Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
For 30 or so minutes of in-game time on Jan. 8, it did not look great for Riverview High boys basketball.
Rams coach BJ Ivey said after the game that he did not recognize the team that was wearing Riverview’s uniforms and playing sloppily against district foe Newsome High. The Wolves entered the game 5-6 on the season. Then again, the Rams came in 7-7, after spending the first part of their schedule going against some of the best teams in the country.
Ivey entered the season with high expectations for the young Rams, who will graduate two seniors in May. The rest of the roster is five juniors and six sophomores. Despite the inexperience, the Rams have talent. Everyone knows about junior Malachi Wideman, and sophomore Jayven Millien was one of our athletes to watch for 2019. But senior guard Tyrus Jackson is an energetic leader, junior guard Alain Kalisa has a sweet stroke from beyond the arc and sophomore forwards David Mazon and John Solomon provide sparks of excitement off the bench.
This Rams team carries an Ivey hallmark in its hounding defense. Even when it is making mistakes in the offensive zone, it is putting immense pressure on the opponents, keeping games close. The game against Newsome followed a similar rhythm to the Rams’ first game against Booker High: get a sizable early lead, lose control in the second half, get defensive stops to hang around. It was 55-48 Newsome with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
The Rams lost that Booker game. They didn’t lose against Newsome, thanks to a furious rally.
Senior guard Matteo Catena hit a free throw. A defensive stop and a three-pointer from Zach Mobley made the score 55-52. Junior guard Marquel Bryant got a steal as Newsome tried to hit a long pass on the next possession, and the ball eventually found Wideman’s hands. He sank a three of his own to tie the game. For the first time that half, the Rams looked alive.
Wideman would add two free throws a minute later, and a ferocious dunk as time ticked toward zero put the game in the books, 59-55. He was a man possessed in the last few minutes. Wideman said post-game that wins like this can have a carryover effect, and that he believes their best times are ahead of them.
A little past the halfway point of the season, how should this team be evaluated? Ivey said he has never put much stock in win/loss records. He wants his team battle-tested and playing its best basketball by the time the playoffs arrive in February. As evidenced by the team’s continuous success under Ivey, including a state championship game appearance in 2016, his formula seems to be sound. So even though the team is one game above .500, fans should keep the faith.
Wideman said he has learned to trust his teammates more as the season has progressed, one reason for the Rams’ more balanced attack of late. That’s good, because everyone on this team can contribute solid minutes. And when Wideman plays in sync with himself, as he did at the end of the Newsome game, there aren’t many players in the state that can hang with him.
Riverview has (always) excellent coaching, a bonafide superstar and role players “learning to play within their roles,” as Ivey said. Those challenging early season games, like facing Oak Hill Academy (the No. 7 team in the US, according to both MaxPreps and USA Today) at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers in December, helped show the Rams what it takes to be great.
Throw the records out; The Rams have the skill to be great themselves. If they can make it all click, they could find themselves deep in the postseason once again.