The Bradenton Cyclones aren't the usual travel basketball team. The group of eighth-graders, 14 in total, represent three middle schools -- Sugg, King and Manatee School of the Arts -- but that's not what makes them unique.
They got started last year, had one practice together and played in one tournament.
This week they're heading to Clearwater for the USSSA Elite Open state qualifier.
But basketball isn't the sole focus for the Cyclones.
"Without academics, you're going to go nowhere," Cyclones coach Mike Williams said. "... We're trying to keep them on the straight and narrow, and build their character. ... And make better people out of them for the community. That's our motivation behind the team."
A required minimum grade point average of 2.8 and character are necessary attributes for the Cyclones, who use college plays to improve the club's basketball skills, such as a press breakers identical to what the Pittsburgh Pan
thers and North Carolina Tar Heels use in the men's game.
Also aiding the maturation process is the rotation system.
Williams doesn't have a set starting five, so players like 3-point specialists Carter Beddinghaus and Bona Baker as well as big man Tristan Weil and tenacious defender Miguel Rodriguez don't get too comfortable.
The egos won't get inflated, which builds an innate ability to work as a team on the court.
It's led to a quick surge in the state rankings: the Cyclones are ranked 31st out of 90 teams.
However, playing in tournaments can cause a concern with costs and the Cyclones are seeking sponsorships to help cover future tournaments.
For more information, contact Williams via email at email@example.com.
Stellar hockey season
Manatee County did not secure a third Lightning Cup championship in four seasons.
The Manatee Admirals, a first-year program, attempted to pick up where the Manatee County Hockey Club's Golden Manatees left off.
The latter won back-to-back Florida High School Hockey Association championships in 2010 and 2011.
Last season, there was no county high school hockey team represented in the Lightning Conference, so local players took the ice for Sarasota.
This year, though, the Admirals were formed and devastated the competition en route to Sunday's final against New Port Richey Mitchell.
Manatee fell 6-2 in the game played at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Bradley Cook, a sophomore, tallied the Admirals' two goals.
Despite the loss, Manatee produced a stellar season. The Admirals went 16-1-1 during 18 regular season games and scored 143 goals, while allowing just 45.
Manatee led the Lightning Conference in goals scored.
Canes sixth in nation
Manatee High School's cheerleading squad followed up their first-place finish at the Florida High School Athletic Association's State Championships last week with an appearance in this past weekend's Universal Cheerleaders Association's National Cheer Competition.
The Hurricanes took sixth place out of 26 teams in the Super Varsity Division I championship held at Walt Disney World.
Westlake High School, from Austin, Texas, captured the national championship.
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill