JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The last time a Duval County public school won a boys basketball state championship, none of the players on the Ribault roster were alive.
On Thursday, the Trojans can take a big step toward ending the drought when they face The Villages Charter (22-8) in the Class 4A state semifinals in Lakeland. The game is scheduled to tip off at noon.
The Trojans (25-4) have had the final four and a state championship on their minds since before the season began. Now, they stand two wins away from bringing home the hardware.
“You got to this point for a reason,” said head coach Charles Showers. “It’s no pressure. We have to continue to play defense and we’ll be great. We’ve just got to play Ribault basketball.”
Ribault basketball means a swarming defense and scoring off turnovers. This season, the Trojans limited opponents to 48.8 points per game. They haven’t allowed a team to score more than 62 since an 89-72 win over White on Dec. 8.
Ribault earned a spot in the final four with a 91-59 win over Bishop Kenny in the last game ever played at the school’s Wilkes-Austin Gym. The school and gym will be demolished and rebuilt after the school year ends.
The Trojans are also battle tested. Their only losses came in a 44-42 slugfest against another final four team, Ponte Vedra, a loss in a tournament to Suncoast, a four-point defeat at Jackson and an overtime loss to Riverside in the second game of the season.
“Very proud. These guys have been with me for three years,” Showers said. “They want it bad. They know the system and I think its going to get a little farther than we are right now.
Ribault last made a final four in boys basketball in 2017 but they do have some experience on the roster. Reserve Jeremiah White was on the Jackson roster last year when the Tigers went to the final four. Playing in a large arena like the RP Funding Center, can also be an adjustment, especially for outside shooters.
“Other than that, we have no final four experience. We have no arena experience,” Showers said. “So we just have to play great defense and hope it goes our way.”
To prepare for playing in a larger arena, the Trojans practiced Wednesday at UNF. The hope is that the sightlines will be similar to what they’ll see in Lakeland.
“It’s just the (trajectory) of the ball and how the ball goes,” Showers said. “You’ll have people on both sides and behind the basketball, which we never play (in). There’s no wall. So this is going to benefit us and it’s why we are shooting around to get some work in”
Like Ribault, The Villages Charger comes in on a 10-game winning streak. They are led by 6-foot-9 senior Sam Walters, who averages 23.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. The four-star recruit signed to play at Alabama.
The Buffalos earned a final four spot with a 66-60 win over Santa Fe last Friday. They also beat North Marion 54-53 in the regional semifinals. One of their losses came against Providence in December in a game where the Stallions dominated 65-23.
The winner of the game advances to face either St. Petersburg Gibbs or Mater Lakes Academy in the state championship game at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.