WESLEY CHAPEL — At the conclusion of basketball practice at Wiregrass Ranch, senior guard Antwan Prince steps to the free-throw line with his teammates huddled around him, clapping their hands and yelling to create a distraction.
Prince tries to put the noise out of mind, focuses on the rim, releases his shot.
The punishment? The entire team runs the court down and back, repeating the procedure until enough free throws have been made consecutively to satisfy coach Jeremy Calzone.
The first hour of a Wiregrass Ranch two-hour practice is always up tempo, pushing the ball, running the fastbreak, learning how to score and defend in transition.
Run, run and run some more.
Ask one of the players when the team stops to get a drink of water during practice, and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare.
“If you want to find water, you have to find it during your off time, not during practice,” senior captain Tanner Carey says.
In all his years as a basketball coach, Calzone, in his fifth season at Wiregrass Ranch, has never had a team with as much depth as this year’s. The Bulls can go 10, 11 maybe even 12 deep depending on the situation.
So when Calzone and his coaches met during the offseason to discuss how they would deal with the loss of 6-foot-9 Eric Williams, a 2010 all-North Suncoast first-team selection, to graduation, they came up with a plan to move the team away from the physical, grind-em-down play it was used to with Williams and focus more on playing a transition game.
And it has worked beautifully.
Wiregrass Ranch is 21-7 and coming off its first district title in school history after knocking off Nature Coast 59-52 Saturday.
Today, the Bulls will play the school’s first region quarterfinal game when they host upstart Wesley Chapel.
“I think last year our guys thought you had to go to the 6-foot-9 big man every time down the court,” Calzone said. “… Williams left, and everybody was like, ‘Who’s going to lead us in scoring?’ Well, it’s been all of us.”
Six players have led the Bulls in scoring in various games this season. That’s the luxury Calzone has this season compared with last.
If the starting lineup isn’t playing up to par, Calzone can turn to his reserves with little drop-off.
“If a kid gets tired, I feel confident I can go to the bench and put five other guys in,” he said.
In the district title game against Nature Coast, the Bulls trailed 43-38 going into the final quarter before outscoring the Sharks 21-9 in the fourth to win.
“We’re still moving at the same pace in the fourth quarter we’ve been going the whole game and the other team is getting tired. It’s been that way all season long,” senior forward James Tringali said. “The personnel we have this year, we have a bunch of guys who can run and get out and shoot. It just fits well with what we have.”
The Bulls have the depth to wear down teams. And it doesn’t hurt that the entire team has bought into Calzone’s share-the-ball, run-at-all-costs philosophy.
“I’ve had fun all year coaching these guys,” Calzone said. “We’ve got great students. We’ve got great kids. I don’t have to watch grades, I don’t have to watch discipline. I go through the day and just have a great time teaching.”