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Prose and Kohn

East County basketball teams make progress in 2023-24

No area teams reached the state tournament, but they have hope for the future.

Jake Baer said his goal is to reestablish a strong culture within the Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball program.
Jake Baer said his goal is to reestablish a strong culture within the Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball program.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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The Florida High School Athletic Association's 2023-2024 basketball season is still ongoing, but none of the teams in East County remain alive. 

This is not a surprise. Programs in the area, on both the boys and girls sides of the sport, are in different stages of rebuilding. Some, like the Braden River High boys basketball team, which finished 19-9, are close to being state contenders.

The Pirates made it deeper into the playoffs than any other East County team this season, reaching the Class 5A regional semifinals before dropping a 51-49 road game to Seminole High (18-8.) 

Others, like the Lakewood Ranch High boys team, will require more time. It is something Head Coach Jake Baer knew before he took the job. Baer said in November that he wants to bring the program back to the heights it reached under current IMG Academy coach Jeremy Schiller, including a state championship game appearance in 2019. While fans will remember the highs of Schiller's Lakewood Ranch tenure, it started with lows. In 2011, Schiller's first season, the team went 4-17. In 2012, the Mustangs were 4-15. It was not until year three that Schiller and his staff produced a winning record (8-7). 

In that regard, Bear's first season at Lakewood Ranch went better than Schiller's. The Mustangs finished 8-16 this season. It is not where the coaches or players want to be, but it provided glimpses of what it could become in a year or two. Sophomore David Young, in particular, showed promise: the 6-foot-4 forward averaged 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. 

Lakewood Ranch High sophomore guard Isaiah Allen averaged 12.8 points per game this season.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

As a team, the Mustangs showed themselves capable of improvement. They shook off a nine-game losing streak in the middle of the year to play their best basketball at the end of the season, winning three of their last five games and reaching the Class 7A District 11 championship game for the first time since 2020. Though the team lost 66-42 to Sumner High (18-10) in that game, battling to get there showed heart — something that used to be a program hallmark. Getting that back is a step in the right direction. 

Besides Young, who should be a force in the post the next two seasons, the Mustangs have other underclassmen who flashed talent this season, like 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Isaiah Allen, the team's leader with 12.8 points per game. 

Time will tell how the Mustangs fare, but the ingredients for Lakewood Ranch to rebuild are there. This time next year, it's possible that the team could still be playing late in the postseason. 

Here's what the other East County programs are facing come next season:

The Braden River boys team has become a contender in two seasons under Head Coach Dwight Gilmer, but next season will be Gilmer's biggest challenge yet. The team is set to lose seniors Marcus Schade (21.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game) and Isaac Heaven (15.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game) to graduation. Barring the addition of any instant-impact transfers, the Pirates will need their returnees to make significant jumps in play next season in order to keep climbing the state's ranks. Some players, like junior guard Dudache Belony, showcased the ability to make a scoring impact: Belony finished the season with games of 14, 15 and 16 points, respectively. The Pirates will need Belony to make that type of production the norm in 2024-2025. 

After a period of success when current Florida State University star O'Mariah Gordon was around, the Braden River High girls program completed its second-straight season under .500, finishing 10-14. The good news is that the Pirates appear to have a handful of underclassmen with bright futures, led by freshman forward Kelis McGrady. The 5-foot-11 McGrady averaged 7.2 rebounds per game as a freshman in addition to scoring 6.8 points per game. Another year of development should allow McGrady to unlock her skills in the paint even further. Her sister, junior 5-foot-7 guard Kamiyah McGrady, will be the team's second-leading returning scorer at 4.0 points per game, plus 3.4 rebounds per game. 

Lakewood Ranch High girls basketball finished 9-12 this season, the third-straight season under .500 for the Mustangs, but the team will return the do-it-all junior Kaitlyn Rittenhouse, a 5-foot-9 guard. Rittenhouse averaged 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. The program will need to find some new pieces around Rittenhouse; the Mustangs' next four leading scorers will graduate this spring. 

The Out-of-Door Academy boys team finished 9-14, but showed promise against programs of similar sizes. ODA beat Sarasota Christian (16-10) 51-45 on Jan. 5 and beat the Academy at the Lakes (10-14) 61-35 on Jan. 16. ODA's biggest obstacle in future success is its Class 3A district, where it is stuck with Cardinal Mooney High (18-9) and Bradenton Christian (19-9), two programs much farther along in their development. Similar to how the ODA football team built itself by using players from the baseball program, the basketball team relied on members of the football team for scoring, particularly sophomore guard Allen Clark — a running back in football — who showcased a strong ability to get to the rim and create his own shot. 

The ODA girls team played just 11 games, finishing 4-7, and carried just seven players on its roster. Only one player, Keira Baldwin, will graduate this spring, so the other six should improve with another year of development. 



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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