Longtime Panthers coach Anthony Long hoping this year's squad can capture elusive state title.
DR. PHILLIPS Dec. 17 was a special occasion for Dr. Phillips boys hoops coach Anthony Long.
But don’t expect him to be the one to tell you why.
The modest coach of a program that has won at least 20 games a season since Bill Clinton was in his first term as president earned win No. 300 last Thursday.
His Panthers, now 7-1, pulled away in the fourth quarter of an important Metro Conference game against visiting Evans for a 76-67 win.
For someone on the roster such as senior Richard McKenzie, whose game-high 23 points helped to pave the way to victory for the Panthers, the fact that he was part of a milestone achievement for his coach was something he wasn’t even cognizant of until afterward.
“We weren’t aware of it until just now, when he told us in the locker room,” McKenzie said. “It’s amazing – he’s a really good coach, and we all love him.”
After the victory, Long was much more interested in talking about McKenzie’s strong play of late, or how well senior Justin Tucker (15 points, 17 rebounds, five blocks) played, than his personal accomplishment. Still, he did address the significance of the win, in a way, by praising the school itself.
“You don’t see too many coaches hanging in at one school that long,” Long said. “DP is just so great. There’s no better place for me to go.”
Long has two state championships from his time with Gainesville High and has led the Panthers to state runner-up finishes in 2007, 2010 and 2011. Perhaps the year he hits win No. 300 at Dr. Phillips (combined, he is set to secure win No. 450 as a head coach this week) also will be the year that he gets the Panthers over the hump as the last team standing in Lakeland.
It wouldn’t have seemed so likely before the season. A wave of transfers headlined by blue-chip forward Chaundee Brown, now at The First Academy, figured to set Dr. Phillips back.
But it hasn’t. The Panthers are 7-1 with quality victories over Evans, Ocoee and Edgewater. Led by Tucker’s massive wingspan, Dr. Phillips showcases a balanced attack of perimeter shooters and slashing ability and, as always, they’re well-coached and disciplined.
Already, this season figures to extend that streak of 20-win seasons to 23 consecutive campaigns. Maybe it’ll include a postseason run, too.
Regardless, kudos to coach Long on his achievement. The program is lucky to have him.