Photo: Tampa Bay Times
BY JACK LeGWIN
It’s been a long time coming for Tai Strickland.
The senior point guard for St. Pete recently picked up an offer from Wisconsin and he said that the words of encouragement from his father, Rod, have helped him in his ability to stay focused.
“My dad has gone through this already so he knows how it works,” Strickland told BTS Sports. “He’s helped me to stay patient for my opportunity and it’s worked.”
Strickland has combined with Ole Miss commit Serrel Smith to create one of the best backcourt tandems in the state of Florida, and he said the relationship between them has been key to their success.
“I’ve known Serrel since my freshman year,” Strickland said. “We played on the Florida Sons way back then together. We’ve been close for a while, the chemistry has been there from the beginning for us.”
Having led St. Pete to a 21-5 record this year including wins over St. Anthony (Cal.) and Franklin (Wash.), Strickland has said the transfer from Tampa Catholic has benefited his development this year.
“Coach (Chris) Blackwell has trusted me to have the ball in my hands,” Strickland said. “I feel like I’ve shown that I can compete with anyone. I think I’ve shown in those games that I’m one of the best guards still left out here.”
Despite making the decision to transfer, Strickland said that being around guys like Kevin Knox and Thomas Dziagwa at Tampa Catholic helped him drastically in learning what it takes to be an elite player.
“I’ve learned a lot from those guys,” Strickland said. “Kevin had all those coaches in, and no matter who recruited him, he was still in the gym working. I looked at him and saw that if that’s where I wanted to be, that’s the work I’m going to have to put in.”
When he was asked what his father taught him the most, Strickland said one thing really stood out for him.
“He’s told me to just stay patient,” Strickland said. “It’s been a long ride for me. I’ve been waiting for that opportunity and it’s finally come. I need to take ahold of it and it’s shown that all of the hard work has paid off.”
Strickland said he knew he could keep up with the top notch players after he attended the Top 100 Camp this past summer.
“I competed with those guys there and held my own,” explained Strickland. Those guys are the best of the best. I saw that they weren’t a whole lot different than me, they don’t work any harder than I do.”
At this point, Strickland knows what he’s looking for in a program, and he said he will take his visits in the spring.
“I’ve spoken with Arkansas Little Rock, Baylor, SMU, Rutgers, Oklahoma State, Virginia,” Strickland said. “It’s been a good couple weeks. I’m looking for somewhere I feel comfortable playing. I want to look at a place to make sure I’d feel good staying for a full four years there, if that’s what is necessary. I’ll probably take my visits after the season, maybe some time around signing day, commit somewhere then.”
Strickland said that despite schools coming in to watch him play weekly, only one thing is on his mind this year: winning the state championship in Lakeland.
“That’s first and foremost,” Strickland said. “I’ve played the past three years and haven’t gotten one yet. That would be a perfect closing to my high school career. All of the work to get better as a high school team. It all validates it by winning a state championship.”