In an era that dotes over the lightning quick cross-over, Blanche Ely star guard Lance Tejada III stands apart with an “old-school” yo-yo dribble.
Tejada’s deliberately paced move, straight out of an ESPN Classic, is the genesis for Tejada emerging as a big time closer for the two-time defending Class 7A state champion Tigers.
“Coming out of New York I never wanted to do all the fancy tricks with the ball,’’ Tejada said. “I was all about making the right play, controlling the game. I always watch how Chris Paul keeps his head up while dribbling. He is always trying to look for a teammate but can also take over a game in late game situations. He is a bull on the court, a tough point guard. I pattern my game after him.”
Class 7A No. 3 Ely (20-4) will need Tejada and his yo-yo dribble - which sets him up as a dual threat shooting three-pointers and attacking the rim, to be at its best when they visit Royal Palm Beach (20-7) in the 7A region quarterfinals on Thursday.
An Ely victory will most likely set up a highly anticipated fifth showdown against arch rival No. 2 Boyd Anderson in the region semifinals on Feb. 18. The Cobras have won three of four matchups against the Tigers this season.
While Ely has gotten timely contributions from Joshua Floyd, Javon Heastie, Courtney Anderson, Trevor Goodrum and Therrell Gosier, it is the East Carolina signee Tejada and his career-high 23.7 points per game which will have the biggest say in the Tigers’ bid for a three-peat.
Within that decided jump from 12 points per game last season, Tejada has done his best Mariano Rivera type closer imitation for Ely.
Tigers five-time state champion coach Melvin Randall said Tejada possesses all the intangibles to put teams away.
“What sets Lance apart, is that in crucial situations he wants the ball,’’ Randall said. “If we need a basket and it’s the fourth quarter, the ball is going in Lance’s hands. The other team will have to design a defense to stop him. I’m going to design something to get him the ball. Lance is a tough kid. He hates to lose.”
Tejada’s go-to move, the yo-yo dribble might not have the acclaim of Rivera’s infamous “cutter” pitch, but it shares similar game-closing results.
While Tejada keeps his two-handed dribble alive, defenders have to choose between backing off him to thwart his his strong dribble drive game or tight ball pressure to negate his three-point shooting. That split second indecision is all Tejada needs to make his counter move.
“Lance has put together a completely unique game,’’ Randall said. “He settles his defender down and then he hits them. He kind of says “I’m your friend”, then he blows by them or shoots the three. He gets them in that relaxation mode. He kind of hypnotizes them with that dribble.”
The cat and mouse game Tejada’s plays with his dribble has led to a prolific scoring season highlighted by 28 points against Class 5A No. 3 Cardinal Gibbons, 37 against Boyd Anderson and 31 points against Class 5A No. 4 Dillard.
Tejada scored a game-high 37 points, including seven three-pointers, against Boyd Anderson in the District 14-7A championship game last Saturday but was upstaged by Cobras guard Dondre Duffus who converted the game-winning free throws with 5.9 seconds left for the 55-54 Cobras’ victory.
If the Tigers can cool off the Warriors, who have won 14 of its past 15 games, Tejada will most likely get an opportunity to redeem himself against Duffus and the Cobras.
“I knew coming into this the season I would have to be on the floor a lot and would have to put the ball in the basket more,’’ Tejada said. “Whatever it takes to win, I will do it. Mr. Randall expects a lot from me and I can’t let him down. “