Every eight or nine years, it seems, the South Miami boys’ basketball team makes it to the state final four in Lakeland, and each time Robert Doctor is there in a different role.
Doctor was a starting guard in 1996 when the Cobras lost the state final 46-33 to Miami High, and he was an assistant coach in 2004 when South Miami got back to the title game only to lose to Orlando Edgewater 72-51.
Now the Cobras head coach, Doctor will lead South Miami (27-3) in a Class 8A state semifinal Friday night at 7 against Tampa Wharton (25-4).
If the Cobras advance, they will play either Deerfield Beach (25-4) or Oviedo Hagerty (22-5) on Saturday night at 8:35.
A win there would give the Cobras the first state title in program history.
According to Source Hoops, South Miami is the No. 1 Class 8A team in the state, followed by Deerfield Beach. Hagerty is fifth and Wharton is eighth.
So what has Doctor learned from his previous trips to state?
“Stay focused,” he said. “Just because you win the first one doesn’t mean you are going to win the big game. And we have to get past Wharton first. But we’re confident.”
One reason why the Cobras are feeling good is that they have already won three tournaments this season.
Locally, they beat Sagemont in the Alex Rodriguez tournament final and defeated Carol City for the GMAC title.
They also went to Orlando and beat Osceola in double overtime in the Great Florida Shootout.
But the Cobras are not immune to poor games. They lost to Columbus 38-37 on Dec. 20. Since then, the Cobras have reeled off 17 consecutive victories. But the Columbus game still stings.
“Every day when we get to the gym for practice, I put that score — 38-37 — on the scoreboard,” said Doctor, who played football (safety) and basketball at Bethune-Cookman. “I want that to be a reminder to our guys of what can happen if we lose focus.”
Doctor believes that this is the best Cobras team yet.
The ’96 team was led by forward Lucas Barnes, who went on to play for the University of Miami. But the Cobras ran into the Miami High dynasty that was coached by Frank Martin, now at South Carolina.
The ’04 team was led by another future Hurricane, Brian Asbury, as well as Xavier Dawson and Abdul Herrera. But they got beat by Edgewater star Darius Washington, who scored 29 points in the final.
This year’s Cobras team is experienced, with five seniors among their top six players.
The leaders are 6-9 senior center Antravious Simmons, who is averaging 18.9 points and 12.8 rebounds, and 6-1 senior point guard Jorge Perez-Laham (17.2 points, 7.2 assists).
Simmons, a Virginia Commonwealth recruit, was in foul trouble and held to four points in the Cobras’ regional final win over Hialeah Gardens on Saturday. But Perez-Laham came up big with 14 points.
“That point guard is really good,” said Hialeah Gardens coach Marcos Molina of Perez-Laham, who also had 31 points in the regional semifinals. “He scores when they need him to score.”