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Sailors boys basketball sets postseason tone with district title win

Sarasota High (24-2) won 63-36 over North Port High (17-9), avenging an earlier loss.

BJ Ivey believes in a "one day at a time" approach to building the Sailors boys basketball program.
BJ Ivey believes in a "one day at a time" approach to building the Sailors boys basketball program.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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It meant something different to everyone. 

For the Sarasota High boys basketball players who were on the squad last season Sarasota's 63-36 win over North Port High in this year's district title game on Feb. 10 meant redemption. Last year those same players went 21-6 but lost their Florida High School Athletic Association district title game 52-49 to Riverview High. 

Head Coach BJ Ivey knew the game would be emotional, he said, so before the game, he asked his players to think about who would be their "first hug" after a hypothetical victory. They got the chance to live out those emotions. 

But it was not just the returning players who were emotional. The Sailors have a number of transfers and first-year players who have contributed, notably senior guard Mike Drayton — who on Feb. 13 was named the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Class 7A District 16 Player of the Year — senior guard Franklin Liriano and freshman guard Johnny Lackaff, among others. Drayton said the roster has been molded into a real team over the course of the season, becoming more than a collection of talented players.

Senior guard Franklin Liriano came to the Sailors from Cardinal Mooney High before this season.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Drayton credited Head Coach BJ Ivey with cultivating that atmosphere. Even for the new players, the win was a taste of revenge: North Port handed the Sailors (26-2) one of their two regular-season losses on Dec. 28, a 62-58 game that found Sarasota disappointed in its effort. 

There was no worry about effort in the district title game, which saw Sarasota stifle the North Port offense from the jump and turn mistakes into points. 

For Ivey, who is in his second year with the Sailors, the win affirmed that his philosophy of treating every day as equally important is working as intended in the minds of his players. 

On the team's locker room wall there's a message: "The most important practice is today." 

There's no changing who a team is once the postseason arrives, Ivey said. Thankfully, he's happy with what his team has become: an aggressive, energetic group that gets the details of the game right, something that can be especially important in the postseason. 

"Discipline matters," Ivey said. "If you look at the stats, traditionally, shooting percentages go down (in the playoffs), and now defense really matters. It's magnified. We have been preaching that all year and trying to hold kids accountable. We need elite defensive focus and effort. If you can have that, you're going to be in almost every game you play." 

Now that the Sailors have all found something in a district title, the question turns to what comes next. The answer is a regional quarterfinal matchup with local rival Riverview High (16-9), who under first-year Head Coach Brandon Knecht has turned into a scrappy team of competitors itself. The Sailors beat the Rams twice in the regular season, but Ivey and his players will not overlook anyone, especially in the postseason. 

Can these Sailors match the feats of some of Ivey's past teams, like his 2015-2016 Riverview team that reached the state championship game? Ivey believes Sarasota is capable. 

"It's going to be about our ability to focus," Ivey said. "If we don't come out and handle our business and play the way we are capable of playing (against Riverview), then there won't be a next game. It is truly survive and advance. But if we lay the bricks the right way, they have no choice but to add up. That goes back to June, because that's when they started believing." 

The Sailors and Rams will play at 7 p.m. Feb. 15, as will the other boys teams in the regional tournament stage. Here's a look at everyone else in our area and how they might fare:

  • Don't count out the Rams boys team, which is 6-3 in its last nine games, two of the three losses by four points or less, against the Sailors. With five players who average at least 7.7 points per game — senior Jeremiah Dawson leads with 12.6 points per game — Riverview can beat teams in a number of ways. 
  • Cardinal Mooney High (18-8) is the No. 4 seed in its Class 3A regional and will play First Baptist Academy (20-5) at home. The Cougars have won 10 of their last 11 games, including a 66-58 overtime win over Bradenton Christian on Feb. 10 to secure a district title. The senior duo of Connor Heald (19.7 points per game) and Kevin O'Donoghue (13.7 points per game) does the heavy lifting on offense, but the Cougars have athleticism across the roster and will make teams work to keep up. That could allow Mooney to make a postseason run. 
  • Like Mooney, Booker High (18-9) is the No. 4 seed in its Class 4A regional and will attempt to take down Robinson High (16-12) in the regional quarterfinals. A win over Robinson would set up either a game against Gibbs High (22-5) or a rematch against Bayshore High (11-15), whom Booker defeated to capture its district tournament. Having a senior guard like Jovan Palavra (16.8 points per game) gives the Tornadoes a chance. 



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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