So what does Melvin Randall, the 2014-15 All-USA Boys Basketball Coach of the Year by USA Today do for an encore after leading Pompano Beach Blanche Ely to an undefeated season?
How about orchestrating a turnaround that solidifies his status as coaching elite?
After a disappointing 12-11 start, in which Ely lacked its signature defensive identity, the Tigers are two wins away from their fourth state title in five seasons.
“Even through all the adversity, our goal is always to make it to Lakeland,” Randall said. “A lot of people that were aboard kind of jumped ship and said we should be good next year and kind of gave up on us. But our kids stayed the course and as a result we have a chance to play for another state title.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Despite its late-season surge, Blanche Ely (18-13) will find itself in the unfamiliar role as underdog when it faces Melbourne (30-2) in the Class 7A state semifinals on Friday.
The no-nonsense Randall said he had to temper his coaching style to not lose a team that questioned itself after losing four in a row for the first time under his watch, during a mid-January-to-late January stretch.
“I had to be more patient with this team because of the youth and injuries,” said Randall, who is seeking his seventh state title overall and fifth at Ely. “I didn’t want to be too dogmatic and strong and turn them away from getting better. So our coaching staff did a very good job how we handled things this year.”
As if replacing all but three players from last year’s title team wasn’t a big enough challenge, cornerstone players Geremy Taylor, Mark Houston and Trevor Goodrum were in and out of the lineup with injuries.
Adding to those challenges was a quirk in scheduling that left the Tigers with only three regular-season home games.
But with their full complement of players for the first time, the Tigers got back on track at the BCAA Big 8 championships, where they defeated Class 8A state semifinalist Coral Springs before falling to Class 6A state semifinalist Dillard 68-62 in the final.
During its 7-1 record in the past eight games, which includes impressive road victories over Dwyer and McArthur in the regional round, Ely has rediscovered the relentless man-to-man defense and timely three-point shooting it has become known for under Randall.
Taylor, Houston and Goodrum have led the resurgence and should figure prominently in their state quest again.
Goodrum, an athletic 6-4 senior wing who had a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds against McArthur, said the hard-fought loss against Dillard gave the Tigers renewed hope.
“Although we lost to Dillard that is when we found ourselves as a team,” Goodrum said. “They were the best team we played all year. We played that state-championship ball. When we weren’t playing Ely defense and track basketball,we heard people say we wouldn’t make it that far. So we had to stick together as a family.”