Coach William Lawson of Petersburg High School says he knows three other basketball coaches who believe their teams, not his, should be representing Virginia's Central Region in the state Group AAA playoffs beginning Friday.

But Lee High's coach, Charlie Thompson, can top that -- he is sure at least triple that many Northern Region coaches feel their teams are more deserving of the state playoff berth than his Lancers.

Regardless of what the first three months of the basketball season proved, it will be Lee (17-10) and Petersburg (20-5) meeting Friday in one semifinal game at 7 p.m. as the state tournament moves to James Madison University in Harrisonburg for the first time after a long tradition at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The other AAA semifinal will match Booker T. Washington (21-5) and William Fleming at 8:45 p.m. Friday.

In the girls AAA tournament, South Lakes (23-3) will play Warwick (24-3) in a 2:45 p.m. semifinal at JMU's Godwin Hall, following a 1 p.m. game between Frank Cox (22-3) and George Washington-Danville (23-1).

"I know there are at least 10 coaches from the Northern Region who think their team should be there instead of mine," Thompson said, "but one thing I learned from 1981 is not to worry too much about the regular season because basketball is a tournament game."

In 1981, the Lancers lost their last three regular season games to finish 12-6, third in the Gunston District. They went on to win the Northern Region tournament and their only basketball state championship.

This year, Lee finished third in its district at 4-6 (12-9 overall), but it upset Hayfield, a regular season cochampion, in the Gunston tournament. Although the Lancers lost to Mount Vernon in the finals, they went to the regionals because a regular tie for the title means only the finalists in the tournament go to the region tournament.

Last week, Lee won three straight, including a 49-41 victory over Stuart in the title game, to earn a trip to the tournament.

"I'm sure we don't have the most talent in the region," said forward Steve Jarosz. "We had a few problems early in the season. He (Thompson) laid out some roles, and it took some people who had been big scorers when they were freshman or sophomores time to get adjusted. But the past couple of weeks, he has found how he wants to use the top six or seven players."

Filling his role well has been Steve Carroll, the only junior starter, who averaged 15.9 points while alternating between point and wing guard with Mike James (11.3). Mark Boyle, a 6-foot-8 center, averaged 15.2 points and 12 rebounds as Lee's most consistent player.

Petersburg, which is led by 6-5 Russell Williams (15 points, eight rebounds) and 6-4 Kelvin Jackson (11 points, seven rebounds), also finished third in its district. The Crimson Wave lost twice to archrival Hopewell (22-3), which was the top-rated team in the state most of the season, but defeated Hopewell by eight points in their regional final.