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Prose and Kohn

ODA boys basketball has a losing record but winning expectations

The Thunder (5-8) started 2024 with a 51-45 home win over Sarasota Christian (10-4) on Jan. 5.

ODA sophomore guard Allen Clark had 17 points against Sarasota Christian on Jan. 5.
ODA sophomore guard Allen Clark had 17 points against Sarasota Christian on Jan. 5.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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If you see The Out-of-Door Academy boys basketball team play in person, you might do a double-take at its record. 

The Thunder is 5-8 in 2023-2024 as of Jan. 6, but in its first game of the new year — a home game against Sarasota Christian (10-4) on Jan. 5 — the team looked sturdier than 5-8. ODA took down the Blazers 51-45 in a game that only got close in the final minutes. In the third quarter, ODA led by as many as 15 points. 

Much like the ODA football team has in recent seasons been led by baseball-first athletes, the basketball team is featuring players from a different sport . This time, that sport is football. Sophomore Allen Clark, who starred at running back for the Thunder in 2023, and his brother Frankie Clark, a junior who started at defensive back for the football team, were in the starting lineup against Sarasota Christian, and they each made an impact in different ways. 

ODA junior Frankie Clark had 10 points against Sarasota Christian on Jan. 5.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Allen Clark, a guard, was a force when driving to the basket, and that ability forced the Blazers into foul trouble. He finished with 17 points.

Frankie Clark, playing point guard, was more focused on distributing the ball and playing tight defense, but he still finished with 10 points.

Another football player, junior Thomas Perez, came off the bench for the Thunder. Perez didn't score, but his 6-foot-3 frame caused problems for the Blazers' shooters in the paint and he was generally disruptive.

ODA's defense caused frustrations for Sarasota Christian, and in the third quarter ODA held the visitor to three points. The Blazers entered the game averaging 60 points per contest. 

If the Thunder was able to take down a good Florida High School Athletic Association Class 2A team like the Blazers, what has led to the team's mediocre record through 13 games?

According to Head Coach Alan Hamm, a large part of the team's slow start was due to how its schedule was set up. The Thunder opened its season with a slew of games against high-powered teams like Bradenton Christian — 13-2 and a state tournament contender in Class 3A — and Winthrop College Prep Academy, which is 10-6 as an independent program, playing many of the state's top programs. For an ODA team that was still trying to find chemistry, those opponents proved too much to handle. But Hamm saw things in those contests that promised better days ahead. 

"We put together a quarter here and a quarter there," Hamm said. "All of a sudden, we started putting four quarters together. We were able to do what we are supposed to do."

ODA is 3-2 in its last five games, with the losses being a 48-35 defeat at the hands of Bloomingdale High (11-3) and a 55-54 heartbreaker against Cambridge Christian (6-6), both of which came at the Shorecrest Holiday Tournament, held Dec. 28-30 at Shorecrest Prep.

The team is not a finished product. Against Sarasota Christian, some late mental mistakes and turnovers let the Blazers back into the game. The team can also struggle to get bench scoring. ODA saw the Clark brothers, junior Nikolas Kiritsis (10 points) and senior Carson Williams (six points) combine for 43 of its 51 points. Hamm said he would like to see his bench players get more involved as the season continues. 

ODA senior Carson Williams splits two Sarasota Christian defenders. Williams had six points against the Blazers.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Hamm said they cannot afford to continue giving up so many late-game turnovers. But when Sarasota Christian made a run, ODA kept its composure, which Hamm was glad to see.

No matter what happens in the second half of the season, this Thunder team is now doing the main thing Hamm wants them to do, which is to have fun playing basketball. 

"We're trying to instill the fact that every single person matters," Hamm said. "We want them to come together and to build the culture. That's from varsity down to junior varsity and to our middle school team. There are five guys on the court and another seven or eight on the bench. Everyone matters. We're not going to run something only for (a specific player). It has to be a team thing. I don't tell anybody they cannot shoot. If you step on the court, you're a threat, and you have to play that way." 

Can ODA make an extended run and threaten for the Class 3A District 11 tournament crown? It will not be easy. Bradenton Christian is in the district, as is Cardinal Mooney High (8-7), another strong team that has a record obfuscated by a difficult schedule. Getting past those teams will put ODA's team-building to the test. But no matter what happens in the postseason, the rest of the team's regular season should be fun.

As Hamm said, the brutal beginning of the schedule has hardened the Thunder and more than prepared them to take on teams of a similar level. 

No matter the record, the Thunder has the look of a winning team.



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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