Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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."

Boys basketball: Memory of teammate inspires Brandon's resurgence 01/14/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  2. Rays vs. Cubs, 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Cubs

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM; 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays' Blake Snell poses for a picture during the team's photo day at baseball spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    Chris Archer's night ended with his 11th loss, but he and the Rays should feel good about his six solid innings. After the forearm tightness scare in Chicago, he had two rough outings (15 hits, 11 runs, seven innings), so Tuesday was a reassuring rebound.

  4. At 6-8, Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov comes with, and needs, a high ceiling

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — When Hall of Famer Phil Esposito first saw Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov, he joked that the 6-foot-8 defenseman could reach the Amalie Arena ceiling.

    Lightning 6-foot-8 defenseman Oleg Sosunov competes in the preseason opener. Phil Esposito jokes that Sosunov can reach the ceiling at Amalie Arena.
  5. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494