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, posting 17 points, 16 rebounds and 8 blocks for a near triple-double.
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“Three or four of the blocks were on dunk tries,” Amat said.
The 71-48 victory propelled Westwood (24-5) to its first-ever trip to the state semifinals in Lakeland, where it will meet an imposing opponent in the Orlando Christian Prep Warriors (21-7). Tip-off is set for Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Conceicao said he is not intimidated by the Warriors, who will be making their sixth straight trip to Lakeland and won the state title in four of the past five years, missing only in 2011.
“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. And I think we match up well against them.”
Conceicao, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, moved to the U.S. with his mother when he was in the third grade. The rest of his family remains in Brazil, and he travels home nearly every summer.
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,” he said. “I guess it’s kind of weird.”
Amat said Conceicao, a lefty, is not an explosive leaper but is smart and “crafty” under the boards. Amat also said Conceicao has monitored the Warriors’ website and has given his coaches information about their next opponent.
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. Two other starters arrived before last season - 6-3 senior guard Armand Shoon and 6-3 sophomore forward Eugene Joseph. And the fifth starter, 5-10 senior guard Gabriel Gonzalez, arrived the year before that.
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 they face a Warriors team that compiled a 137-18 record heading into this season. They also won four state Player of the Year honors in that span.
Warriors coach Reggie Kohn put together a tremendous program at Lake Howell from 2003 to 2007. That school never won state but produced big-time players such as Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes.
But the Warriors have not been as dominant this season as in the past. They won their last two regional playoff games by just eight and four points, respectively.
It’s hard to put too much stock into individual statistics because some of those may be padded, but the teams are about even size-wise, and the Warriors’ top scorers are 6-5 junior guard Adonys Henriquez and 6-4 junior guard Dmitri Thompson.
Amat said his team is embracing the underdog role. For the layup line, they wear white T-shirts that read; “I believe.”
And before Tuesday’s game, Amat planned to show the kids the movie Hoosiers.
“We hope it inspires the kids,” Amat said, “because we want to shock the state.”