The high school basketball landscape was changed by big pieces of news in the last few weeks.
It started with the announcement on Feb. 16 that Sarasota High boys coach Mike Fields was stepping down after four years. The Sailors, 5-20 last season, are a peculiar program, always holding a lot of raw athleticism but never quite stretching that talent to its potential, for one reason or another. They have not had a winning record since the 2013-2014 season. But they're a large program and there is an opportunity there, for the right coach, to turn them into a powerhouse.
The Sailors administration believes it has found that coach.
On March 10, the school announced that B.J. Ivey would be its new boys basketball coach. Ivey's name is one that area fans should know well. He has spent the last two seasons at The Out-of-Door Academy, but before that, he led the Riverview High boys and girls teams to new heights.
Over 13 seasons —10 with the boys, three with the girls — Ivey accumulated 270 wins and eight district titles. He led the 2015-2016 Rams to an appearance in the state final and helped develop NCAA Division I players A.J. Caldwell (Tennessee-Chattanooga; more on him in a minute) and Brion Whitley (Southern).
In other words, the guy knows what he's doing. By his own admission, his time coaching ODA didn't turn into as many wins as he would liked. But he was also facing challenges at the private school that he will not face at Sarasota High, like the majority of his roster focusing as much on other sports as they did basketball, making it difficult to schedule offseason practices and build chemistry.
Yes, some kids at Sarasota play multiple sports too, but not so many that it will heavily impact the team's schedule.
Returning to the Sailors from last season — assuming no one transfers, which is maybe not a safe assumption these day — is freshman Sean Collier, a 6-foot-2 forward who was impressive in his first year of high school basketball, leading the team in points multiple times. Steady forward Jaden Guerrero will be a senior next season and provide leadership. There are pieces here for Ivey to work with. Whether it's next year or beyond, do not be surprised if the Sailors become a force under Ivey's guidance.
There are two other basketball coaching changes that are worth nothing, and one of them also involves Sarasota High.
The Sailors hired former Saint Stephen's Episcopal girls coach David Gaulman to as their new girls coach. Gaulman, who will take over for Kevin Corwin, found a lot of success at Saint Stephen's, going 44-21 in three seasons with a Final Four trip in 2019-2020. He's also well-known on the travel ball scene, where he's worked on skill development with players such as Cardinal Mooney star Olivia Davis as well as Sarasota's Ava Sims and Shay Farley.
Sarasota was young in 2021-2022, having five sophomores and three freshman on the varsity roster. That inexperience led to a 7-18 record, but it also means that the Sailors will come in with a lot more experience next season. There is a nucleus for success there and I am excited to see what Gaulman does with it.
The other girls basketball change was the most surprising of all. Cardinal Mooney coach Rico Antonio announced he would step down March 10. Antonio went 74-28 over four seasons and took the Cougars to back-to-back state championship game appearances the last two seasons. Antonio has not announced his next move and did not respond to an interview request.
But more intriguingly, whoever Mooney hires as its next girls basketball coach will inherit a gold mine (again, assuming there are no transfers). The Cougars are expected to return 11 of 14 players from last year's roster, including Davis, junior forward Jordyn Byrd and freshman Kali Barrett, who became the team's most complete player down the stretch. There is more than enough talent there to get back to another state championship game. Even after next season, when David and Byrd and other contributors are scheduled to graduate, the team will have a rock solid foundation. This is a program that is set up to win for a while.
All three coaching moves have the potential to shake up the landscape of high school basketball in the area. While we wait to see who Mooney selects to fill Antonio's spot, I can say for sure that it will be fascinating to see how this all shakes out. It's a shame we have to wait so long to see these new-look programs in action, but hey: it will give us something to look forward to come winter.
One other basketball-related piece of news I wanted to mention. I said last week that Riverview alum A.J. Caldwell and his Tennessee-Chattanooga teammates were headed to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Southern Conference Tournament in dramatic fashion, but at the time, we didn't know who they would be playing. We do now. The Mocs are a No. 13 seed and will play No. 4 seed Illinois at 6:50 p.m. Friday in Pittsburgh. The game can be seen on TNT.
It's a tough draw for the Mocs. Illinois has junior Kofi Cockburn, one of the best big men in the country (21 points a game, 10.6 rebounds a game), and well, the Mocs don't. But if they can get him into foul trouble — something that happens with some regularity — and they have a chance. They're a 7.5-point underdog, and that feels about right. It's not impossible to imagine them winning but they'll need to play extremely well to do it.
Whatever happens, it is always cool to see someone from Sarasota playing on national television, on the biggest stage college sports has to offer. I hope you tune in.