson said. “They’re still caught up in the moment — their season ended and their career ended.”
There is little to be be done about game’s ending. The FHSAA notified Windermere Prep the next day it was aware of the situation, but little else has come of it, and the Class 5A State Playoffs concluded last week with Calvary Christian winning a state championship (The Villages Charter won once more and ultimately was defeated in the state semifinals by state runner-up Tampa Catholic). Ultimately, resolving such a situation without the use of replay would be difficult.
So, despite the texts and pleas of many, Wilson said he isn’t caught up in trying to right what happened.
“What can be done? They’re not going to come back in there and re-do the last play. What’s done is done,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to just deal with it.”
However, the veteran coach hopes the instance can be used as a teaching opportunity for referees going forward — especially pertaining to handling a controversial ending, when the atmosphere in a gym can be tense. Wilson said he would have liked to see more of a conference between the three officials before quickly exited the playing area.
As for the players, the hurt still lingers two weeks later, but there is reason to look forward. Four of the team’s five seniors will be playing college athletics (two will play basketball, two will play football). As for those who will return next fall, Wilson couldn’t imagine a better source of motivation to use for the 2017-18 season.
“The guys coming back … this is the most obvious and easiest motivation you’ll use for those kids,” Wilson said.