Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

First state title extra special for Oldsmar Christian basketball coach

Oldsmar Christian's John Bianchi figured he would have a lengthy apprenticeship as an assistant with the boys basketball program before getting promoted. That timetable was accelerated in April when Jordan Fair left as coach to become a graduate assistant at Louisville.

Bianchi was thrust into a new role, taking over the basketball team at his alma mater. There was pressure. Tons of it. The Eagles had become a nationally-ranked independent program that landed some of the best prospects in the country.

It was up to Bianchi to keep Oldsmar Christian in title contention.

He did more than that.

Last week, Bianchi finished his first season as coach by guiding the Eagles to their first state title with a 48-47 victory over Sarasota Victory Rock Prep in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association championship game.

"That feeling of winning it all is unexplainable," Bianchi said. "We had a lot of players coming back and we were blessed to have other great players who wanted to come here. We had been so close before that I knew one day we could do it."

Bianchi, 25, has been a part of those close calls. He was a senior in 2011 when Oldsmar Christian lost by two points to Jacksonville Arlington Country Day in the title game, and was an assistant last year when the Eagles lost to two-time champion Orlando West Oaks in the final.

"I was prepared going into the season because I knew what the expectations were having played and coached in championship games before," Bianchi said. "There still were some nerves taking over because you always wonder how successful you can be and whether you can keep the program at the same level.

"But at the same time I knew we were right there contending again because of the players we have."

One of the players Bianchi inherited was Elijah Weaver, a junior who is ranked fifth in the state and 42nd nationally among 2018 recruits, according to ESPN. The 6-foot-5 guard has offers from schools such as Florida, Louisville, UCLA and Villanova.

Weaver provided the leadership the Eagles needed to navigate a brutal regular-season schedule that included some of the best teams in the country.

Facing such strong competition prepared Oldsmar Christian to make a run in the state tournament.

There were plenty of close games. The Eagles beat Gainesville The Rock 57-52 in the semifinals.

Oldsmar Christian got a boost when DJ Mitchell, who missed a few games with a heart murmur, was cleared by doctors to resume playing hours before the championship game. Mitchell went on to become the MVP.

"Everything came together for us at the right time," Weaver said. "I won titles in AAU basketball and in middle school. But this was different. This was a state title, the first one at the school.

"This was big."

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