- January 12, 2022
When a basketball team can shoot — and I mean really shoot — it grabs my attention.
It's a skill that translates against most any opponent. Sure, tight man-to-man defense can bother some shooters, and it's always better to be wide open (and have more time) than not, but for the most part, if you can hit threes against one team, you can hit them against any team. There's a reason the game of basketball at-large has moved that direction in recent years: to catch up with the Golden State Warriors et al.
That's why what the Sarasota Christian boys basketball team did against Indian Rocks Christian on Tuesday night was so impressive. The Blazers hit 16 of 31 three-point attempts (52%) on their way to a 69-36 home victory in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 2A, District 11 tournament. Indian Rocks (3-20) is not exactly a brick wall defensively, I understand, but a team can either hit shots from long range or it can't. The Blazers can, and that makes them a threat if they stay as hot as they have been in 2022.
The Blazers (18-8) will play Canterbury High (15-10) on the road on Wednesday for the right to reach the district championship game. It may well decide the Blazers' season. Sarasota Christian coach Kevin Bruinsma said he believes the team would not make the regional tournament as an at-large bid if the team loses to Canterbury. If the team wins, they have a shot, no matter what happens in the district championship. That being the case, the Blazers are looking at the game as do or die.
If the last month and change is any indication, the arrow has a great shot at pointing to "do." The Blazers rode a sweep of the Sarasota Christian Holiday Tournament, which began Dec. 29, and turned it into a 14-game winning streak, the longest in program history.
"It became a total cohesive, collective approach," Bruinsma said. "We realized that, individually, we are average at times. Collectively, we can be very good. Once we embraced that approach, doing things collectively, we applied guys to the appropriate shots. Everything snowballed. We were like, 'Hey, this is pretty fun when we're running over to each other and helping each other off the floor and we're making the extra pass and we're celebrating.' The best type of success is a success you can celebrate together."
Bruinsma said he believes the Blazers have the two best outside shooters in the area in seniors Adam Bassil and Drew Yoder. Bassil scored 30 points against Indian Rocks Christian and hit seven of 13 three-point attempts; Yoder had 20 points and hit six of 11 shots behind the arc. As naturally skilled as the two are, Bruinsma, it helps that the rest of the team knows how to complement Bassil and Yoder's shooting efforts.
"The shooting provides spacing for everyone else," Bruinsma said. "(Senior) Brian Hershberger is a tremendous post player. Ben Papineau has had an incredible senior season. (Senior) Nick Webb has emerged late in the year. When you have two guys like Drew and Adam who can shoot the ball well, it creates more driving lanes and more angles for Brian, etc. They have more freedom and opportunity than they would normally have."
Bassil showcased the team's selflessness in a post-game interview, giving teammates credit for setting up easy shots to knock down instead of flaunting his own ability. Bassil said the team is feeling good about itself despite the winning streak coming to an end last week in a 66-65 loss to Universal Academy. The Blazers led by as many as nine points in that game but failed to hold onto the lead. Bruinsma said he was glad to see the team rebound from that loss well against Indian Rocks Christian.
But now comes a tougher test. Canterbury is ranked 18th in the class according to MaxPreps; Sarasota Christian is 31st. The Crusaders are 6-1 against common opponents; the Blazers are 7-3. I never know how much stock to put in rankings like these. All I really know is what I have seen with my eyes and what my eyes have seen is the Blazers shooting the light out. If they do that again, they can win. But even if they lose, putting their name on a record-setting win streak is a great accomplishment for this impressive group of seniors.
Elsewhere in the high school basketball world, the Riverview High girls team finally lost a game, falling 44-32 to Gulf Coast High in the team's district championship game. The Rams (19-1) are still alive, though, just with a tougher regional path; they will hit the road to play Durant High (20-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday in what should be a close game. If I had to bet, I'd say the Rams rebound from the loss and advance. They're too determined to be great to lose again.
Staying at Riverview, freshman boys player Jamier Jones put on an absolute show against Palmetto High on Feb. 5, nabbing 36 points and 14 rebounds. The top-seeded Rams (18-7) are in their district tournament this week, first hosting North Port High (12-12) at 7 p.m. Wednesday and then, assuming they advance, hosting either Gulf Coast High (13-12) or Venice High (11-9) in the district championship game at 7 p.m. Friday. I'm telling you, the 6-foot-5 Jones is on his way to high-level, high-flying stardom, so if you haven't seen him and the Rams play yet, now is the time. He's only gotten better as the season has rolled along.