Freddie Cole knows what it takes to win.
The only coach the Lake Minneola boys basketball program has ever had, Cole built the Hawks from scratch and in three years, he has transformed them into one of the top teams in the state.
During his tenure, Lake Minneola is 60-22, including a 28-4 mark this season and an appearance in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 6A state championship game. Cole played college basketball at Bethune-Cookman College (now University) in the 1990s and went overseas for a time to play professionally.
Cole’s reputation as a player was that of a hard-nosed competitor, who left everything on the floor whenever he played.
That’s the same attitude he will take to the court on Thursday when a team of Lake County educators host the Harlem Wizards show team at “The Nest” — the Lake Minneola gym.
“We’re not going to lay down for them,” Cole said, tongue in cheek. “There are some teachers in the county who have played college basketball and some who have even played professionally. There’s a competitive drive in all of us.
“We’re going out to win.”
The game is to benefit the Lake Minneola athletic program. In addition to the game, there will food trucks on hand, along with a silent auction with items up for grabs such as tickets to Walt Disney World, autographed memorabilia, rounds of golf and more.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased from any Lake Minneola student-athlete or online at www.harlemwizards.com. There will be a parking fee of $5.
In addition to Cole, other area educators expected to play include Lake Minneola Principal Linda Shepherd-Miller, East Ridge Principal Julie Robinson-Lueallen and Groveland Elementary Principal Kimberly Sneed Jarvis.
The Harlem Wizards were founded in 1962 and have provided basketball fans with on-court comedy, along with athleticism, teamwork and ball-handling wizardry. According to Wizards President Todd Davis, the organization has built a reputation over the past 50-plus years of creating “awe-inspiring fundraiser events for schools and nonprofits.” Davis said the team expects to play more than 300 games this season and believes it will help raise more than $1 million.
“We look to push the envelope on fun, combining pre-planned acts that fans of all ages will find laugh-out-loud funny,” Davis said. “Our halftime show, which often involves having many kids from the audience on the floor, plus our postgame interaction, with the Wizards staying on the floor to sign autographs until every fan who wants one gets one, is our cherry on top.”
Many basketball fans might consider the Wizards to be a spinoff of the older and better known Harlem Globetrotters. Davis, however, is quick to point out the differences.
“The Globetrotters are quite well known and synonymous with show basketball, but they do not deliver the kind of connection, feeling, fun, community and excitement that the Wizards do,” Davis said. “The Wizard experience is unique in the world. Many fans tell us that the Wizards show is beyond comparison. We play to smaller crowds (than the Globetrotters), but that works to our advantage because it allows us to interact more with the fans.
“Like they used to say in the old Avis commercial tag line, ‘We do try harder,’ but even more important to us is that you laugh harder at a Wizards show.’”
Cole admits he is looking forward to the Wizards visit to the school. It will be the Wizards’ second trip in two years and he is hoping to use the experience he gained from last year’s game.
He knows the purpose of the game is to raise money, but he also wants the Wizards to remember that Lake County educators take their basketball seriously. Plus, since the game is being played on Lake Minneola’s home court, Cole said he feels a need to defend his “house.”
“It’s going to fun and entertaining, but we want to win,” Cole said with a wink and a slight smile forming at the corners of his mouth. “I started stretching this week so I can be loose by game time. By then, I’ll have my shot locked in on the basket.
“The Harlem Wizards are coming into ‘The Nest’ and Hawks don’t like when people invade our home.”
Lake Minneola High School is at 101 N. Hancock Road in Minneola.
For more information, call the school at 352-394-9600. For more information about the Harlem Wizards and to see a 2013-14 team video, visit to www.harlemwizards.com.