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HOLIDAY — The gymnasium reeks of fresh construction.
White paint gleams as sunlight splashes through windows running the length of the gymnasium floor. A Sharks logo gives the floor some teeth. True shot clocks are placed above each basketball goal though no rule exists.
Welcome to the North Suncoast’s newest gymnasium at Anclote High. For athletic programs, all this newness is usually the kiss of death.
Recent history shows new schools often spend years trying to build winning traditions. Wiregrass Ranch and Sunlake are both beginning to experience some success. Wiregrass Ranch went 1-22 in its first season and Sunlake was 3-24.
Anclote’s boys basketball team is trying to buck the trend.
Through 13 games, the Sharks are 6-7 with wins against Gulf, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel and Land O’Lakes.
Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeremy Calzone, who coached with Anclote’s Jason Szymanski under Ridgewood coach Gary Anders, said perennial powers may not have taken the Sharks seriously at first.
“Some of the powerhouse teams say, ‘It’s Anclote,’ ” Calzone said. “They’re sneaking up on people.”
Anclote’s success might be the result of a perfect storm.
Szymanski, 34, knew nine of Anclote’s 11 varsity players when he taught and coached at Paul Smith Middle, next door to Anclote; he coached three of the players.
The familiarity was an early boost.
“These kids did know me,” Szymanski said. “I was able to run some of the same plays we ran at Smith. …That helped. …It’s been an easy transition and a benefit.”
Then there’s the experience factor.
Three key players — Brandon McWhorter, Charlie Deorio and Sevy Galati — were on Mitchell’s roster last season. McWhorter is Anclote’s leading scorer, averaging 13.3 points. Deorio is second (8.7). Galati is tied for third (7.9) and leads the Sharks with 7.9 rebounds per game.
Another key junior is Aaron Hester, who averages 7.9 points on the perimeter.
It’s the three guards, McWhorter, Deorio and Hester, who have turned heads around the county.
“If those guards get hot they are dangerous,” River Ridge coach John Sedlack said. “Those kids can play.”
And that’s a benefit, Calzone said, because many of the county teams this season are backcourt oriented.
“We have all the right parts,” Szymanski said. “I’ve told the kids with all the right parts good things can happen.”
Then there’s the confidence factor. The turning point came in the fourth quarter on opening night. Trailing Sunlake by 17 points, the Sharks fought back and lost by seven.
“We had eight minutes to come back and we pulled within two and realized we could compete,” Galati said. “We realized we were a better team than we thought we were.”
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.