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Prose and Kohn

Don't count out Riverview boys basketball in first year under new coach

Coach Brandon Knecht said the team (4-4) is realizing the power of commitment.

Rams senior Jayden Dudash goes up for a jump shot against Manatee High. Dudash finished with 14 points.
Rams senior Jayden Dudash goes up for a jump shot against Manatee High. Dudash finished with 14 points.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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The Riverview High boys basketball team's offense wasn't a thing of beauty on Dec. 15 at home against Manatee High. 

It didn't have to be. 

The Rams made up for a lack of flash with bucketfuls of effort, and their energy on defense gave them some easy opportunities, leading to a 69-51 win. 

It's exactly how first-year Head Coach Brandon Knecht knows his team will have to play. 

"The first thing we talked about is culture," Knecht said. "We have to work hard every second that we are on the floor. You can't disrespect the game, you know? You can't take plays off. If you do, you're not going to be good." 

Riverview High Head Coach Brandon Knecht said he wants his team to never take a play off.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Knecht said he told his team early on that it simply didn't have the individual talent of past Rams teams. 

For the last four years, Riverview has been able to lean on Jason Jackson for scores when needed; Jackson, currently playing in the Overtime Elite developmental league, was committed to the University of Mississippi before de-committing on Nov. 8, but he'll likely be on an NCAA Division I roster somewhere next season. 

And in 2021-2022, the Rams got one season of Jamier Jones, one of the nation's top players in the Class of 2025; he would transfer to IMG Academy, then Oak Ridge High, but his freshman season with the Rams was special. 

Going back even further, Riverview reached the state championship game in 2016 with players like Brion Whitley, who played at Murray State University (alongside NBA star Ja Morant, fun fact) and Southern University; and AJ Caldwell, who played at the University of South Alabama and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. 

But just because this Rams team does not have a surefire NCAA DI talent on it does not mean it can't be a winning team. Knecht told the players that too. It turns out that "working your butt off" can cure many ails. 

Rams senior Jeremiah Dawson fights through traffic to get to the basket against Manatee High. Dawson finished with 13 points.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Against Manatee High, the Rams played how Knecht wanted them to play. They forced Manatee into rushed, low-quality shots and took advantage in transition. Riverview hit just two outside shots all game — one each from sophomore Josh Harris and senior Jayden Dudash — but again, it didn't matter. Riverview dominated the paint; when the first shot of a possession didn't fall, someone was there to clean it up. 

Dudash led the team with 14 points. Senior forward Jeremiah Dawson had 13. Five other Rams had at least five points. That's what team scoring looks like. Manatee could not come close to matching it. 

Now, the Rams were not playing the Los Angeles Lakers out there. The loss dropped Manatee's record to 1-7 as of Dec. 16, and the win improved Riverview's record to 4-4. But the margin of victory was the largest the Rams have had all season. Manatee never seriously threatened in the second half. That means something going forward.

"We're going to be in a lot of battles," Knecht said. "Even the games we won (earlier), they were close, and then we were able to pull away. But this now gives us confidence to say, 'Hey, we can be pretty darn good. We can solidly beat teams by double digits." 

Knecht gave credit to junior forward Ryan Farris for giving the team a lift emotionally and on the score sheet in the first half when it was still finding its footing, calling Farris the game's MVP, a role he hadn't occupied previously. Farris had seven first-half points and finished with 11 total. It's a sign that anyone is capable of giving the team what it needs on a given night. 

Asked what he still wants to see out of his team, Knecht gave a simple answer: Having fun. 

"I want them coming together on this ride," Knecht said. "We get to play basketball every single day. Yeah, we want to work hard, but we want to enjoy it, too." 

Rams junior Gavin Howard drives to the basket against Manatee High. Howard finished with five points.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

It's a nice reminder that, as important as high school sports results have become — to the people that play them, and the people that follow them — the point of them is to enjoy them. 

I don't have a clue where Riverview's record will end up. Going into the new year, the Rams still have to play tough local teams like Sarasota High (7-1 as of Dec. 16) and Cardinal Mooney High (5-2), plus difficult out-of-area teams like Naples High (7-2) on Dec. 22. 

But I do know that I never count out teams that fight. Riverview fights. They scrap in the paint and are not afraid to draw fouls. They play responsible defense. They don't go for highlight reel plays over easy points — usually, anyway: Rhys Gamble did throw down a pretty nice dunk in the fourth quarter against Manatee. 

For the first year under a new coach, after going 10-19 a season ago, the Rams are in a good spot. And they're going to battle for everything they can get. So don't count them out. 



Ryan Kohn

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.

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