Take a look at the top basketball teams in the area, and a trend emerges.
It’s not that they have top-end talent, though they often do. It’s that they have capable players up and down the roster.
High school basketball is not the NBA, where one or two players can will a team to the postseason by themselves. In high school — and certainly here on the Gulf Coast, where competition is fierce — it takes an entire team to be successful. The more secondary contributions a team gets, the bigger that team’s advantage will be.
Case-in-point: Cardinal Mooney High girls basketball. The program has been to Lakeland for the Class 3A state Final Four three years in a row. The Cougars have had several good players over the years — former star guard Olivia Davis is a freshman on the University of Tampa Spartans — but what allowed them to consistently get as far as they did was their ability for all five of their starters, and at least a handful of their bench players, to score and play tight defense.
This season, the Cougars (16-6) have been no different. On Jan. 30, in a tight home game against The Academy of Central Florida, the team got 15 massive points from senior forward Sam Kotasek, who entered averaging 3.2 points per game. The Cougars also got big fourth-quarter contributions from junior point guard Bri Behn (6.6 points per game), who scored on three consecutive possessions to push the Cougars’ lead to double digits. After a few Academy buckets in the waning minutes, Cardinal Mooney would win the game 56-47.
Mooney Head Coach Marlon Williams spoke about the importance of his team’s secondary contributions after the win.
“Every given night, somebody else steps up,” Williams said. “Tonight, it was Sam (Kotasek), getting big shots and big rebounds for us. We have what we call a great nucleus of players here. They all work together and that is what we talk about: it can be anybody’s night on any given night.”
Williams also complimented Behn on her ability to see the floor, distribute the ball and act as an on-court leader, despite the traditional box scores not always tallying those traits. When players like Behn and Kotasek play like they did against the Academy, it makes things easier on the team’s leading scorers like junior Kali Barrett — who is averaging 14.1 points per game and scored her 1,000th career point against the Academy. She was given a golden basketball in recognition of her accomplishment after the game.
On the boys’ side of hoops, Sarasota High is a showcase for the same idea. When BJ Ivey took over the Sailors program prior to the 2022-2023 season, the Sailors had little in terms of proven talent. But Ivey got the Sailors to play team basketball better than just about anyone else, as he’s done throughout his coaching career. If last season built the foundation and let Ivey lay down his philosophy, this season has been about becoming dominant. The 20-2 Sailors are 19th in all classifications in the Florida High School Athletic Association rankings as of Jan. 29; they are sixth in Class 7A.
This year's Sailors, like last year's Sailors, are not led by any one superstar; it is depth that gives them an advantage over most opponents they face, as just about anyone on the roster could go off for 15 or more points on a given night. On Jan. 29, it was senior Mike Drayton going for 26 points in a 57-43 win over Riverview High. On Jan. 26, in a 67-51 win over Venice High, four Sailors — Drayton, junior Oliver Boyle, senior Franklin Liriano and freshman Johnny Lackaff — had 12 points or more. Senior forward Danny Munn is also a key contributor, not only with scoring (though he had 10 points in the Riverview win) but in rebounding and in shot disruption, using his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage in the paint.
In the postseason, particularly the regional tournament and beyond, all teams have good players. Unless they are absurdly special, the impact of one or two elite players is limited. You need a complete team to compete.
Is the Sailors’ talent deep enough to get the team to a state Final Four appearance, as Mooney has done on the girls’ side? It won’t take long to find out: district tournament play for the Sailors begins Feb. 8. But it has gotten them this far, and that means they have a shot.
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.