Better by the dozen

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Red Level High School Senior Frank Tolbert and the Biblical Goliath have a few things in common.

They're both considered superior giants that strike fear into their opponents, as well as being six fingered.

Goliath thrashed his opponents on the battlefield, Tolbert, on the other hand, slams his opponents on the hard court. As a sophomore, he shattered the backboard on a slamndunk against W.S. Neal.

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The 6nfootn3, 225npound guard has led the Tigers (4n1) with a triplendouble in every game this season. He currently averages 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists per game. He said enjoying himself has helped him to find an abundance of success.

"I try to go out there and have fun," the 17nyear old said. "I play with the flow of the game and let it come to me like my father always told me. I don't try to force anything."

Tolbert was born with a condition called hexadactyly, which is the presence of an extra finger on each hand or an extra toe on each foot. As a child, Tolbert had both.

"I was born with six finger and six toes," Tolbert said. "I don't have six toes anymore, they wouldn't fit in my shoes. So the doctors cut them off."

Tolbert assures his opponents that having 12 fingers don't help his game. In fact, they don't affect him at all.

"They don't even move," Tolbert said.

Tolbert's success on the basketball court over the years hasn't gone unnoticed. Recruiters were hot on the heels of his sneakers all last season hoping to sign him to their squad. He recently inked with Auburn University.

"They made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Tolbert said. "Plus nobody else was recruiting me as hard as they were."

Tolbert said the support of Auburn's athletics was one of the main reasons he chose to sign with the Tigers.

"I really like the fans because they really support any and every sport whether it be soccer or lacrosse," Tolbert said. "They have a lot of fans. Everywhere you go, you see an Auburn or Alabama fan."

Tolbert, who has a 3.5 GPA and has never received any grade less than a B, also said he liked the way the academic program at Auburn is set up. He believes it will help him also find success in the classroom.

"We're real excited for the opportunity he has had to pursue his education with a scholarship to Auburn University," RLHS Head Coach Fred Kelley said. "Everybody from Red Level is excited for him and are looking forward to it. We're looking forward to a good year this year with Frank's senior leadership."

Kelley said Tolbert has been a key factor for the Tigers the past couple of years. He believes Tolbert's leadership has helped Red Level's basketball program to prosper.

"It's been a joy to have Frank," Kelley said. "He's grown up with ball all his life. His dad was a graduate here and an excellent ball player, and has been involved with Frank a lot n coaching and helping him. I just feel humbled to have the opportunity the last four years to have him on varsity. He's just a good kid with good character. He's got a good work ethic and sets a good example for the other kids. We've built a program here, it's not just one year and out, every year we try to have a solid program and Frank has been a huge part of that."

Kelley believes Tolbert can find success at the next level, but will have to maintain the work ethic he has

"Anytime you get to the next level, you're competing against guys that are as good as you," Kelley said. "He's going to have to continue to work on his strengths and minimize the mistakes in his game, which he's doing everyday. If he just continues to improve in all areas, he's got a bright future."

Last season, Tolbert helped lead the Tigers to a 23n2 season and an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen Tournament in Mobile, where they lost to eventual state champ R.C. Hatch. For his performance, Tolbert was a Class 2A firstnteam AllnState selection after averaging 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks per game.

Despite the substantial amount of press Tolbert has been receiving, he has stayed focused and is willing to do what it takes to win the Class 2A state title.

"Wherever coach needs me to be, that's where I'll be at," Tolbert said. "Everybody else needs to do the same. We're going to win as a team and lose as a team. We're improving a lot. We're working hard at practice and it's paying off in games."

Tolbert believes getting back into shape will be the biggest test for him this season.

"I had to sit up for a month when I broke my foot and that's a challenge for me right now," Tolbert said. "Other than that, the challenge is go out and win every night, so we can get that ring on our fingers."

Kelley believes depth will be the key for the Tigers to be successful this season. He said the lack of depth has hurt the team in the past.

"The biggest thing we decided as a team that we needed to do was build more depth on the bench," Kelley said. "Every year during the regional it's caught up with us, we might get into foul trouble or something, and other teams are playing nine or ten guys and we're playing at the most seven. So far in five ballgames we've been able to get a little bit more depth. As far as Frank, he's been able to read the kind of defenses teams are playing against him; he's seeing all kinds of defenses. It's important that he gets everybody involved in the game when they try to double team. He's been able to do that."

Tolbert's ability to score from both the inside and outside, block shots, rebound and handle the ball is a threat to his opponents, who do whatever it takes to stop him or slow him down.

Kelley said Tolbert handles the pressure well.

"Frank's got a target on him every game he steps out on the floor, he's got somebody trying to shut him down or stop him," Kelley said. "That's good because it opens the door for other players that have stepped up and done wonderfully for us. What it has allowed is for us to come together more as a team because Frank knows it's a team game and gets everybody involved. He does whatever it takes to win."