BROOKSVILLE — The five Bergantino brothers have had many legendary battles under the basket in their backyard.
Bigger, taller, older brothers — Tyler at 6-foot-9 and 25 years-old and Cody at 6-7 and 23 — muscling up on their shorter, younger siblings, none of whom stand taller than 6-2: Talon, 16, Caden, 15, and Ethan, 12.
“I cried sometimes playing against my brothers,” Talon said of Tyler, who went on to play at the University of Massachusetts, and Cody, who had a solid career at Nature Coast Tech. “It could get rough. But now I’m happy I had that experience. Now I’m used to playing against big, tough players. I’m a better player after competing against my brothers.”
Caden, a freshman Central guard, said “(Tyler and Cody) had a size advantage but that didn’t stop us. It made us learn how to compete.”
No tears now. No sir.
Now the younger Bergantino brothers, Talon and Caden, are giving their high school opponents fits, particularly on defense, especially when it’s man-to-man.
“The last thing we wanted to do was let our brothers score,” Talon said. “We took it personally (when a brother scored). Now I would say (Caden and I) take that attitude to the court.”
That’s why Central coach Matt Zandecki puts Talon on the opponents’ top offensive player and often switches Caden to cover a variety of players, whether they are taller or bigger.
“(The Bergantinos) are ready for any challenge,” Zandecki said. “Fierce competitors who hate to lose, and they love to play hard all the time.”
It’s an attitude, it seems, that flows through all the Bears, who started the season 9-0 before losing four of their next five games.
“After we went through that (1-4 losing stretch) I told the team we need to make that extra pass, maybe passing up a decent shot to get a great look,” said Zandecki, who said in his 10 years at the Central helm this team might be his most talented group ever.
“There has never been a question about this team’s effort, which is tremendous. We just needed to play a little smarter.”
The boys listened and have won three of their past four games, giving them a 13-5 overall record to start the week.
Expectations remain high because every Bear — including sophomore Tre Joyner, junior Contae Cason (who rushed for 1,758 yards in football), senior Rashad Boyce (often recording double digits in points and rebounding) and sophomore guard Tyrese Hill — has the same hard-nosed attitude of the Bergantinos.
“We’re not intimidated by anyone,” said Talon, one of the team’s most vocal leaders.
In the short term the current high school Bergantinos hope the Bears can return to the playoffs in 2020. On a personal level, they hope they continue growing. More like Cody, who grew 5 inches through high school, and not like Tyler, who stopped growing before high school.
Both Talon and Caden insist, “I’m still growing.”
Ultimately, the goal is to play ball on a college scholarship like Tyler did at UMass, where he played all four years, getting most of his minutes off the bench.
“It’s a dream to play in college because I’ve always loved the game,” Caden said. “I think I love the game more than any of my brothers, but then they would probably say the same thing.”
Talon added: “I would say I love the game more than any of my brothers.”
“Always,” Caden said.