Lakewood Ranch High School basketball players Damien Gordon and Jack Kelley didn’t know how to react to a teammate’s statement after a June 14 summer league practice.
Evan Spiller was asked about their team.
“It’s like a unicorn,” Spiller said.
“Our play style is one-of-a-kind,” Spiller explained. “You look at a unicorn, what are you going to do (to defend yourself)?”
If you happen to run into a unicorn, and it attacks with its head down and its horn pointed toward your chest, you’ve got a problem.
Likewise, Spiller said anyone who plays the Mustangs has a problem as well.
All three Mustangs will be seniors in the fall after helping the team to the Final Four during the previous high school season. They are confident they will complete their careers with another big run.
After they were eliminated last season, Mustangs coach Jeremy Schiller said he wanted his three key players to step into leadership roles. Although it would be a chance for them, Schiller felt it would be necessary if Lakewood Ranch was going to keep rolling as a team.
If summer league play is any indication, the Mustangs will be just fine. Schiller said the team is further along in its development than he hoped or thought possible. He praised all three returnees for their work as leaders.
“This isn’t a low maintenance team, it’s a zero maintenance team,” Schiller said. “They (Gordon, Spiller and Kelley) have created and maintained a culture of support.”
That culture is shown through the team’s dedication. Schiller said his players are in the gym practicing at 7 a.m., before they assist him at Lakewood Ranch’s youth basketball camp. Those early-morning practices are voluntary, he said, and are in addition to normal practice in the afternoon. The team simply wants to get better, he said. The young players are aware of the program’s climb to the top and want to stay there.
The veteran trio said their leadership styles are distinct. Gordon is reserved, but leads by example. Kelley “gets on you” when mistakes are made, and Spiller will explain how to correct the mistake.
The system has worked to perfection in summer league play. The Mustangs were 9-0 as of June 14, with a 21-point average margin of victory. That includes two wins over Mariner, which reached the Class 6A state championship game last season.
That “unicorn” style of play Spiller mentioned is a modified version of the high-tempo offense of previous Schiller teams, the difference being more focus is put on the “big three.” All of them have played well thus far. Kelley is averaging 12.6 points and eight rebounds per game, Gordon has scored 11.5 points and 3.2 steals per game, and Spiller is averaging 9.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
As fans of the program know, the secret to Lakewood Ranch’s success has been accomplished with superior depth. The 2017-2018 team may put more emphasis on the veteran trio, but there are also newcomers that have Schiller barely able to contain his excitement.
Keon Buckley is one of them. He will be a sophomore in the fall, but started all nine of Lakewood Ranch’s summer league games through June 14.
Buckley is talented. In summer league, he is averaging 11 points and three rebounds per game, and has drained 17 3-pointers through nine games.
Schiller (and the returnees) also mentioned James Rivera and Mark Caraher as players who will have (and have had, in summer league) an impact, particularly on defense. Both will be juniors next semester, and both also run track for the Mustangs.
There’s a long way to go until the fall season starts, but for fans worried about the program faltering after losing eight seniors, the players say there’s no reason to be.
Schiller, too, thinks these players could be a mystical bunch.
As mystical as a unicorn? That remains to be seen.