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Riverview freshman shows sky-high potential

He's making waves with his dunking ability, but has an all-around strong game.

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Riverview freshman forward Malachi Wideman was all alone.

His Rams boys basketball team was playing North Port at home on Jan. 18, and one of his teammates had stolen the ball in transition. Wideman used every muscle of his 6-foot-5 frame to speed ahead of the defense. He turned his head and raised his right arm to call for the pass, but the ball was already on its way.

Wideman caught it, dribbled once, then sent shockwaves through the crowd by slamming home a ruthless dunk.

This is now a regular occurrence during Riverview games. Wideman, who also plays wide receiver for the football team, is becoming more and more ingrained into the Rams’ game plan. The team’s record stands at 16-5 as of Jan. 24, and is ranked fourth in Class 9A by the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches and Source Hoops’ latest poll. That success is due in no small part to Wideman, the uber-athletic phenomenon whose dunking prowess and overall ability are taking the high school basketball scene by storm.

Even his own teammates are impressed.

“I heard about him a little bit when he was in middle school,” senior Brion Whitley said. “I watched a video on him at McIntosh (Middle School) of him jumping, but I didn't realize it fully until he got here. He's windmilling and 360-ing and doing all this crazy stuff. It's pretty impressive.

“I'm a little jealous though, because last year I was ‘Mr. Dunk Man’ and now he comes in and takes all my thunder away, but it's all good.”

Wideman competed in the 2016 City of Palms dunk contest in December, and finished third out of 20 contestants even though he was going up against players with two and three years more growth and experience. He also had little time to prepare a set.

“Coach (B.J. Ivey) asked me like three days before the dunk contest if I wanted to do it. He got me in the gym the next day, and for like 30 minutes we just practiced doing some dunks that I could do to place in the contest.”

Wideman remembers the first time he ever threw down. It was at a seventh grade basketball practice with his friends. He just wanted to see if he could do it, and he could. Ever since, Wideman has been wowing crowds, and that’s his goal. He never dunks in a game to brag about his ability in the face of opponents. As Wideman said, he just wants to sell some tickets.

Malachi Wideman jumps for a one-handed slam against North Port.
Malachi Wideman jumps for a one-handed slam against North Port.

He is well aware of his athletic gifts, and is not taking them for granted.

“It could be gone at any moment,” said Wideman of his ability. “A couple years ago, I broke my ankle and that kept me off my feet for a little bit. I had to come back and work on getting it stronger before I could play like myself again.”

Focusing solely on his leaping ability would do Wideman a disservice, even though it’s supremely entertaining. It is often easy to forget that Wideman is a freshman when he starts for a team with championship aspirations. He is an all-around player, putting up 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Rams’ 71-70 win over rival Sarasota on Jan. 4. On defense, Wideman plays with great energy, frequently jumping in the way of opponents’ passes and deflecting them to safety.

When he gets his hands on a steal, look out. Everyone knows what is coming.

The person most effusive in his praise of Wideman is his coach, who says the Wideman drawing eyes today will be nothing compared to the player he’ll be in time.

“The sky is the limit for Malachi, it truly is,” Coach B.J. Ivey said. “The kid is extremely gifted, but not only that, he's an intelligent kid. He's picked it up a lot. He's playing major minutes and especially as of late, he's playing very under control.

“Truth be told, it is up to him. I had an honest conversation with him. He can be one of the best players in the country, but he's going to have to work his tail off for the next three years because there are a lot of kids out there who are just as talented in the other major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas. He's definitely got a chance.”


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