Every team has a leading scorer.
Anthony Suarez is not that guy.
The Lakewood Ranch senior reserve guard isn’t going to score 20 points a game and chances are he is not going to score at all. That is simply not his role.
Suarez rarely contributes to the box score, but his teammates and coaches have thought so much of his selfless leadership they selected him as a team captain. That is quite an honor considering the Mustangs are two wins away from their first district championship since 2005.
"He brings the team together," sophomore guard Evan Spiller said. "He's one of a kind. He brings an energy to the bench, and when he comes in, the crowd just lights up. No one else does that on the team."
An avid basketball fan, Suarez is simply happy to be on the court, even if that means treating every practice as if it were a game. If there’s a loose ball, Suarez is the first to jump on it.
“In practice, everyone’s opportunities are the same,” Suarez said. “I know I’ll get my opportunity eventually.”
Suarez got a big opportunity Jan. 28 when he made his first career start against Bayshore. The lone senior on the Mustangs’ roster scored four points. It was his time to shine, a moment three years in the making.
“I was really happy for him,” junior center Sam Jackson said. “It was the best thing that could’ve happened. It was a night to celebrate all of the hard work he’s put in over the last four years.”
As a freshman, Suarez was cut. He knew he wasn’t good enough at the time, having only played in the local YMCA league, he wasn't prepared for the competitiveness and intensity surrounding the program.
Following the tryout, Lakewood Ranch coach Jeremy Schiller encouraged Suarez to be a student assistant.
Suarez agreed and spent the season helping out wherever he could. During games, he would retrieve balls, keep statistics and do anything else the players needed.
The thought of walking away never once crossed his mind, and he became a student of the game.
“It definitely motivated me,” Suarez said of being cut. “If I would’ve quit then, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you.”
The following summer, Suarez worked out every day with the Mustangs' summer basketball team. He never missed a practice and often participated in extra training sessions. Suarez worked hard in the weight room in preparation for his next chance to make the roster.
“I used it as a learning experience,” Suarez said. “You have to still think that sometime you’re going to get a shot. You can never quit. I kept telling myself if you go 100% and do the best you can, then you’re going to get noticed."
Suarez's hard work and dedication paid off the following season when he made Lakewood's junior varsity squad.
"It was very gratifying," Suarez said of learning he had made the team. "I got noticed because I put in the work. That's what set me apart."
After a year with the junior varsity, Suarez was named to the varsity squad. During his two seasons on the varsity, he has learned how to be a leader. He’s earned the respect of his teammates.
As the lone upperclassman returning from last year's squad, which set a school record for wins with 21, Suarez knew he needed to be a leader and a source of support for his teammates.
It didn't take long for Suarez to master them both.
"He really wants the team to grow and get better," Jackson said. "He just has this way and presence about him. It's very nice. You know he's there for you. You need someone that's humble on the team. Anthony's definitely that guy. He's made me a better leader than I was when I came in."
Once a freshman who struggled through eight weeks of conditioning, Suarez is now the definition of Mustang toughness.
“Not every team has an Anthony Suarez,” Schiller said. “He’s a special kid. Not every kid is willing to make the sacrifices Anthony makes every day when he is not playing as much in the game.”
He embraces his role.
“I love playing for Lakewood Ranch,” Suarez said. “It’s sad for me to think that this is the end. I’m going to miss it a lot, but hopefully I’ll be able to come back and help.”