‘Special’ group leads Providence basketball team back to state semifinals

Former Providence basketball star Patric Young, center, talks to the team during a practice at UNF on Monday. (Jamal St. Cyr, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Providence is back in a place that it knows well.

It just took longer than expected to get there. And that’s what makes this one so special for boys basketball coach Jim Martin and the Stallions.

“These guys are probably the closest group we’ve ever had that like each other extremely a lot,” Martin said. “And I think they’re pretty special. They’re pretty special. They got a chance.”

This marks the Stallions’ first trip to Lakeland since reaching the state championship game in 2017.

Providence (28-2) will face Windermere Prep (23-7) in the Class 3A state semifinals on Wednesday at 10 a.m. It’s a matchup between Martin and Lakers coach Brian Hoff, a former assistant on two Providence state championship teams.

Providence has been the area’s best team all season long, a wire-to-wire No. 1 in the News4JAX Super 10. Getting back to Lakeland, a place it got to know well after reaching its first final four in 2010, has been a grind. But this season, it was expected.

“What’s great about these guys, we set the bar pretty high,” Martin said. “We talked about this situation all year long. So, it’s not like it’s going to be something new to these kids.”

Providence is 7-3 in Lakeland, including 4-2 in the state semifinals. The Stallions reached the final four in 2010 and won their first state championship behind a core that included Patric Young, Will Cummings, Stacey Poole Jr. and Wayne Martin. Young, who was paralyzed in a car accident last year, was on hand during Providence’s practice at UNF on Monday afternoon to talk to the team.

Their second title came in 2013 with junior Grayson Allen emerging as a star in Lakeland. In 2015, Wyatt Walker, Jason Burnell and Ladarien Griffin powered the Stallions to their third state championship.

It’s proven a tough task maintain that level of success, including an unheard postseason miss in 2021. But the Stallions began to put the pieces in place for another lengthy playoff run last year. The core of this year’s team, Jaylen Robinson, Mason Lee and Chris Arias, were stars as underclassmen in 2022. Martin talked before the season on how much that trio developed in a run to the regional finals last year.

Those three are better in shooting percentage, points per game and turnovers per game. Arias and Lee have improved on their rebounding numbers, while Robinson has just six fewer boards than he did as a sophomore.

“We’ve continued to get better. We’ve continued to work extremely hard knowing we wanted to get to Lakeland,” Martin said. “So that’s one of the things up probably the proudest of the most is how much dedication these guys had to get to Lakeland.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.