Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons High graduates who played basketball at the school as far back as the 1960s regularly attended games this season.
They probably could sense something special was going to happen.
Cardinal Gibbons justified their loyalty with a 32-1 season that it capped emphatically Saturday with a 74-58 win over Tallahassee Rickards in the Class 5A state championship game at The Lakeland Center.
“We got texts from kids that played 40 years ago [at Gibbons] saying how they sweat and cried, and they never got a chance to do this,” Gibbons coach Marty Seidlin said. “Guys like that came to games this season and supported us.”
Cardinal Gibbons, a powerhouse in sports such as wrestling and volleyball, won its first state boys’ basketball championship.
The Chiefs, who entered the week ranked No.13 nationally by USA Today and lost only one game to undefeated Blanche Ely (ranked No.6 by USA Today) at the BCAA Big 8 tournament, could have a chance for more glory if they earn an invitational to the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Invitational in New York in April.
“I saw a movie a hundred years ago where they said, it’s great to be king,” Seidlin said. “It’s great for us [to be the kings], but I’m happier for the kids because I hope that they get great educations and become great people. That’s the beauty of high school sports.”
Gibbons found the right mix of talent and teamwork from the start of the season as returning standouts such as guard Jose Morales (13 points), a Princeton signee, meshed with junior Maverick Rowan, a transfer from Pennsylvania.
Rowan scored 34 in Friday’s semifinal win over St. Petersburg Gibbs and followed that with a 26-point performance against Rickards. Rowan, who absorbed several hard fouls in both state games, went 13 for 14 from the free-throw line.
“My father taught to never play soft and always be tough on the court,” Rowan said.
“Like Kobe Bryant says, you have to have a killer instinct.”
A state champion at his previous school in Lincoln Park (Pennsylvania), Rowan pulled off an unheard of feat winning state titles in two states.
“It was a great decision for me and my family to move down here and come to this school,” Rowan said. “We just won a state championship so I really can’t complain about anything.”
Rowan and Morales (a Princeton signee) developed on-court chemistry throughout the season and didn’t let egos get in the way while making Gibbons an almost unbeatable force. Morales finished with 13 points Saturday.
“I like to pass the ball and he likes to score and sometimes he likes to pass and I score,” Morales said. “It’s that simple.”
Seidlin said: “We brought in one of the best offensive players in the country when he and his family moved down. It was amazing to see how our players really came together and you look at [Rowan] and [Morales] both make each other better.”
Many of those unselfish players included shooting guard Greg Kapraczak, who played over 29 minutes and chipped in nine points.
Senior center Richard McIntosh, a University of Miami signee for football, grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and had nine points.
Guard Melvin Brooks, whose birthday was Saturday, had 11 points and nine rebounds. Backup guard Jason Strong provided a spark off the bench with four points and three rebounds.
“If we didn’t have so many seniors and Maverick who’s off the charts, Jason could get 15 points a game,” Seidlin said. That’s the case for most of our players. They sacrifice so much for each other.”
CG (32-1): McIntosh 9, Brooks 11, Morales 13, Kapraczak 9, Rowan 26, Patrick 2, Strong 4. R (19-14): Bailey 14, Wooten 4, Howard 3, Barnhart 21, Glover 2, Enzor 7, Baker 3, Wade 4. Half: CG 37-32. Fouled out: Baker, Brooks. Three-pointers: Barnhart 4, Morales, Rowan. Rebounds: McIntosh 14. Assists: Baker 4. Steals: Kapraczak 3. Blocks: McIntosh 2.