Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball coach Jeremy Schiller was pleasantly surprised at the giddiness with which his team celebrated its fourth-straight district title Feb. 15 after defeating Palmetto High 50-22 at home.
Players jumped liked pogo sticks on the bench as the clock ticked toward zero. They came together at center court for a group photo, then screamed as they were mobbed by their fellow Lakewood Ranch students. Schiller, who was calm after the game, thought the sense of winning might be dulled after not just another title, but the program’s fourth-straight undefeated district schedule and fifth-straight 20-win season.
It was not.
The Mustangs know one way to play thanks to Schiller — hard and aggressive. That philosophy carries over to celebrations, too, even at the district level.
Against Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch's run-and-gun style was on display. Junior guard Keon Buckley led the way with 14 points, but junior guard Christian Shaneyfelt had 12, senior forward Josh Young had nine and sophomore forward Luke LeCroy had eight.
That offense was unleashed by a relentless defense. Against Palmetto, the Mustangs used a zone defense in the first half to keep the Tigers off balance. Every time a Palmetto player touched the ball, he was double-teamed, sometimes triple-teamed. The scheme, plus Lakewood Ranch’s hustle, led to no open looks. Palmetto finished with eight points at halftime. For comparison’s sake, Buckley had that by himself.
“For us, it is not about the result as much as it is the process, the how and why,” Schiller said. “If you get that right, the results will take care of themselves.”
As the game opened in the third quarter — before officials went to a running clock point differential of 35 — Palmetto had a few offensive looks, but not many. The Mustangs weren't about to get lackadaisical. Young took a charge in the paint. LeCroy had a monster block. Buckley dove for a ball out of bounds and hit a no-look pass to junior guard Jaden Jones that wowed the crowd.
Lakewood Ranch still would have won comfortably if those plays had not been made, but they were made anyway, because that is how the Mustangs roll.
“The team takes pride in that,” Buckley said. “We figured out early in the season that playing strong defense helps us score on offense. Coach (Schiller) will put us on the line and run sprints if we don’t dive for every ball, so that comes naturally now.”
The Mustangs host Gulf Coast High at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 in a regional quarterfinal. If they win, they will play either Palmetto or Riverdale High, which eliminated the Mustangs last season, at 7 p.m. Feb. 26.
I think they can go deeper with their combination of talent and grit. For all that Lakewood Ranch has accomplished in the last five years, a state title has eluded them, the closest attempt being the team’s final four appearance in 2016-2017. Is this the year?
Maybe. It depends on who brings their A-game on any given day. But Schiller believes in his program and its culture.
“The regular season was about younger guys taking the torch,” Schiller said. “Now it is about them writing their own story.”