While 2020 has proven that not much in life is certain, it has been a given that Jeremy Schiller's Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball program will be competitive on a state level.
Pandemic or not, I expect the Mustangs to once again be a threat.
Schiller does too, though he also admitted this season might feel different at first. The Mustangs graduated eight seniors off last year's varsity roster. They return just two players with significant varsity experience, juniors guards Andres Junge and Jay'Den Clarke-Jones.
Fortunately, if they need to lead the team, they both have improved since last season. Schiller said Junge has evolved from a catch-and-shoot guy to a well-rounded scorer, and his release is quicker. That's starting to get him attention from colleges.
Schiller said Junge has been offered a basketball scholarship by NCAA Division I Eastern Washington during the offseason. Junge was third on the team in scoring last season, averaging 8.2 points per game according to MaxPreps data. Schiller said with former star Christian Shaneyfelt now gone, Junge has applied Shaneyfelt's defensive intensity to his own game as well.
Clarke-Jones has become more of a true point guard. He's learning how to better create opportunities for his teammates and making reads off ball screens. Clarke-Jones averaged 7.4 points per game last season, fifth on the team. He only averaged 1.6 assists per game, but that number should also improve as former Mustangs point guard Christian Perez graduated.
Schiller is optimistic about the new players who will round out the lineup, players like Chad Anderson. Schiller said Anderson — a 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore — has gone from a guy who happens to be tall to a well-rounded post player. He has become more consistent around the basket, Schiller said, and has the potential to draw college scholarship offers.
There are more. Schiller said he wished he could go in-depth about every player, since he believes they all have the potential to be great.
"I'll tell you the same thing I told them," Schiller said. "I believe this group can be regional championship good. I just don't know when that is going to happen. Day One is going to look a lot different than Day 60 for us."
The Mustangs will be trying to come together during a pandemic. Schiller said his team is taking every necessary precaution, including having his players wear masks in the gym when not performing "rigorous activity" like on-court drills. Coaches have to wear masks the entire time, unable to pull them down even to blow a whistle.
Schiller found an ingenious solution to that problem. He bought a squeeze whistle, which he described as whoopee cushion-esque in appearance (not sound), except with a whistle on the end of it. A few squeezes of that gets the kids' attention. Schiller said his hand gets a bit tired from squeezing and his throat is a bit more hoarse each evening from loudly talking through a mask, but otherwise, he feels comfortable with the current situation.
The Mustangs will play a home preseason game against Bloomingdale High on Nov. 21, start time to be determined.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.