The Sarasota High boys basketball program has not had a winning season since 2013-2014.
On Tuesday night, a determined group of Sailors and a new coach showed off a desire to change that.
After finishing 5-20 last season, Sarasota brought in former Riverview High and The Out-of-Door Academy coach B.J. Ivey to run its program. Ivey, a well-known name in the basketball community, took the Rams to a state championship game appearance in the 2015-2016 season. Don't expect that kind of success in year one with the Sailors, but Ivey said he's committed to building a culture of growth, both athletic and personal. That takes time.
So far, Ivey likes how his new players have responded.
"It's a hard thing to do," Ivey said. "Culture is what you do every day. These seniors, they have habits built up over three years. We're trying to develop standards of behavior on and off the court and then hold the kids accountable to the standards they set for themselves. I'm excited about that."
Ivey said he can feel the team getting closer to those standards with each practice and game. The team's desired identity is not a complex one: Be strong on defense first, then pick up the tempo and get open looks via spacing (player movement) and ball movement, as opposed to one player attempting to create his own shot.
The Sailors did what Ivey asked on Tuesday night. Bringing a ferocious defensive energy onto their home floor, the Sailors beat Ivey's former squad, ODA, 58-32, using that energy to disrupt the Thunder's offense. ODA rarely found itself with an open shot and was consistently hounded by Sarasota players in pursuit of steals; Sarasota ended the game with 22 of them. In three of the game's four quarters, Sarasota held ODA to less than 10 points.
The win brought the Sailors' record to 2-1; Three games into 2022-2023, Sarasota has 40% of its wins from a season ago. It's a small sample size, but also a sign of the improvements the team has made.
Junior center/forward Daniel Munn led the Sailors with 16 points against ODA and controlled the paint on the offensive end. Nick Tregembo, a sophomore guard, added 11 points.
Munn said the team's chemistry has increased a noticeable amount in 2022, in no small part because of the discipline and mental fortitude Ivey requires. The system requires buy-in from everyone on the roster; Munn said he and his teammates have responded to that.
"They changed our mindset," Munn said of the coaching staff. "It's all completely different. We're more disciplined. We're passing the ball more. We're clicking. We are working a lot harder (than last season) and we hate losing."
The Sailors have struggled to win in recent seasons, but the program's talent pool was not empty. Ivey said he did not know much about the team's roster before taking the coaching position, as he did not see the team play in 2021-2022 while coaching ODA. Ivey said he took the job because of his relationship with principal David Jones, for whom Ivey said he has "unbelievable amounts of respect," and because of the vision shared among the entire athletic department. Ivey said he was pleasantly surprised by the athleticism of his players. Though many of the Sailors are young, they have lots of room to grow.
That also means there's a high potential of mistakes, at least early in this new journey.
"One of the things that we're going to struggle with is consistency," Ivey said. "We want to see the things we're practicing translate to the games more frequently."
That showed in the team's loss, a 69-59 road defeat at the hands of Venice, who also has a first-year coach in Luke Davis, a former North Port High assistant coach. After holding 22-14 lead at the end of the first quarter, the Sailors let the Indians take control. Against ODA, the Sailors shot 37% from three-point range; against Venice they shot 19% from beyond the arc. They recorded 12 steals against the Indians, 10 less than they got against ODA.
Not every game will go as smoothly for Sarasota as the ODA game , but a manageable schedule and renewed focus can put the team in contention for a winning season, something that would mark significant progress. The team's goals don't extend past its reach: Munn said the team wants to gel enough over the course of the season to compete in the district tournament, and get a win over rival Riverview High (0-3); according to MaxPreps game data, the Sailors have dropped 17-straight games to the Rams.
The two teams will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at Riverview, then again on Jan. 10.
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.