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Wharton basketball doesn’t miss a step thanks to dynamic duo

Seniors Gio Reyes and Carr Thiam have grown up around Wildcat basketball and embraced becoming leaders in their final season.
Wharton senior Gio Reyes knew he would need to step up as a leader this season. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

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.

Related: Wharton boys get another crack at Sickles in district final

“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.

Wharton senior Carr Thiam was adamant that this team could be just as good as past ones, even after multiple stars graduated. He hasn't been proven wrong. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

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

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