INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The spotless records posted through December by the middle school boys basketball teams at St. Edward’s have raised a few eyebrows, and observers have already drawn at least one logical conclusion.
The “farm system” just may be in the process of developing talent that will be very productive on the varsity level before too long.
Of course, it’s too early to tell right now, but the seeds of optimism have surely been planted.
The origins can be traced back to students interested in learning about the game through the intramural basketball program offered in the lower school.
That is consistent with St. Ed’s mission of encouraging athletic competition to reinforce valuable life lessons and balance the rigors of academics.
But let’s not overlook a welcome coincidence. Having a built in feeder pipeline can be a huge impetus toward stronger, more unified varsity teams down the road.
Case in point, the sixth grade team (3- 0). Under the tutelage of volunteer extraordinaire Dean “it’s what I do” Mays, these kids are already running plays that result in baskets.
“This is the best group of sixth graders I’ve seen in five or six years,” Mays told us. “They are dedicated to their sport and it shows up on the court.”
Mays tries to promote the teaching of fundamentals by disguising the inherent tedium.
“We try to make the practices enjoyable,” Mays says. “Sometimes the kids are having so much fun, they don’t even realize they’re doing drills to improve basic skills.”
The roster of 13 is divided into two squads with separate schedules.
Come game time, Mays opts for a system espoused universally.
“You’ve got to have good defense and avoid bad habits to win a ballgame. We teach them to cover, box-out, rebound and make good passes. All the fundamentals. The plan is to get a layup.”
If players want to stay on his good side, Mays suggests they avoid hoisting up threes.
“They are not strong enough physically to shoot from that distance. I would prefer that the three point line be removed (to eliminate any temptation).”
Sure enough, a long range three hit nothing but net during a game.
In a huddle shortly thereafter, Mays had this response for the young marksman: “Nice shot.”
Then, under his breath, “please don’t do it again.”
Well, he did, and it went in.
Moving forward to the consolidated seventh & eighth grade team, coach Robert Bond has his crew of 15 off to a fast 5-0 start.
Bond has coached basketball on “virtually every level” since coming to St. Ed’s as head of the lower school in 1976.That includes a three-year stint as head coach of the varsity.
He was asked to continue coaching when he retired from his administrative position in 2004.
A new lifestyle with considerably shorter hours and “no calls at home” serves Bond well.
“I enjoy it,” he says. “There is absolutely no pressure to win. We want to develop their skills as best we can and let the chips fall where they may.”
His coaching philosophy of “pressure defense, half-court traps, creating turnovers, and a fast break offense sounds familiar – and Bond apparently has the athletes to make it happen.
The program has two goals in mind.
“We want to continue to develop basketball skills that will go on to the junior varsity and varsity levels,” Bond explained. “We also wants to create concepts of team play and what it means to be a good teammate. That (the latter) means exercising self-discipline and leaving any criticism to me.”
Practices are equally divided between drills and scrimmages. The drills are designed to enhance conditioning and improve skills, while the scrimmages concentrate on fostering teamwork.
“We’re competitive and we want to win, but part of the program is to get as many into the game as possible,” said Bond. “This is a good group of dedicated basketball players. I’m satisfied with their grasp of the team concept and their unselfish approach to the game.”
On offense, Bond tinkers with getting his players to understand the definition of a good shot, namely that “fine line” somewhere between rushing it up in desperation and making too many passes.
Nevertheless, one of the simpler point-producing prescriptions is filled by “getting the ball inside to Sean.”
Across the coaching continuum from sixth grade up to the varsity, the name of eighth grader Sean Kenney keeps popping up. His talents and athleticism have not gone unnoticed.
Still growing at 6′ 1″, he just turned 14. His DNA is also a perfect match.
“I have been playing basketball all of my life, and the game also runs in my family,” Kenney said. “My dad was a college player and is now a basketball coach. He helps me with the game at home. My mom was a point guard who led her team to the championship back in high school. So basketball is clearly a way of life for me.”
Kenney went on to cite Bond and assistant David Lyons as “the main reasons why this team is so successful. This team acts like a team and plays like a team.”