Alan Dell

Deputy pulls out all stops for PAL game

True hometown heroes are often hard to spot. They toil in obscurity and seek nothing for themselves.

A good example is Manatee County Sheriff’s Deputy Ralph Bryant, who oversees the Manatee PAL Basketball program.

He went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure the PAL All-Star basketball game between the top seniors from Manatee and Sarasota counties happened Thursday night.

A few days before the event, things were falling apart. Sarasota County couldn’t field a girls team and less than 24 hours before tipoff its boys team wasn’t sure it had five players.

Bryant is only responsible for Manatee County, but he put on his Houdini hat and made some magic.

Showing his creativity, Bryant came up with the idea of bringing in an array of former female PAL All-Stars and set up a Legends game between them and the Manatee County senior girls team.

Bryant pulled a rabbit out of the hat and within less than 48 hours got those girls together, which had the Bayshore High gym buzzing more than a game against the Sarasota County girls would’ve likely generated.

He also helped Sarasota County enlarge its boys roster, adding three players from the Elevation Academy, and encouraged others to play, which enabled them to get a 10-man roster.

The game gives its players an opportunity to showcase their skills for colleges and a chance to play on the same team with people they have competed against during high school.

Bianca Hanna, the area’s top female prospect, showed her gratitude by launching some bombs that were on target from the depths of 3-point land. The number two career scorer in the Southeast girls program, she got a chance to open up some eyes and perhaps college doors.

The 5-foot-7 combo guard had to do so many things for Southeast it forced her to sacrifice her outside shooting and leave it to others. It raised questions about her ability to hit the deep shot, but she put those doubts to rest.

The Manatee County boys team had some individuals who look as if they can play at the Division I or II level, and they got a chance to impress college scouts in attendance; it might have been particularly beneficial to Brice Smith (Manatee), Michael Frey (Bradenton Christian) and Casey Bobelis (Braden River), who are being looked at by some schools.

Kudos to Bradenton Christian head coach Dave Magley, another person who has given more than could be expected to allow this game to continue. He has been the Manatee County head coach in five of the past six games.

Before PAL took over, the event had been suspended for a year after the Manatee County boys team upset many in the basketball community when some of its players were clowning around during the game.

It looked as if the event was dead and nobody wanted to touch it. Sponsors avoided this game as if it came with packaged with the plague. But Bryant showed his courage, took it over and got commitments from coaches he knew would not tolerate any nonsense.

Magley and Southeast coach Elliott Washington helped clean the mess up. They taught players to respect the game and told them an invitation to play was a reward, not an opportunity to make a mockery of things.

On Thursday night, 18 players dressed for the Manatee County team and showed some uncanny skills and a dedication to win.

If things don’t improve from Sarasota’s end, Bryant will look into setting up a game with either Pinellas County or Hillsborough County. Whatever the case, the Manatee boys look good enough to take on the challenge.