WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — High school basketball is heating up in Florida as playoffs begin.
West Palm Beach's Cardinal Newman High School is set to host a regional game with a record of 22-5.
For years, the road to the state tournament ran through the gymnasium of Cardinal Newman. After Saturday's district championship win, the four-seeded Crusaders are ready for another playoff run.
A different swagger was in the air Monday evening as the Crusaders prepared to host regional play in the 2024 state playoffs.
It is a feat that didn't look promising to start the year.
"We've got an interesting group of kids. We've got some young kids and kids who have been here a couple of years," second-year athletic director and head boys basketball coach Reilly Campbell said.
Campbell said the team had more questions than answers to start the year.
"We had a period at the middle of the year we were 0-3," Campbell said. "I think we lost our last three games of 2023."
"It was during tournament time, an 0-3 season," senior guard Alejandro Grande said. "It was tough games."
During the holiday break, the coach left his team a message.
"The journey will be worth it. It's going to be a roller coaster," Campbell said. "There's going to be ups. There's going to be downs. Just focus one day at a time."
The statement resonated with the team and they kicked 2024 off with a bang.
"If anything, it brought us closer together because after that three-game stretch," senior guard Joe Duran said. "We just started winning games and playing better basketball, playing together and playing for each other."
Saturday night during the district championship, the red-hot Cardinal Newman boys beat rival King's Academy 74-60 to clinch a spot in the 3A state playoffs behind 25 points from senior Jermaine Council.
"It was a pretty hype experience being that it was the school's first district championship in a few years," Council said. "It was great to be a part of that, me and the guys we worked for this all year, and it was just nice to have everybody come out and support us."
After last year's 10-15 finish to the season, the team understands how important playing in front of their home crowd.
"Playing at home is the best experience ever," Council said. "The fact that I get to run it back here, possibly the last home game, I'm just excited to do it with this team."
The team is now focused on Bell Creek Academy from Riverview, Florida, as they kick off the playoffs Thursday night.