The shiny digs and successes at Bradenton's IMG Academy obviously haven't changed Jeremy Schiller that much.
Consider he was on vacation in Orlando on March 15, but he still took the time to return a sportswriter's call.
Schiller, you might remember, was the boys basketball coach at Lakewood Ranch High for 10 years, building a successful machine, before leaving to run the Ascenders' varsity program in 2021.
Schiller, who still lives in University Park, led the Mustangs to a 174-98 record, bringing the program into the Florida high school elite by the end of his tenure. The Mustangs went to two state tournament semifinals and reached the 2019 state championship, losing 57-52 to Blanche Ely High at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
More than with the talent he attracted, Schiller brought the program success by developing a winning culture.
He emphasized to his players the need to care about each other more than the average teammate would. He said when you're truly playing for the people beside you, you play better.
He scheduled team trips to places like New Orleans, as much to eat beignets and listen to jazz than to play basketball. Those unique experiences gave the Mustangs an edge.
At IMG, Schiller said, things are different. The type of culture-building he did at Lakewood Ranch isn't quite as possible with the Ascenders. IMG has six varsity teams, Schiller said, and each September, the basketball staff collectively places those players on teams in a way it hopes will maximize everyone's development. That might mean a player sticks with the same team and coach for four years, or it might mean a player has a different coach every year.
In 2022-2023, Schiller's IMG Academy Blue team went 18-9 and won the High School Slam consolation bracket at the Big Shots Prep National Championships, held Feb. 24-26 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. One of his players, 6-foot-9 freshman wing Tim Winkler Jr., has received offers from the universities of Florida, Auburn and Arizona State, among others. Another one of Schiller's Ascenders, Olivier Rioux, is widely considered to be the "World's Tallest Teen." The junior center stands 7-foot-6.
Schiller said he does miss the long-term, culture-building coaches can do at public schools that often isn't possible at IMG Academy, with players constantly moving up between the school's teams throughout their tenure. What he can't do in terms of building, however, is made up in spades by what he can do.
"IMG being year-round basketball has been awesome," Schiller said. "I'm able to go into work every day and just be focused on doing what's best for the kids on my team. Because of that, I think I have had a lot of growth."
That growth, Schiller said, has come both as a motivator and as an in-game coach. Schiller said the different level of talent at IMG compared to a public school allows him to ask more of his players and run concepts he otherwise wouldn't.
When coaching a player like Rioux, Schiller finds ways to get him out of his comfort zone. Schiller said at IMG, it is the expectation of every player that they end up playing in college, so it is Schiller's job to do everything in his power to get them there.
Any team success on top that is nice, of course, but Schiller is still a people-person above all else. Schiller said one of the more satisfying parts of his job has been seeing his teams come together by the end of the season, going from being strangers to messaging each other constantly. There have even been some seniors who stayed in contact with their teammates (and with Schiller) after graduation.
"That's always the most special part for me," Schiller said.
The Mustangs have taken a hit since Schiller's departure. Lakewood Ranch has gone 17-32 the last two years under Chris Kawcak, who resigned at the end of the season, and will now be led by George Holub, a 20-year veteran of the high school coaching scene who won a New York state title at Elmont Memorial High (Elmont, New York) in 2016.
Would Schiller ever consider going back to the public school life?
Don't hold your breath. Schiller said he's thrilled with where he is, as he gets to coach high-level talent while staying close to his family, something that is important to him. Before going to IMG, Schiller had received interest from college programs, hoping he'd jump to their level. No opportunity he received made as much sense as IMG did, Schiller said at the time.
Now, with a few years of experience at IMG, Schiller still feels similarly.
"For me, it's all about quality of life," Schiller said. "I love IMG. My goal is to stay at IMG long-term. The only way I would look for other opportunities is if it was a really good fit, maybe with a former player, or something that you couldn't say 'no' to it. But my intention is to stay here and continue building IMG Blue into a national brand."
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.