Saturday, January 20, 2018

Boys basketball: Memory of teammate inspires Brandon's resurgence

BRANDON — Brandon spent the first few weeks of the season coping with the biggest loss many of its players had ever faced: the death of teammate Milo Meeks.

The pain showed up on the court, with three losses in the Eagles' first five district games.

But Brandon has only lost one district game since to become a playoff contender in a crowded Class 7A, District 7. Players point to the brief but powerful legacy Meeks left behind as the reason the season started to turn around.

"Everyone just started remembering who we're doing this for…" junior forward Dante Mitchell said. "We just started pushing ourselves harder, saying we're going to do this for Milo."

Although Meeks spent his first three years at Armwood, a handful of the Eagles already knew him from middle school.

Kiefer Jefferson-Grimes first met Meeks when they were entering sixth grade. It took him a while to crack Meeks' quiet shell.

"By seventh-grade year, we were brothers," he said.

Meeks made a quick but lasting bond with his new team, too. He said little but let everyone know how high his expectations were after the Eagles lost in the first round of the playoffs last year.

He hustled for every loose ball and ran until he was out of breath. His teammates noticed.

"Kids catch on," Brandon coach Jamie Turner said. "He became a leader without having to speak."

That made his teammates take his loss even harder.

Meeks had been running with his team during preseason conditioning in September when he collapsed at the school. He died a few hours later at Brandon Regional Hospital. He was 17.

Players struggled to understand his death. When the focus eventually returned to basketball, the void in the locker room and on the court was glaring.

"We had to start over," senior forward Roderick Davis said.

The turning point came sometime last month, around the Eagles' 5-4 start. Turner could sense the pressure his team felt, playing without Meeks and representing a program that has made 10 playoff appearances in the past 15 years.

So Turner loosened up. He scrapped Brandon's slow-it-down style the Eagles used to pound the ball into their three big men and replaced it with a more up-tempo offense. Turner said he wanted to score more points, but he also hoped it resulted in more fun and lifelong memories for his players.

"Ever since that happened to us, the perspective of the game of basketball has changed," said Turner, whose team has won four of its last five games. "It's not win at all costs."

Turner said it's important to his players to move on, but they don't want to leave Meeks' legacy behind. That's why his team mentions him during players-only huddles at practice. They wear his name on black socks and blue T-shirts and spell it out while warming up with jumping jacks. They stare at his name atop the roster by the scoreboard.

It's also why they held a bowling party for Meeks on Dec. 30, with cake and balloons and ice cream, to celebrate what would have been his 18th birthday.

"He started the season with us," Turner said. "He's going to finish the season with us."

Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

TAMPA — Vegas has left the building.Wasn't the Lightning just arranging place settings for next weekend's NHL All-Star Game party?With that in mind, I headed to the home dressing room at Amalie Arena late Thursday after the Lightning was manhan...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Saturday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballWomen: La Salle at Rhode Island11 a.m.CBSSNPurdue at IowanoonESPNFlorida State at Virginia TechnoonESPN2; 1010-AMWichita State at HoustonnoonESPNUVillanova at ConnecticutnoonCBSSt. John’s at GeorgetownnoonFS1Ohio State at Minne...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Golden Knights move within one point of Lightning for top spot in NHL

Golden Knights move within one point of Lightning for top spot in NHL

SUNRISE — Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Golden Knights on Friday, spoiling Vegas coach Gerard Gallant’s return to Florida. By gaining a point, Vegas moved within one point of the Lightning...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Well Humored ready to get back on a dirt track

OLDSMAR — It is time for Well Humored to get dirty again.The WinStar Farm homebred makes her first start on the Tampa Bay Downs main track Saturday afternoon in the $50,000 Wayward Lass, one of three stakes events on the Skyway Festival Day 11-race p...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Star-struck Kyrgios stays cool on court

Star-struck Kyrgios stays cool on court

MELBOURNE, Australia — With Will Smith in the crowd and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga across the net, Nick Kyrgios was in his element as the main attraction for a night at the Australian Open. Time to put on a show. One of his favorite actors — Smith was making...
Updated: 7 hours ago

National Hoopfest: Berkeley Prep proves to be no pushover

TAMPA —  Berkeley Prep's four-game win streak came to end Friday.That was expected.The Buccaneers faced West Oaks Academy, an independent powerhouse from Orlando that plays a national schedule, during Friday's National Hoopfest tournament....
Updated: 8 hours ago

Sports in Brief

BaseballTebow gets another crack at making mets Tim Tebow has been invited by the Mets to spring training for a second straight season.The 30-year-old will begin his second year of attempting to reach the big leagues when spring training opens in Por...
Updated: 8 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Jan. 19

Friday’s scoreboardBoys soccerIndian Rocks Christian 2, Lakewood 1Lennard 3, Spoto 0Girls soccerPCAC Championship: Largo 3, Osceola 1Lennard 8, Spoto 0
Updated: 8 hours ago

Lowry, DeRozan help Raptors end Spurs jinx

TORONTO — Kyle Lowry scored nine of his 24 in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan added 21 and the Raptors beat the Spurs 86-83 Friday to snap a four-game losing streak against San Antonio. Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 11 rebounds as Toronto imp...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Quarterback or bust for Quinton Flowers in the NFL?

Quarterback or bust for Quinton Flowers in the NFL?

ST. PETERSBURG — Reps have been priceless for Quinton Flowers this week, each to be maximized and handled with care.Yet he couldn't avoid handling some clumsily.On the opening day of practice at Shorecrest Prep for today's East-West Shrine Game...
Updated: 8 hours ago