After playing two years at Mourning High, Brazilian-born forward Thiago Conceicao arrived at Westwood Christian this past fall with a self-appointed nickname: “The Beast.”
But Westwood coach Jose Amat refused to call the 6-6, 210-pound senior by that moniker.
“I told him that he had to earn that,” Amat said. “[Last weekend], he earned it.”
Conceicao was indeed a monster in Saturday’s Class 2A regional final win over Zion Lutheran, recording 17 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks.
The 71-48 win propelled Westwood to its first trip to the state semifinals in Lakeland, where it will meet an imposing opponent in Orlando Christian Prep (21-7). Tip-off is 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Conceicao said he is not intimidated by the Warriors (24-5), who will be making their sixth consecutive trip to Lakeland with four state titles during their run.
“They’re a good team — long and athletic — but I’m not buying into the hype,” Conceicao said. “They have to play against us, too.”
Conceicao, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, moved to the United States with his mother when he was in the third grade. The rest of his family remains in Brazil.
Early on in his athletic career, Conceicao played soccer — easily the No. 1 sport in Brazil. But a desire to fit in with his American classmates and an impressive growth spurt pointed him toward basketball.
“Soccer wasn’t for me, even though I’m Brazilian,” Conceicao said. “I guess it’s kind of weird.”
Conceicao was one of two key transfers who came to Westwood this fall for their senior years. The other is 6-0 point guard Daniel Ramis, who said he was a part-time starter last season at Columbus. He now leads Westwood in scoring.
Those two were the final pieces of the starting lineup to come together at Westwood after 6-3 senior guard Armand Shoon and 6-3 sophomore forward Eugene Joseph transferred the year before.
It’s all part of a historic time at Westwood that has seen both the baseball and basketball teams make it to state for the first time in the school’s 50-year history.
Now Westwood faces a Warriors team that compiled a 137-18 record over the past five years. They also won four state Player of the Year honors in that span.
Amat said his team is embracing the underdog role. For the layup line, they wear T-shirts that read: “I believe.”
And before Tuesday’s game, Amat plans to show his kids the movie Hoosiers.
“We hope it inspires the kids,” Amat said, “because we want to shock the state.”
Hialeah Gardens 12, North Miami Beach 3
WP: Christian Suarez. Top performers: Suarez 5 IP, 7 K. Alejandro Piedra 3-3, 2 R, 3 RBI. Damien Escandell 3-3, triple, R, 2 RBI. Richard Abreu 2-4, double, R, 2 RBI. HG 3-3.
Miami Christian 11, Keys Gate 3
WP: Cristobal Arenas 5IP, 7K. Top performers: Laz Gonzalez 3-3, 2 RBI, 3R. David Lopez 2-3, 3RBI, 3R. Miguel Perez 2-3, 3 RBI. Ernie Angueira 2-4, 2RBI.
American 9, Hialeah 3 – WP: Kevin Peraza 7 K. Top performers: Edison Cabrera 2-5, 2 RBI. Eric Gonzalez 2-2. Matt Ruiz 2-4. AM 4-0.