Pirates are known for plundering, and always wanting more.
Like their namesake, the Braden River High Pirates boys basketball players want more, too. In this case, wins in the 2023-2024 season.
Braden River had a breakout season in 2022-2023, going 16-9 under first-year Head Coach Dwight Gilmer. It came a season after they went 7-18. The Pirates have struggled as a program for years, not having won a district title since 2012.
Last season was a good start to the turnaround, Gilmer said, but it is not even close to where the program wants to be. They want more.
This year, the team's goals begin with a district title. The Pirates were upset by Parrish Community High (14-11) 55-49 in last year's district tournament, and that early exit still bothers Gilmer and his players.
After taking two and a half weeks off following the loss to decompress and reset, the players were back on the court.
Gilmer said they were going to practice as much as possible to make sure the 2023-2024 season goes longer than last season.
The Pirates believe they have a chance to be better in large part because they return their top two scorers. Seniors Marcus Schade (16.5 points per game) and Isaac Heaven (10.1 points per game) both can carry the team offensively if needed.
Schade is a 6-foot-3 guard who made 32% of his 3-point attempts last season while playing tight, aggressive defense on both guards and wings. He averaged 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game in addition to his scoring.
Heaven, who is also 6-foot-3, is as athletic as anyone in the area and proved it by playing wide receiver for the school's football team this season, catching 22 passes for 397 yards (a team-leading 18 yards per reception) and two touchdowns. He also played defensive back. On the basketball court, Heaven led the Pirates with 3.4 assists per game and added 4.9 rebounds per game.
Gilmer said he expects both players to make an even bigger impact this year — not only on the stat sheet, but as leaders in the locker room.
"You have guys who have an understanding of the culture and the expectations, how we want to go about things and handle our business," Gilmer said. "(Through them) that has been able to funnel down to our younger guys. It is tremendously helpful."
The Pirates will seek tertiary scoring from senior guard Jacobi Murray, who was a mainstay in the team's starting lineup a season ago. Murray, who is 6-foot-1, averaged just 3.7 points per game last season, but Gilmer said he has taken a leap forward over the offseason.
A sign of his progress is that he scored a team-high 16 points in a fall league game against Wiregrass Ranch High on Aug. 29, which Braden River won 44-35 in Tampa. Gilmer said that Murray, who followed Gilmer from Bayshore High to Braden River before last season, has expanded his game each season.
"He's understanding where he can get a shot," Gilmer said. "With us, that starts with defense. If we can be active defensively, we can get turnovers, and there will be opportunities (for him) in transition. He's grown a lot. He's matured a lot. We need him to be consistent for us in order for us to be the team I think we can be."
In Gilmer's eyes, that means a team that competes not only for a district title, but for a regional title and beyond. He wants more.
It won't be easy. The Pirates play in a difficult district in Class 5A. Last year's district champion, St. Petersburg High (23-7), went on to reach the state Final Four before losing 43-38 to Mainland High.
Gilmer knows that progress is not completely linear, and that there will likely be challenges and tough lessons learned at some point during the year. That's why he wants his team focused only on the game in front of them — something easier said than done.
"It's difficult, especially with this group," Gilmer said. "They are still understanding and learning how to win. When you're coming from a background of not having as much success as you want to have, and then you have a decent year with 16 wins, it's hard for these guys not to get ahead of themselves. We have to understand that success comes from daily habits. But they have bought into getting better and the work aspect of it.
"We believe that if we do the work and prepare and keep our mental focus, we're headed in the right direction."
The Pirates will hold their first home game of the 2023-2024 season at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 against Palmetto High.
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.