TAMPA — Gio Reyes scoops up a loose ball and finds Carr Thiam ahead of the field. A fast-break opportunity is about to begin.
This is when the Wharton senior guards work on some telepathic level of basketball. Reyes to Carr. Carr back to Reyes. Reyes back to Carr.
The two know each other so well they can anticipate each other’s moves before they even make them. That comes from years forged in middle school games and on the travel circuit.
“We’re practically brothers, we’re around each other so often,” Reyes said.
The friendship formed seven years ago when they started middle school. Thiam moved a few times before returning to the area as an eighth-grader. They have been inseparable since.
“They’re both gym rats,” coach Tommy Tonelli said. “Wherever one is, the other is not too far behind.”
Reyes has been around the Wharton program for as long as he can remember. He started attending Tonelli’s summer camp in elementary school and continued to go every year. Thiam never went to those camps, but he was around many of his future Wildcats teammates in various leagues.
In 2016, Reyes and Thiam joined Wharton’s varsity basketball team as freshmen. The two did not play much that season but gained valuable experience. Their roles expanded each season. So did their responsibilities.
Heading into the offseason, Tonelli had a lot of holes to fill in the lineup. Six players graduated, including Darin Green Jr., the Tampa Bay Times’ Hillsborough County player of the year who is now playing meaningful minutes as a freshman at UCF.
Tonelli never had to drive home the importance of Reyes and Thiam becoming leaders this season.
They already embraced those duties. In the summer, the two gathered a bunch of varsity players, many newcomers, to a local fitness center that had a gymnasium. They worked on conditioning, on drills, on communicating on the floor.
And they did it all on their own.
“Gio and Thiam are two of the best kids I’ve ever been around,” Tonelli said. “They have incredible work ethic and are just driven to keep this program where it’s been for so many years.”
There also was plenty of motivation. Both wanted to prove they could continue to win without Green, one of the best players in school history.
“All offseason we kept hearing about we lost Darin and so many other guys, that we would be no good now that they’re gone,” Thiam said. “That’s what really got us going. We wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
Reyes and Thiam did more than that. They helped the Wildcats win the Nature Coast Invitational title in December and led the team to its third straight district championship last week. In fact, Wharton’s record (24-3) heading into the postseason is better than the year before (26-5).
“I think we’ve exceeded everyone’s expectations, even our own,” Reyes said.
During Reyes and Thiam’s high school career, the Wildcats have made steady improvement in the playoffs. As freshmen, they were a district runnerup team that was knocked in the first round. The past two seasons, they helped Wharton win district titles and advance to the region semifinals in 2018 and the region final last year.
Now, they want to take the next step with a trip to the state semifinals in Lakeland.
The path starts Thursday when the Wildcats host Lakewood Ranch (18-7), a state finalist last season, in the region quarterfinals.
"It’s a tough game, but we’re confident,” Thiam said. “We want to get to states. That’s been the goal for Gio and myself the whole season.”
Boys basketball region quarterfinals
All games at 7 p.m. Thursday unless noted.
7A: No. 8 Riverview at No. 1 Sarasota Riverview
7A: No. 6 Lakewood Ranch at No. 3 Wharton
6A: No. 8 Lehigh at No. 1 East Lake
6A: No. 7 St. Petersburg at No. 2 Seminole
6A: No. 6 Lakeland Kathleen at No. 3 Hillsborough
5A: No. 8 Cape Coral Mariner at No. 1 Clearwater
5A: No. 8 Zephyrhills at No. 1 Sebring
5A: No. 7 Boca Ciega at No. 2 Jesuit
5A: No. 6 Auburndale at No. 3 Land O’ Lakes, 7:30
5A: No. 5 Blake at No. 4 Port Charlotte
4A: No. 8 Gibbs at No. 1 Tampa Catholic
4A: No. 8 Wesley Chapel at No. 1 Lake Highland Prep
4A: No. 5 Lakewood at No. 4 Fort Pierce Lincoln Park Academy
4A: No. 5 Alachua Santa Fe at No. 4 Anclote
3A: No. 8 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 1 Community School of Naples
3A: No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Berkeley Prep
3A: No. 5 Tampa Prep at No. 4 Calvary Christian
2A: No. 7 Universal Academy at No. 2 Bayshore Christian
2A: No. 6 Southwest Florida Christian at No. 3 Cambridge Christian
2A: No. 5 Fort Myers Evangelical Christian at No. 4 Zephyrhills Christian, 6