Pat Healy remembers the crowds being big and the following just as large for certain road games.
It was the 1975-76 high school basketball season, and Healy formed a team worthy of such fanfare.
Manatee High School went 32-0 between the regular season and postseason, before faltering in the Class 4A state semifinals to Orlando Edgewater.
Forty-one years later, the last Manatee High boys basketball team to reach the state final four is getting a reunion when the Hurricanes play host to Palmetto on Friday, which is set for a 7:30 p.m. tip. The team will be recognized before the varsity game.
“We knew we were going to be good, we didn’t know we would be that good,” Healy said.
Healy said the team had a deep bench, and that bench went toe-to-toe with the starters. That pushed Manatee’s players to get even better.
Prior to taking the head coaching job with the Canes, Healy won three district titles in four seasons with Palmetto. After moving to Manatee High, he saw the talent that could become a dominant team in just a couple years. The 1975-76 season was the culmination.
We knew we were going to be good, we didn't know we would be
Manatee’s basketball coach in 1975-76, Pat Healy, on the season that ended in the state semifinals
There were just four public schools in Manatee County at the time, yet each featured a strong team. The Palmetto Tigers made the Class 2A state semifinals; Southeast was ranked sixth in the state and earned a Class 3A regional final berth. Healy said Bayshore was good, too.
His Hurricanes, though, were unmatched locally. They used Reggie Buchanan at the point with wings Mark Buhr and Tim App. Paul Green and Mike Balkman played the post. The starting lineup received a little help, too, from Manatee’s 30-piece pep band and the Canes’ games were on the radio. A past Manatee High basketball broadcaster was current Tampa Bay Bucs and Florida State Seminoles radio voice Gene Deckerhoff, Healy said.
But the key to that season was each player bought into Healy’s coaching style.
“Everybody just did what they were asked to do,” Healy said.
Backup point guard Phil Wagoner helped coordinate the reunion along with current Manatee boys basketball head coach Bob Lauster. Lauster said originally they wanted to do the reunion prior to January, so it would still be the 40th anniversary. However, they selected Friday’s game against Palmetto due to Tigers head coach Reggie Bellamy’s ties to the Canes, a team he previously played for and coached.
“It’s a way to show our kids that we’re not creating a road,” Lauster said. “The road has already been paved. We’ve just got to find it. There’s a tradition within the basketball program here and talking with people in putting this together — at one time that was the event in town.”
The tradition has waned over the seasons with Manatee struggling on the hardwood. But Friday is a way to showcase the Canes’ past, which is celebrating a team that went farther than any other in the program’s history.
Buchanan, who is deceased, was the Suncoast’s player of the year that season. Healy was the coach of the year and selected to coach the All-Star game in Gainesville and Buchanan played in the game. A deep bench, which featured Mike Spees, who is also deceased, challenged the starters all season. That paid dividends during the postseason against stiffer competition.
Manatee edged Winter Haven in the first round, 67-60 and beat a Tampa Jefferson team (60-55) that knocked off the No. 1 team in the state, Tampa Robinson, in its district tournament. That Jefferson victory was in the regional final and propelled the Canes into the state semis.
“The Jefferson game was really nerve-racking, because we were shooting with 15 seconds left,” Healy recalled. “We had a two-point lead and were shooting the front end of a one-and-one. It came down to the nitty-gritty. ... One of our players inside was Paul “Goofy,” and everybody called him Goofy, Goofy Green. He was 6-foot-3 and he could jump out of the gym for us. Late in the game when we were shooting the free throws with a two-point lead, we missed the free throw. And they were 6-8 and 6-9 inside. Paul went up and couldn’t get the rebound, but he banged it off the board for us. Kept the ball alive. Got it, they fouled us again and we made the free throws.”
That season was also Healy’s last in charge of Manatee. He left for Manatee Junior College, now known as State College of Florida, for one season. Then he headed to Pinellas County for eight years with St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins and two years with Pinellas Park, before retiring.
But no season compared to the magic created at Manatee in 1975-76.
The road has already been paved. We've just got to find it. There's a tradition within the basketball program here and talking with people in putting this together — at one time that was the event in town.
Manatee High coach Bob Lauster on Friday’s reunion celebrating the Hurricanes past