While Dillard has rolled out more than its share of prime-time players — including the most recent, power forward Kayla Wright — the mantra behind Marcia Pinder’s rise to become the all-time winningest coach in Florida prep history and run to seven state titles is that no one player, no matter how talented, is bigger than team.
In an era in which parents, AAU coaches and ‘handlers’ of highly ranked prospects are making unprecedented demands for more shot attempts and increased playing time, Pinder, who is two wins away from winning her fourth consecutive state title, stands resolute in her objection to a “star system.”
“Everyone can’t play for Dillard,” Pinder said. “We have a very unique system and program. It will never be just about a few top players. It’s about the team. We don’t have that one player scoring 20-30 points a game. Some kids and their parents just can’t handle that.”
Pinder’s refusal to accommodate outside demands is one of the biggest factors in the Hall of Fame coach building Dillard into a girls’ basketball powerhouse that shows no signs of giving up its gold standard any time soon.
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Top-ranked Dillard (26-2) is heavily favored to beat St. Johns Bartram Trail (19-7) in the FHSAA Class 5A state semifinals in Lakeland on Friday and ultimately claim its fourth consecutive state title Saturday.
Dillard is battle-tested, which leaves little, if any chance of a letdown. The Panthers split against then nationally ranked No. 4 Long Beach Poly (Calif.) 63-40 and Archbishop Wood (Pa.) 39-38 at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona and prevailed in three of four matchups against Class 5A No. 2 American Heritage earlier this season.
“I think the Nike Tournament teams showed us what we needed to work on,” said Pinder, who is 830-177 in 36 seasons. “We lost to the No. 4 team in the nation and then beat the No. 6 team. It is a different type of pressure. Our girls have been working hard to win a fourth straight state title. Ultimately, this is what our first day of practice and conditioning comes down to. Why not? Let’s go ahead and finish the job.”
Wright, Eva Myers and Briana Green are the three biggest names but on any given night, Pinder can trot out a second unit so talented it could probably win a few district titles by themselves.
Pinder is quick to credit her coaching staffs, led by long-time lead assistant George Adams for her players’ development.
Not to be overlooked, however, is Pinder’s knack for getting those players, many of whom were the top prospects coming out of middle school and could possibly average 15-20 points on other teams, to buy into a team system.
“Coming to Dillard, there is so much talent,” said Wright, who is seeking her second consecutive Final Four MVP. “You might be used to scoring 20 points a night but you won’t have to. Our team can put five players in and if they get tired we put five more without a drop off. Once they get tired, we can sub five more.
“At Dillard, players learn to bring something else to the table.”