SARASOTA — His first word was “basketball.”
And by the time he was 3 years old, Gene Witt Elementary School fourth-grader Chase Maasdorp could be found on the court with a basketball in hand.
But no amount of practice could have prepared the 10-year-old for the first time he stepped onto the court in a Sarasota Gators uniform.
The Sarasota Gators fifth-grade travel team had recently formed and had yet to hold an official practice. In fact, the Gators didn’t even have a complete roster. But that didn’t stop Maasdorp and the rest of his teammates from taking the court.
The team played its first tournament in February, losing each of its first three games by at least 20 points. It wasn’t the start the team had envisioned, but it was just the motivation the Gators needed.
“We learned we probably needed to work harder,” Maasdorp said. “We weren’t in shape and you need to be athletic because the kids on the other team will beat you the minute you let them go past you.”
Since then, the team has posted a 12-7 record and has become one of the top AAU basketball teams in the area.
“We’re not supposed to be that good yet,” coach Dayne Maasdorp said. “These kids want it more than me, which is hard to believe.”
Most recently, the team traveled to Fort Myers for the High Hoops Shootout where they faced the unbeaten Fort Myers Tigers, ranked No. 2 in the state, in the semifinals.
In their previous meeting, the Gators fell to the Tigers by 10 points, and on May 1-2 the team showed its development, pulling within six points of the state powerhouse.
“I thought we could beat them,” Chase Maasdorp said. “We played them before and got really close the first time. We sort of figured out what they could do.”
The Sarasota Gators fifth-grade travel basketball team formed a little more than two months ago after Dayne Maasdorp decided to create a travel team with some of the players he had been coaching at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA.
“We’re not in Indiana, but I’m (lucky enough) to coach a great group of kids and to be able to pick around from the talent pool,” Dayne Maasdorp said. “These are great kids and they each bring something to the table.”
The team comprises 11 fourth- and fifth-graders from Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice. The Gators practice two to three times a week at the Sarasota YMCA and try to scrimmage older teams on the weekends.
“When you aren’t practicing someone else is getting better,” said 11-year-old Curtis Cobb. “To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
The Gators will play a total of eight tournaments during the AAU basketball season, which runs until July. Being a part of the Sarasota Gators has allowed players such as Chase Maasdorp and Curtis Cobb to gain exposure at an early age.
“It’s fun playing because of the competition,” Cobb said.
Eventually, the two hope to play collegiate basketball and follow in the footsteps of their idols — LeBron James and John Wall.
“I just love the game,” Chase Maasdorp said. “I want to be the best basketball player ever.”
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.
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