RIVERVIEW — The Riverview Sharks figured to be one of the top girls basketball teams around heading into the 2012 season. They just didn't expect it to happen the way it has.
Three stars and college prospects from its 2011 team — Faith Woodard, Monet Williams and Tesha Hanson — all transferred before the start of this season and veteran coach Lelani Gordon, the only girls basketball coach in school history, resigned.
"We lost a lot and no one gave us a chance," guard Asia Royster said. "We had to find ourselves as a team."
Enter Jonathan Frueh, a burly basketball junkie with an armful of tattoos and no prior head coaching experience at the high school level.
"I thought he had never played basketball in his life," Royster said. "He was all big and strong looking. He was kind of scary."
But Frueh, a born again Christian, began pushing the mantra of faith, family and basketball. And he wasn't concerned with who wasn't there — only who was.
"To be honest, I wasn't interested," Frueh said of the trio of transfers. "I've met them and they are great girls and I wish them nothing but success. But I didn't think about it because it wasn't my concern."
To further Frueh's message of family, he brought on brother Dave to help out.
"He's only 22 but in terms of basketball, he's years beyond that," Frueh said. "Dave and I make a great tandem because when I'm focusing on one thing, he's analyzing another. We have a great bond in Christ and it's like having four eyes out there."
The two are quite a sight on the bench. Dave, usually toting a clipboard, could pass for a mild-mannered accountant. Jonathan, on the other hand, is a whirlwind of stomps and screams who looks like a nightclub bouncer.
"I have tattoos and he doesn't have a single one," Jonathan said about Dave. "I have piercings and he doesn't. I'm into bodybuilding and lifting weights isn't his thing. But even though we're different, we're also very much the same. I'm his biggest fan."
Frueh also made it a point make personal connections with the girls off the court before drawing up X's and O's.
"My approach was to get to know them as kids and as students," he said. "I wanted to know their families. Teens go through a lot of things and I wanted to make sure they knew my classroom was a safe haven. If all I could accomplish was with a round pigskin and iron rim, that would be pretty useless."
Although many in local basketball circles assumed a drop off following the major preseason shakeups, Riverview hasn't missed a beat. As of press time, the Sharks are a perfect 7-0, including wins against Tampa Bay Tech and Armwood.
"I'm really not surprised by our start because I think losing all those players really motivated us," Royster said. "We wanted to stay on the map."
Royster is the Sharks' catalyst. The sophomore keyed a 23-point third quarter last week against TBT with an assortment of dazzling drives. And when the Titans began pinching the basket, Royster drew in the defense and found open teammates for easy layups.
"I challenged her before the season and told her she needed to play above her years," Frueh said. "She's getting smarter every game and thinking more and more. She's beginning to feel when to attack and when to kick it out."
Royster has teamed with forward Shatisha Dukes to form a potent 1-2 combo. Dukes led all scorers with 17 points, including the Sharks' final eight, against TBT.
"Dukes, for me, is the most versatile player in the district," Frueh said. "She can play every position. She can bring the ball up or play center. She does it all."
Although the Sharks are still undefeated, Frueh is aware, just like in any other family, there will be some bumps in the road this season. Riverview is thin off the bench and has trouble shooting over zones but right now, the family dynamic couldn't be better.
"I have my brother on the bench with me and my father, wife and daughter at each game," Frueh said. "We have created a family environment here and will win and lose as family and remain humble doing it, because once a win is in the books the new one starts 0-0."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.