APOPKA The Dr. Phillips Panthers entered their first game of the regular season Nov. 25, a week later than most programs.
The Panthers arrived at the Metro vs. Florida Challenge at Apopka High shorthanded and readying to face a Poinciana team that had started its own season with two wins.
Despite those things that were working against it, a put-back basket by Daniel Love with two seconds remaining elevated Dr. Phillips (1-0) to a 59-58 win — leaving veteran coach Anthony Long feeling pretty good about the way his team started the 2015-2016 campaign.
"(I'm) just really, really proud of our team — we really competed well," Long said. "We're playing shorthanded. ... We have five football players (out) — three starters."
The starters Long was missing included Jaquarius "Q" Bargnare, Richard McKenzie and Nick Smith — all of whom are preparing for the Panthers' regional championship football game Friday against Osceola. The starters that were available were Justin Tucker, who led Dr. Phillips with 16 points and 20 rebounds, and Love, who ended the day with 11 points.
The void that the Panthers will have to deal with until football season ends will be filled by players like JaQuan Burton — who tallied 14 points and 7 rebounds — and Isayas Aris, who finished the day with 13 points and 5 rebounds. The solid production, says Long, is reflective of the pride his players have in the program.
"These kids don't care — when they put on (a) Dr. Phillips (jersey), they know there's a standard and expectation," Long said.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].