High School Sports

Unselfish approach propels Miami Christian to state final

Miami Christian (4) Diego Rivera flies between Temple Christian (3) Jalen Robinson and (1) Tariq McNeil during their FHSAA Class 2A Boys Semifinal Basketball game at the Lakeland Center in Lakeland, Florida Feb. 28, 2017.
Miami Christian (4) Diego Rivera flies between Temple Christian (3) Jalen Robinson and (1) Tariq McNeil during their FHSAA Class 2A Boys Semifinal Basketball game at the Lakeland Center in Lakeland, Florida Feb. 28, 2017. THE LEDGER

Passing more than shooting can often be a tough thing to convince a young basketball player to do.

Not at Miami Christian.

The Victors’ unselfish tendency to look for the open man no matter where they are on the court has made them one of the most explosive teams in the state this season.

On Tuesday afternoon, Miami Christian overwhelmed Jacksonville Temple Christian with their quick precision in that department and advanced to the Class 2A state final with an 86-53 rout at The Lakeland Center.

“One of the hardest things to teach is to share the ball,” Miami Christian coach Juan Cardona said. “It’s understanding the gaps and the spacing on the court and playing for each other. They all think they can score and they can. But when everybody is willing to share the ball good things will happen.”

The Victors (29-2), who will play Melbourne Florida Prep on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in the final, arrived in Lakeland with seven players averaging between 10 and 17 points per game, and averaging nearly 24 assists per game as a team.

Miami Christian had 16 assists Tuesday led by Josh Rosario, who had six as well as 13 points. Neftali Alvarez led the scoring for the Victors with 23 points, while Eduardo Camacho had 16 and Miguel Diaz had 13.

Defensively, the Victors also disrupted Temple Christian throughout the game. Miami Christian had 18 steals overall.

“We don’t care who scores the ball,” Diaz said. “Today we had these four players lead us in scoring. Tomorrow, it might be a different four players that score the most. We don’t care. We just want to have the win at the end.”

Cardona, who is in his first year coaching Miami Christian, previously coached in Puerto Rico where he is from, and has guided a roster comprised of players from six countries that has gelled varying personalities and skill sets.

Star 6-10 center Felipe Haase, a South Carolina signee, who had a modest game Tuesday by his standards with six points and five rebounds, is from Chile.

Camacho, Alvarez, Rosario, sophomore guard Diego Rivera and senior guard Adrian Oquendo are from Puerto Rico like their coach.

Diaz and reserve forward Jeffrey Hernandez are from the Dominican Republic. Sophomore forward Santiago Arvalo and senior guard Daniel Fuenmayor are from Colombia. Senior guard Ahmad Zulifkar is from Indonesia, and sophomore guard Lorenzo Machado and freshman guard Jose Marrero are Cuban-American.

And when Miami Christian squares off against Florida Prep Wednesday, the game will have even more of an international flair.

Florida Prep’s center/forward trio of 7-foot junior Lahat Thioune, 6-11 senior Mbacke Diong and 6-8 senior Ndiaga Diop are from Senegal. They also have senior Vasilije Milinic from Montenegro, sophomore Indrek Sunelik from Estonia, sophomore Luka Kobelia from Georgia, junior Nikola Radojevic from Serbia and sophomore Heorhii Kotsiura from Ukraine.

“It’s a great source of pride for us to represent our countries and our families and to be able to do so on a big stage like this at the state championships,” Diaz said.

TC (25-4): McNeil 4, Banks 8, Z. Harrison 7, Knight 16, K. Harrison 10, Robinson 6, Griffin 2. MC (29-2): Diaz 13, Haase 6, Alvarez 23, Camacho 16, Rosario 13, Rivera 3, Machado 8, Hernandez 4. Half: MC 53-31. Fouled out: Z. Harrison. Three-pointers: Alvarez 2, Machado 2, Camacho, Rosario, Knight. Rebounds: Banks 8. Assists: Rosario 6. Steals: Alvarez, Camacho 4.

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