After a long, long wait, Hilliard basketball team back in state semis

Hilliard basketball team ready for shot at a championship
Hilliard basketball team ready for shot at a championship

HILLIARD, Fla. – Hilliard is in the boys basketball state semifinals.

That’s not something that the Red Flashes have had a chance to say many times. The last time Hillard had a team in the state semifinals was back in 1979.

That team lost to Vernon, 54-52.

All these years later, the Red Flashes (22-3) have finally made it back to the state semifinals and face Vernon (19-7). Those teams meet on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland in the Class 1A semis.

One of the members from the 1979 team spoke with the current Red Flashes team on Wednesday and his message to the team was this: “You guys have to finish what we didn’t.”

This year’s Hillard team has been special.

The players say the success this season is because all of the guys are locked in on the same goal.

“This year is just so much different it is more of a unit,” Hilliard’s Gavin Wilson said. “Everybody is on the same page everybody loves being around each other and I feel like we are more of a family than anything.”

That family environment in the locker room has turned into success on the court. The Red Flashes have had one goal all season — win a state championship.

They are now one of just four schools left in 1A with a shot at achieving that goal.

“I have thought about being here since a kid,” said Hilliard senior Shemar Melton.

“It has always been a dream to win a state championship hopefully, we can do it.”

Hillard has a basketball championship (1963) and quite a few state runners-up finishes (1946, 1952, ’54, ’58 and 1965) on its resume.

Now, a second one is within reach. The Red Flashes players have been dreaming of this moment for months.

“It would mean the world to me because I have been on this team since the eighth grade and been through the ups and the downs,” said senior wing Jacob Crews. “… It has been a rocky road, but it would be a long time coming.”

Added Wilson: “Something I really do dream about, the last couple of months, the only thing that has been on my mind. It would be such a blessing. It would be so great to be on that wall in the gym to be one of the only two teams to win a state championship.”

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