For basketball connoisseurs, Lakewood Ranch is the place to be Friday night.
Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, the face of women's college basketball, is expected to be there to watch Mustangs super star LaDazhia Williams, says Lakewood Ranch head coach Tina Hadley.
The controversial Auriemma, who has led the UConn women to 10 NCAA championships -- including the last three -- would be the biggest women's college basketball celebrity to grace these parts.
Connecticut is also one of the few colleges that have not offered a scholarship to Williams, though Auriemma usually doesn't waste his time and mileage making unnecessary visits. It also figures to be a good game between the Mustangs and Seffner Christian.
Lakewood Ranch is rated the 11th best team in the state (all classifications) in the Max Prep Computer rankings, and Seffner Christian is 11th.
The 6-3 Williams has missed six games this season because of an ankle injury and isn't back to 100 percent yet, according to Hadley. She is averaging 13.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, well below last year.
But in the Mustangs' most recent game against a quality opponent (Fort Myers), Williams hauled in 13 rebounds and scored 21 points. ESPN rates her as a four-star prospect, and ranks her the 8th-best forward in the country in the 2017 class.
"She's still favoring that ankle a little, but we are also a better team and getting more production out of our other players," Hadley said.
Williams has received offers from Notre Dame, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, to name just a few, and is being recruited by Stanford and UConn.
Lakewood Ranch went 4-2 in Williams' absence, losing only to powerhouse Lake Highland Prep -- which is ranked first in the state by Max Preps, and No. 18 Colonial (ranked 3rd in 8A).
The Mustangs have gotten good contributions from Kailyn Scully (12.3 points per game/5 rebounds per game), Aleah Robinson (11.4 ppg/4.5 rpg) and India Searls (9 ppg/4.5 rpg).
"The biggest thing is that everybody has improved, and I have really enjoyed watching them grow into the players they can be," Hadley said. "When LaDazhia was out, we beat some teams we weren't supposed to beat and almost beat Colonial."
John Harder has no reason to even think of retirement.
In his 32nd year as Southeast High head girls basketball coach, Harder says he feels like 22.
Another reason to stay four more years is 6-2 freshman Amoni Waiters, who is averaging 4.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while playing about six minutes a night.
"I haven't had a girl as big as her in 25 years. It's about time. I deserved one," Harder said. "She is raw and rough around the edges, but has potential and I would love to nurture that."
This is the first time in his long career Harder has his entire starting five back from the previous season.
To make it sweeter, the girls reached the state final four last season, but he knows things are different with district nemesis St. Pete Lakewood fielding a basically new team comprised of some highly touted transfers.
His girls pride themselves on balanced scoring, with five players averaging between 8.5 and 13.5 points per game led by Breyonna Reed (13.5 ppg) and Shauntavia Green (12.2 ppg). They are followed by Sophie Giardina (9.4 ppg), Marlin Valcin (8.3 ppg) and Faith Mays (8.5 ppg).
"As long as I'm healthy I'm going to keep doing this. It's not a numbers game that I've got to get to 800 (victories)," Harder said. "I love the sport and the smell of the leather on the basketball. I don't know of a sport that is so enjoyable to coach and to watch these kids grow into wonderful young ladies. Between the game and the kids, that is what I love the most."
Relentless at this craft, Harder has worked hard to lure quality talent for his Willie Clemons Holiday Classic girls Christmas basketball tournament, bringing in 8A power Orlando Boone (No. 28 overall) and New Smyrna Beach, ranked 7th in Class 6A.