They're perfect 20-0


Published: Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 12:22 a.m.
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Santa Fe Community College's starters are (clockwise from front) Brian Greene, Sam Jozenville, Torrance Walker, Jon Plefka and Brandon Kelley.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun
The gym is alive with the sound of balls bouncing off the floor and dunks rattling through double rims. It could be the start of any basketball practice in America, but on the campus of Santa Fe Community College it is sweet music.
At least it is to Chris Mowry.
"It's a lot easier to go through the day," he says with a smile, "when you are undefeated."
There is only one team in Gainesville that boasts a perfect record and a top 10 national ranking while also posing this philosophical question - if a team went unbeaten and nobody saw it play, would it make a noise?
With little fanfare in the community or in the stands, the SFCC men have won their first 20 games this season. Their coach says that all of the players on his first two teams are all capable of playing on the Div. I level, and many of them will get that opportunity.
Somehow, they all found each other.
Mowry was unemployed two years ago when he contacted SFCC about its opening. At the same time, Brian Greene was rehabilitating a knee that had let him down. Jon Plefka had just finished up a season at James Madison and was preparing to transfer to Vermont to play baseball. Phillip Puccia was getting ready to bolt for Buffalo after a year in Gainesville. Sam Jozenville was preparing to play at Brevard Community College. Devin Harden had graduated from high school without a single game of organized basketball on his resume.
And yet they are all here, amid the pines of northwest Gainesville, loosening up as their coach makes sure they have signed the meal money sheet.
People are starting to notice what is going on at Santa Fe. Mowry hears it at church, at his health club, in the grocery store.
Good win last night, coach.
You guys are playing great.
Hey, I'm going to have to get out there and see you play.
Few do, but what are you going to do? In a town dominated by University of Florida sports both in terms of media coverage and fan buzz, Santa Fe has always been on the outside looking in through the window.
"Doesn't matter," Greene said. "I've got plenty of teammates on the bench rooting for me."
Greene top scorer Greene is the cornerstone of what has been a special season for the Saints, who are off until Wednesday when they host Daytona Beach CC. All the 6-foot-4 swingman with the flowing dreadlocks has done this season is lead the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocked shots.
What is really amazing is how he got to this point.
When he was 14, his father died of liver cancer. Greene had to go to work at a pizza shop at the Jacksonville International Airport to support the family.
"When he died," Greene said, "everything went downhill."
He watched as his good friends Lito Sheppard and Jabar Gaffney went to college and then to the NFL. Greene wondered if he'd be able to get out of the tough Jacksonville neighborhood where he was raised.
Greene got his chance to move on when he signed out of Jacksonville Ribault to play at SFCC. He was the Mid-Florida Conference's freshman of the year despite tearing his meniscus with four games remaining in the season.
Mowry bounces back By the time the knee was ready, Mowry had been hired as the latest SFCC coach. Mowry had worked for nine years on Kirk Speraw's staff at Central Florida and had spent a year at Elon College before the staff was unceremoniously dumped.
"To say it was stressful would be very accurate," Mowry said. "There were times when I was thinking, 'What am I going to do if I don't find a job?' "
When Scott McMillan left Santa Fe for Central Florida Community College, Mowry contacted SFCC. He had received tips on how to interview for the job from officials at a school that had turned him down.
Mowry, now 42, knew Gainesville was perfect for his wife and two children. His old boss knew vice was versa.
"I thought it could be a good place for him," Speraw said. "It's not your typical junior college job in that they are very academically oriented. But he doesn't fit your perception of a junior college coach because he's going to be concerned about the guys getting their degrees."
Once Mowry got the job, he realized he had a very full cupboard. His team was ranked 15th in the country in a preseason poll.
Then came a knee injury to one player. Puccia decided to go home. Center Dan Martin was dismissed for not attending classes.
He still had Greene, but Greene had torn the meniscus in his other knee. His comeback would last only three games before the swelling made it clear he would have to redshirt.
"It all worked out," Greene said. "Because all I did was work out and get stronger."
A team of depth After surviving that first year with 15 wins and seven scholarship players, Mowry figured this team could be pretty good. Greene was back, healthy and with 20 pounds of added muscle. Plefka, a former Rutgers football commitment, had left baseball behind at Vermont to join the Saints, giving the team a juco rarity - a 6-foot-9 player who could shoot the three.
But there was more. When Mowry sized up his team, he realized he had 10 players who were good enough to play. Despite being brought up through the coaching ranks with a halfcourt mentality, Mowry decided his team would press and press and press some more.
He had seen enough Florida practices to understand the drills that needed to be run to get his team ready.
"I've never done it before," Mowry said. "But I knew we had 10 kids who could play and 10 kids who could wear the other team down."
When the Saints won a pair of games on back-to-back nights at Oklaloosa-Walton and Gulf Coast Community College without an injured Plefka, now the third-leading scorer, they really got their coach's attention.
"I thought we had a chance to be a really good team," he said. "I thought if things went right we could win 20 games."
But who ever goes into a season thinking it can win the first 20?
Still, Mowry knows that the 20-0 start only means that his team is set up to do something special. Only the conference winner gets an automatic berth in the state tournament. SFCC is 2-0 with eight games to go.
Some of the players have already signed or committed to Div. I schools. Others are weighing offers. Greene is heading to Florida A&M, fulfilling his father's dream for his son to go to a four-year school.
"I know he's up there watching," Greene said.
At least somebody is.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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