He said he was “just focused.”
Miami Norland center Dewan Huell gave that curt response when asked what his approach was to Friday’s state boys’ basketball semifinal.
While the response drew some laughs and even a quizzical expression from his coach Lawton Williams III, it was obvious Huell was zoned in throughout a 67-43 win over Tampa Jefferson at The Lakeland Center.
Nearly a week after scoring 40 in the regional final round, Huell continued his torrid postseason by scoring 27 points, collecting 17 rebounds and blocking seven shots – all game-highs.
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“Everybody said things all year that I had to put this team on my back,” Huell said. “I don’t put that pressure on myself. I just go out and play and I know my teammates have my back.”
No Miami-Dade County team has ever won that many championships consecutively, nor won six state titles in the span of a decade.
Norland (22-8) has a chance to do both if it can beat Gainesville Saturday at 1:35 p.m. in the Class 6A state final.
Only five other teams statewide – Malone (5), Jacksonville Arlington Country Day (5), Fort Lauderdale Dillard (4), Port St. Joe (4) and Daytona Beach Seabreeze – have won four or more state titles in a row.
Norland also extended its perfect record at the state tournament to 11-0 since 2006 when it began its championship run.
Huell’s development into arguably the most talented player Norland has had during its championship run and his leadership were big reasons the Vikings navigated their way back to Lakeland.
On Friday, Huell not only hurt Jefferson in the paint, but on the break scoring buckets in transition as well.
Norland guard David Jean-Baptiste was a catalyst for the Vikings turning the game into a rout, making four three-pointers and finishing with 16 points.
“My coaches kept telling me to shoot with confidence and that’s all I thought about,” Jean-Baptiste said.
Point guard Tyrik Waite also had 12 points and five assists as the Vikings held Jefferson to only four points in the second quarter during which they went on a 19-2 run.
“David’s shooting was huge and it really opened up the game in the post later on,” Williams said. “As the season has gone on, Tyrik has gotten more and more comfortable in his role.”
Williams can become the coach with the most state titles in county history if the Vikings win Saturday.
When asked if he expected Norland to return to state this season after it graduated six seniors and four varsity players transferred to other schools, Williams said, “Yes.”
“I don’t want this to come off as arrogant, but every year I’ve sat here after we’ve won, I’ve said I expect to be here next year,” Williams said. “It doesn’t always happen that way. But at Norland, our goal every year is to win a state championship.”
NOR (22-8): Huell 23, Jones 2, Jean-Baptiste 16, Waite 12, Foster 2, Williams 6, Raye 2, Waugh 4. JEF (27-5): Jenkins 9, Jackson 2, Padgett 8, Moore 19, Lawerence 2, Green 3. Half: N 31-17. Three-pointers: Jean-Baptiste 4, Jenkins, Padgett, Green. Rebounds: Huell 17. Assists: Waite 5. Steals: Moore 3. Blocks: Huell 7.