Matt Nesser started the boys basketball program at Braden River in 2005 with the goal of someday having a team that would be a legitimate state contender.
Everything indicates that time is now.
The Pirates have their entire starting five back from last year’s squad, which won the program’s first district title, and all the right pieces seem to be in place
The backcourt is solid with playmaker Steven Ross running the offense and Tre’ Bryant supplying some long range shooting and savvy at the No. 2 guard. Tommy Bernhardt is solid at the wing and the Pirates like their size in the post with 6-foot-6 senior Jeff Casseus and 6-5 junior Trevon Young, a Bradenton Herald first team All-Area selection last season when he averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds and 1.5 block shots per game.
Braden River has lived up to its hype so far in the early going with a 5-0 start that is impressive because Young, Casseus and Ross are still trying to find their basketball legs after playing football.
“Our guards are much improved, and Travon is playing with a lot more polish,” Nesser said. “He now is shooting a 15-footer, which he can knock down consistently. Jeff moves well up and down the court, has added a nice jump hook and is giving us about 10 points and eight rebounds a game. We have a good inside game with nice outside shooting.”
Young is averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds, Bryant is at 16 points per game and Berhardt about nine. Ross is averaging six assists per game.
Braden River is in a new district (7A-11) that could be tougher with Manatee, Venice, Sarasota, Charlotte and Port Charlotte.
Manatee is off to an expected slow start, opening the season with three straight losses.
It was expected with the possibility that five key players, which could include four starters, are still with the football team.
The top newcomer is Eduardo Simo-Miranda, a slick-shooting point guard who moved here from Puerto Rico. Head coach Randy Smith is hoping to get some strong rebounding from 6-4 sophomore Anthony Bennett, and Richard Tyrrell has helped in the early going.
Among the football players expected to help is 6-6 Palmetto transfer Austin Gordon, who should provide inside scoring and rebounding.
The others are veteran guard Willie Smith and backcourt mate Jalen Holmes.
Palmetto has a new coach in Reggie Bellamy, but he certainly isn’t new to the area. The former State College of Florida and Manatee High head coach, brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of the game. The Tigers are off to a 3-1 start with their only loss to Cardinal Mooney.
He inherits a veteran team that features its returning leading scorer in senior Jordan Smith. Newcomers expected to help include Trey Williams, Brian Decker and Jalen Rhodes, a talented, spindly 6-4, sophomore with a soft touch.
With the football season over, Bellamy said he is anticipating the arrival of Terrance Mann, Tyronne Johnson, Shaquille Harris and Josh Hicks.
The Tigers’ strength is in their backcourt. Bellamy is hoping for some rebounders to emerge and for his team to get used to running to his style on offense and defense.
Lakewood Ranch also has a new coach in Jeremy Schiller, who encountered a series of mishaps you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Brian Cobb, a Bradenton-Herald All-Area first team selection last year when he led the Mustangs in scoring (15.6 points per game) and rebounding (9.8 per game), tore his ACL last summer. He hopes to be back sometime in January. To make matters worse, his junior brother, Mitchell Cobb, the team’s starting point guard, sprained his knee and is expected to miss a month, which would have him return in late December.
Picking up the slack has been leading scorer Chaz Grady, a do-it-all swingmen who can shoot and penetrate. T.J. Bridges and Quinn Thomas have been tough on the boards and sophomore Justin Otis has made significant contributions.
Southeast’s biggest challenge will be replacing Bradenton Herald Player of The Year Reggie Smalls. The Seminoles have one of the area’s most talented guards in junior Antonio Ray, who can shoot the trey with consistency and take it to the basket. He has a talented backcourt mate in junior Markcene Jean. Injuries in the front court have hurt the team in the early going.
They are waiting for the return of 6-4, 300-pound senior Kevin Williams, who provides a much needed presence down in the post and is a force on the boards. Tre Laws, a 6-3, athletic swingman, is likely lost for the season because of injury further making this team thin in the paint.
Bayshore has a new coach in Shawn Campbell, who sat out last year after running the Manatee High program for two years.
You might say his Bruins pulled off the biggest early season upset knocking off Southeast last week, though the Seminoles are not at full strength.
Senior Tyderian Jenkins has been the leading scorer, but there is a talented group of young players who could emerge in key roles as the season progresses.
“I am in basketball heaven,” Campbell said as he prepared for his season opener. Giving him a bright outlook for the future are 6-4 sophomores Justin Harris, Hank Allison and 5-11 Wesley Jackson. Another sophomore, point guard Zach Kendall, runs the offense, and 6-2 David Scavella is tough on the boards despite his lack of size.
A new era at Bradenton Christian has begun with the departure of longtime coach Dave Magley, but the Panthers’ fortunes could center around the play of veteran senior Joey Carollo. The savvy guard can shoot from long range, slash to the basket and knows how to make his teammates better. There is some good height in 6-6 junior forward Nick Scheimann, and Sarasota High transfer Landen Hochstetler could be a valuable addition.
The offense is in good hands with sophomore point guard Sinclair Laskett, and Sam Lister is a tough kid who plays a lot bigger than his 6-2 frame.
Cardinal Mooney has been the area’s big surprise winning six of its first seven games while beating some the bigger schools and losing only to undefeated Braden River. Jamie Glasser, a 5-10 junior, has provided the big scoring with his scoring and overall play.
The Cougars also have received perhaps unexpected key contributions from Antonio Blakeney, a 6-2 freshmen, who can also shoot the 3-point ball and score from anywhere on the court and has potential super-star written all over him.
Out-Of-Door Academy has won back-to-back games after getting off to an 0-2 start. The Thunder will rely upon junior guard Luke Granor and Fred Porter to provide the bulk of the scoring with Grant McCarthy their force on the boards.