PALMETTO -- If Palmetto boys basketball coach Reggie Bellamy needs a scouting report on the Tigers' next opponent, he can ask his 6-foot-7 forward, Jarrid Rhodes.
The senior played his first year for Melbourne (27-2), which faces host Palmetto (23-5) in the Class 7A-Region 3 title game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Rhodes grew up in Palmetto, but left with his family for three years when his mother pursued a nursing degree in Melbourne. He called it enlightening because he got to experience a community that embraces basketball, unlike Manatee County, where football is king.
"The people there love basketball, and that is the game I decided to concentrate on when I was little," Rhodes said.
Now you might say Rhodes has the entire community of Palmetto embracing basketball along with him and 6-6 Jordan Young, the other half of the Tigers' twin towers.
As part of a white out, Palmetto will sell white T-shirts with a Tiger Basketball logo for $5 on Saturday, but Bellamy admits he wants everyone to wear them so there might be some giveaways.
Palmetto last went to the state final four in 1989 under Butch Hughes. Two years ago, the Tigers lost in the
region final at home to Winter Haven.
Rhodes has never really been little, so to speak, which is why he shunned football and baseball for basketball.
"I was getting taller, and I realized that the game came naturally to me. But I couldn't handle when I was young and in about sixth grade I starting working on my ball-handling," Rhodes said. "I couldn't dribble. All I could do was set up and shoot."
The 18-year-old calls himself a streetball product. He grew up playing ball in the playgrounds of Manatee County and credits what he learned at East Bradenton Park for a lot of his success.
"I played against men who understand the game. They told me I could do this and that; I just needed to tweak some things," Rhodes said.
Rhodes came off the bench as a sophomore and started as a junior. He leads the Tigers in scoring (14.8 points per game), eking past Young (14.5 ppg). Rhodes is shooting 33 percent from 3-point land, and Young is at 38 percent. They have combined for 52 treys.
"It's fortunate for us to have two big guys who can shoot, put the ball on the floor and score from pretty much anywhere," Bellamy said. "Jarrid's range is incredible, and Jordan's athleticism is special. It's difficult (to guard) when you have one like that, and we have two."
Rhodes credits Bellamy for his success on the court and his growth as a person.
"Coach Bellamy is like a father figure to me," Rhodes said. "He taught me more about the game, like how to read stuff like screens and defenses."
Rhodes still keeps in touch with some of his buddies at Melbourne, particularly Bulldogs senior guard Ryan Marshall, who likes to fire away from beyond the arc.
Melbourne is well-balanced and has size with seniors 6-10 Abdul Sarki from Nigeria and 6-5 center Austin Awad. The Bulldogs have won 16 straight. Their losses are to prep power Orlando Christian Prep and district rival Stuart Martin County. They avenged the loss to Stuart Martin County twice.
"We've been in some very hostile environments and been successful, but I would rather be home with our student body and community supporting us," Bellamy said.
This game could be won on the boards. That means more inside work for Young, who leads the Tigers in rebounding (9 rpg) and 6-3 Stepvon Saunders (8 ppg/8 rpg). Terry Collins, Palmetto's jack of all trades, will have to apply some of his aggressive play on the boards.
"Our strength is Stepvon Saunders. He has had about 15 double-double games," Bellamy said. "He rebounds offensively and defensively and is able to keep people off the block and out of the area where they like to post up and we have a defensive group we go to."