- January 4, 2018
The rivalry between Booker High and Riverview High in boys basketball is the best rivalry in Sarasota sports.
That’s one man’s opinion, of course. But the two teams stoked the fires of the rivalry again on Dec. 10, and that opinion is getting harder and harder to discredit.
The Rams and Tornadoes met at Riverview High, and from the jump, the game was an exhibition of supreme skill. Both programs have state title aspirations this season, and played like they had something to prove. Booker entered the game 1-1, with a loss to IMG Academy (ranked third nationally by MaxPreps) and a come-from-behind, overtime win against DeSoto County High. Riverview entered 4-0, but without having played a tough opponent.
The talent on both teams is insane. Loyal readers know all about Rams junior Malachi Wideman and Tornadoes senior Johnnie Williams, but Rams 6-foot-6 sophomore Jayven Millien is a stick of dynamite on the court, and Tornadoes 6-foot-3 sophomore Curtis Butler Jr. is as smooth as Kerrygold butter (the smoothest butter on the market, I promise). Booker senior Jordan Clark can score from anywhere, and Riverview junior Marquel Bryant always plays hard, just as his brother, former Ram D.J Bryant (now at UT-Arlington) did.
It’s not just the dunks that make these guys special, though they can do that, as well. It’s their spacing, their anticipation, their “want-to.'' I could keep listing the teams’ standout players, too, but I would just be listing their entire rosters.
In the rivals’ first matchup of the season, the Rams got out to a blistering start. Playing without starting senior guard Tyrus Jackson, Millien manned the post, Wideman made plays in transition and junior guard Alain Kalisa made some three-pointers off the bench. Foul trouble limited Williams to few on-court minutes (in the first half, anyway), and the Rams took advantage. Riverview led by as many as 13 in the first half, and they were so confident, they tried an off-the-backboard pass to Wideman for a dunk. He was fouled on the play, but I think he would have landed it. He made a few other rim-rattling slams to make up for it.
At halftime, the score was 32-27 Riverview.
An all-around effort brought the Tornadoes back in the second half.
While the Rams got a bit sloppy with the ball, trying to do too much, Booker was steady and trusted its offense. Butler had nine of his 13 points in the third quarter, and six Tornadoes got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. Booker trailed for much of the game, but took a 57-55 lead with 1:23 to go when Johnnie Williams posterized three Rams on a put-back dunk that contained the power of 1,000 suns. Williams roared like Simba. Half the crowd did as well.
“I mean, you all saw it,” Williams said, smiling, when asked about the dunk. “You rate it.”
He would add another slam, a runner in transition, a few possessions later, as Riverview went cold from the field. The Tornadoes salted the game away with free throws, and beat the Rams 62-57.
It was an exhilarating game, one I wish I could watch without a reporting cap on, just so I could fully take in the experience. Williams explained why games between the Tornadoes and Rams are so electric afterwards.
“We are two inner-city schools,” he said. “We’re both good. We both want to win. They have the size, we have the speed. It is always exciting when we play them.”
The teams will both participate in the Suncoast Holiday Classic tournament, held at Riverview Dec. 27-29. It is possible the teams rematch there. If they do not, the next time they play for sure is Jan. 21, in the annual MLK Classic game.
The great thing about this rivalry is you only have to take sides when they play each other. Booker is a Class 6A team and Riverview is Class 9A. They could both make deep runs in the postseason, and you can cheer on both without worrying about school loyalty.
I can’t wait. Both teams should only get better as the season progresses, meaning the next matchup between the two programs should feature more dunks, more blocks and more fun.