08.15.19 | News
August 2019 Hoop History
Perhaps no team represented the nexus of where the Culligan City of Palms Classic began and where it is now better than the 1996-97 Miami Senior Stingarees.
The squad was a national powerhouse with future Miami Heat mainstay Udonis Haslem, an elite team befitting the pre-eminent status the Culligan City of Palms Classic has maintained for the more than 20 years since. That Miami Senior team was also the last Florida public school to win the Culligan City of Palms Classic, a description that fit the first 16 champs amid the tournament’s humble beginnings.
The Stings rolled into the Culligan City of Palms Classic as defending Florida Class 6A champs, boasting a dominant pedigree that included six state titles in the previous 10 years. Five of those titles came under legendary coach Marcos “Shakey” Rodriguez, who’d left to take over the program at Florida International in 1995.
The man who filled the void went on to become even more well-known. Frank Martin, the fiery coach who took South Carolina to the Final Four two years ago, was in charge of Miami Senior in 1996, just a few years removed from bouncing at a Miami nightclub.
Martin’s team thrashed opponents with the same ferocity he unleashed on unruly club patrons, sweeping through three teams at the Culligan City of Palms Classic to capture one of two championships the tournament handed out that year. (Scheduling issues forced tournament officials to split the traditional 16-team bracket into two eight-team brackets. Lexington Catholic of Kentucky won the other title.)
Miami Senior was double-booked with holiday tournaments that year and, after winning the Culligan City of Palms Classic, the Stings zipped up to Bristol, Tennessee, for the Arby’s Classic. They won that event too, despite a close call against Chattanooga Brainerd (Tennessee) in the first round.
The Stings also faced off against a Culligan City of Palms Classic legend that year en route to a second consecutive state championship. They had to get through Mariner (Cape Coral) and Teddy Dupay, Haslem’s future teammate at the University of Florida and one of the most potent scorers in Florida high school history, whose 47.7 points per game during the 1997 Culligan City of Palms Classic still stand as a tournament record.
Martin knew Dupay well. Dupay’s family was so close with Martin that they vacationed together in the Cayman Islands. Martin had met Dupay when he was in the eighth grade, and after Dupay’s sophomore year, he nearly transferred to Miami Senior. That would have made the 1996-97 season Dupay’s first with that school, but instead, it was just another year that Miami Senior dealt him a frustrating blow.
The most devastating loss to Miami Senior was Dupay’s final high school game, in the 1998 state playoffs. He averaged a dazzling 41.5 points per game that year, but Martin, who knew he loved to go to his left, had the Stings force Dupay to his right as much as they could. It worked, for the most part, and Dupay scored only 21 points in the 106-60 rout.
Miami Senior romped once again in the state championship game, slamming Edgewater (Orlando) 89-56. That was the last time Martin coached for the school.
A massive recruiting scandal led Miami Senior to fire him and the athletic director that summer, and the Florida High School Athletic Association stripped the Stings of their 1998 state title. Martin’s role in the controversy remains unclear, and after a year at Booker T. Washington (Miami), he embarked on the college career that brought him to prominence.
But, before all that came to be, Martin, Haslem and the rest of the 1996-97 Miami Senior team were present for a turning point in a showcase that soon became known as the best high school tournament in the country.