Brandon Knecht won't take his opportunities for granted.
Knecht, 33, has been fascinated by the game of basketball for as long as he can remember, he said. He didn't play much competitive basketball at Riverview High, just one season of junior varsity ball. But he never stopped obsessing over it, studying it, and convincing himself he wanted to be involved in it.
Knecht decided coaching would be a good way to accomplish that. He worked his way up, starting as an assistant coach with the Mambas travel club, then getting involved with Riverview's junior varsity program under head JV coach Rudy Fraraccio. When Fraraccio took the head varsity position in 2019, Knecht took over the junior varsity program himself. Last season, after Fraraccio stepped down, the Rams hired veteran travel ball coach Kendall Ellis as their varsity coach, and Knecht went to Sarasota High as a varsity assistant.
But the Riverview connections still ran deep: at Sarasota, Knecht coached under BJ Ivey, who coached the Rams before Fraraccio and led the team to a state championship game appearance in 2016.
Ellis left the Rams program after one season. To replace him and regain stability, Riverview turned to someone who knew the program inside and out, someone to whom the opportunity to coach the Rams meant coming full circle as a coach: Knecht.
"It's a special place," Knecht said. "To be able to take over a program that has a state runner-up finish in its history, which you don't often see in this part of the state, it's an honor. It's going back to where I went to school. It's a place that means so much to me."
Knecht said he learned a lot from coaches like Ivey and Fraraccio, but the biggest thing is how they implemented culture in their programs — not just talking about it, but living it, through the relationships they made with their players.
"You have to be a family," Knecht said. "You're around these guys for a good chunk of the year, even in the offseason. If you have a poor culture where guys don't want to be around their coaches and they aren't completely committed, it's not going to work. So you have to build those relationships first."
Knecht has a head start in that area. Knecht said many of the players he expects to fill out the team's varsity roster next season were players he coached at the junior varsity level. They'll know what to expect from him, and him from them, he said.
On the court, Knecht said the Rams' style of play will depend heavily on how he evaluates the team and its talent over the offseason, but there are things he expects to see every season, like moving the ball efficiently on offense and scouting the opposition to know what weaknesses to exploit. Knecht said he puts an emphasis on playing smart basketball over everything else.
"I've seen a lot of teams that take a lot of quick shots, they take the first shot they see," Knecht said. "If you do that to us, we'll take it. And we're going to make you work on defense. We're going to get not a good shot, but a great shot. We're going to play things the right way."
Knecht inherits the Rams coming off a down season with an optimistic ending. Riverview went 10-19 in 2022-2023, down from a 21-8 season in 2021-2022, but the Rams finished strong, winning their final regular season game over Lakewood Ranch High, then winning three-straight games in the district tournament to win the championship. In the district title game, the Rams beat Knecht and Ivey's Sailors team 52-49. Riverview would lose to Winter Haven High 81-66 in the regional quarterfinals.
The Rams will also have to deal with the graduation of senior players like Jason Jackson, a 6-foot-3 guard who committed to the University of Mississippi on May 30.
Knecht said that getting the Rams back to deep postseason runs is a goal, but more than that, he wants to create a positive basketball community, one where players are having fun regardless of a game's outcome.
"We're going to work hard as a program," Knecht said. "It's not about me. It's about the work the kids are putting into this. It's about what we're doing as a staff and what the team is doing as a family to bring Riverview basketball back to a great level again."
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.