One topic Tyler Bergantino loves talking about is his Chrysler 300.
The Nature Coast sophomore turned 16 on Oct. 22, and on the day he got his license he followed through on a promise to pick up groceries for his mother. He bought the car five days later with money he was inspired to save after watching the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious in the fourth grade.
“It’s got like 60,000 miles,” Bergantino said. “It’s my baby.”
A knee injury hasn’t slowed him from zipping up and down California Street just fine. But the recovery from knee surgery has slowed his return to the basketball court, a place many believe will carry Bergantino far from this two-lane road.
Bergantino suffered a slight tear of his patella tendon last year. He finished his freshman season, then played 73 games in the summer. On the first day of classes in August, Bergantino had minor surgery to help relieve the pain.
“He’s rehabbing it and getting it back into game shape,” Sharks coach Dave Pisarcik said. “We wanted to make sure before he gets on the floor it was 100 percent.”
Bergantino can practice and play in games, but Pisarcik will periodically sit him to rest his knee. Bergantino did not play in either of the two preseason victories against Umatilla and The Villages.
“I think Coach is trying to protect me in practice, limiting my time,” Bergantino said. “I respect that. …I’m still working out the kinks and stuff. Now it’s more of the strengthening. …It’s fine right now. In a week or so, it will be back to normal.”
Bergantino has long been on the local basketball scene, known from the days he punished fellow middle school students with his 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame. Today, he stands 6-9, 250 pounds and has some of the nation’s top collegiate programs in pursuit.
Bergantino played 12 games last season, averaging 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds after his initial recovery, but scouts have seen his summer work and are drawn to his frame.
“They love his size,” Pisarcik said. “He’s great with his back to the basket, he’s a great defender. When he’s healthy he’s unstoppable.
“We call him King Kong.”
Pisarcik said he has been contacted by colleges from major conferences, including Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Buffalo.
There’s no telling how quickly he’ll return to game form, but Pisarcik said he expects his star center to play in the opener next week against Zephyrhills. And if he can have the type of season people have speculated he is capable of, the next three years should be fun to watch.
“He’s got great size and skills for a sophomore,” Pisarcik said. “That’s why he’s getting recruited by every major conference. The kid will be one of the best players to come out of Hernando County.”
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.