When Norland is done playing at this year’s state final four, it will have made some kind of history.
The Vikings can become the first Miami-Dade County boys’ basketball team to win four consecutive state championships.
Or they can lose a game at state for the first time in their state championship run that began in 2006 under coach Lawton Williams III.
Williams hopes it won’t be the latter.
“I told the kids when we got on the bus [Thursday], don’t make bad history,” Williams joked upon his team’s arrival Friday.
Regardless of the outcome, Norland’s fourth consecutive appearance at state could be their most gratifying.
The Vikings (21-8) graduated six seniors from last year’s state championship team and lost seven players (four on the varsity and three on the junior varsity) that transferred to other schools two months before the season began.
The returning players, led by 6-10 junior center Dewan Huell, battled through a tough schedule to earn Norland its place in the Class 6A state tournament, which begins with a semifinal game against Tampa Jefferson (27-4) at 4 p.m. Friday at The Lakeland Center. A win means a championship game against either Orlando Edgewater or Gainesville on Saturday at 1:35 p.m.
Williams, known for his even-keel demeanor while coaching and off the court, got a little emotional after the Vikings beat Pembroke Pines Charter last Saturday to earn their berth at state.
“This might sound strange, but this might be the closest group I’ve had among all the teams we’ve brought up here,” Williams said. “These kids don’t have the big egos and it’s about playing as a team for them. They chose to remain and be a part of that team concept. I was really proud of those guys.”
Norland lost a state boys’ basketball semifinal game in a different era in 1973.
But since the Vikings started their run of five state championships under Williams they have a 10-0 record at state. Williams is the only coach in Dade history with an undefeated record at state during such a span.
If Norland wins a sixth state championship this weekend, it would give Williams the most state titles for any coach in county history. He is currently tied with former Miami High coaches Marcos “Shakey” Rodriguez and Vince Schaeffer. The Vikings would move into second place among Dade schools for most championships behind Miami High’s staggering total of 18.
Norland has only one senior on its roster – guard Denzel Williams.
And yet the Vikings still made it back to state and won over 20 games despite playing a brutal schedule that included Class 2A state champion Miami Christian, Class 3A state runner-up Sagemont, nationally-ranked Blanche Ely and Cardinal Gibbons, and regional finalists Miami Central and South Miami.
Huell, who according to Williams is being recruited by several Division I schools, including Miami, FSU, Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, South Carolina and Louisville, has emerged as the team’s leader, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds. Several others such as junior guards David Jean-Baptiste, Tyrik Waite and Jonathan Andre have played key roles.
“A lot of people were sleeping on us this year after what happened,” Huell said. “We had to prove everybody wrong. There’s more pressure when you don’t lose here because every team wants to be the first to beat you. We don’t take these bus rides up [to Lakeland] for nothing.”
State boys’ basketball
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per session; Parking: $8.
Thursday’s results — Class 3A final: Jacksonville Providence 66, Sagemont 57; Class 4A final: Tallahassee Godby 53, West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman 46 (OT); Class 8A semifinals: Oviedo Hagerty 57, St. Petersburg 51; Hollywood McArthur vs. Wellington, inc.
Friday’s schedule — Class 5A semifinals: Tallahassee Rickards vs. Tarpon Springs, 10 a.m.; Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons vs. St. Petersburg Gibbs, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A semifinals: Gainesville vs. Orlando Edgewater, 2:30; Miami Norland vs. Tampa Jefferson, 4; Class 7A semifinals: Blanche Ely vs. North Port, 7; Kissimmee Osceola vs. Oviedo, 8:30.
Saturday’s schedule — Class 5A final: 10:05 a.m.; Class 6A final: 1:35; Class 7A final: 5:05; Class 8A final: McArthur-Wellington winner vs. Oviedo Hagerty, 8:35.