BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The Mainland Buccaneers boys’ basketball team is the hottest local team.
Mainland (16-1, 4-0) has won 15 straight games. Their only loss was to Orlando Edgewater, the favorite to win the Class 8A state title in the Rotary Tournament in Orlando in November.
The Buccaneers have signature wins over Atlantic, Miami Northwestern, Melbourne Holy Trinity, Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna, Orlando Dr. Phillips, Jupiter and Sanford Seminole.
“I think what is working for us is that we are trusting in each other. The kids are playing together instead of being selfish. When you have a team like ours, it’s big, said Head Coach Joe Giddens.
The coach is in his second season leading the program and is having quite the success. Last year’s squad made it to the Regional Finals.
Giddens is also a Buccaneer alum and hoops legend, having won state titles as a player at the school back in 1994 and 1995.
“I had a vision when I came here, which is to bring back the old school ’90s Mainland. We put in that work. We don’t give the players anything. They have to work for it. They have to earn it. I think that has helped,” stated Giddens.
The Buccaneers have a deep and talented roster.
They are led by the quartet of senior shooting guard R.J. Rhoden (Long Beach State); senior center/combo forward Johnny Williams (6’9”); and junior guards Taron Keith and Jordan Sears (Atlantic transfer).
“I just go play my role, which is to score, rebound and block shots. I just want to help us win as we go along especially down the road,” said Williams.
Sears added, “It’s been a very smooth transition for me coming to play here. Coach let me know my role and what was expected. It’s just working,”
Junior center, Shayne Brennen (6’9”) clogs the paint while senior forward Justin Hill (Deltona Trinity transfer) provides bench scoring.
‘Faith in God’
Giddens has had talented teams before but this team has its own uniqueness.
“I think what makes this team different is once again the trust and togetherness. We also put our faith in God. People don’t like to put God in sports but this team has faith in God. We also teach the players how to be men,” said Giddens.
The players are enjoying the moment. They also see their potential.
“We have a great group of guys that bring something unique to the table both on and off the court. We can also all each do different things on the court which is special,” expressed Rhoden.
Williams agreed. “We have a good team, a good set up and a good coach. You can’t ask for anything else.”
Looking back over the season, one thing that probably got the team rolling was a thrilling triple overtime 94-88 win over district 7A-5 rival Atlantic in the ICI Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Dec. 14.
“It really boosted our confidence. It was a great game. We just stuck to the game plan. It was an unforgettable,” said Rhoden.
Giddens added, “Atlantic is the team to beat. They were hot. They are getting a lot of attention. I just told the players it was an opportunity for us. That game really put us on a tear and we’ve kind of been rolling since.”
Despite their success and playing well down the stretch with eight games remaining, Mainland wants to get better.
“We play a balanced style of basketball, whether playing fast or slow. We can still improve defensively and with our offensive ball movement,” Giddens noted.
The district 7A-5 tournament is from Feb. 12 through Feb. 15.
The two teams that make it to the district championship game earn a trip to the state playoffs.
Atlantic and Deltona will present the Bucs with their toughest challenges.
A tough schedule
The ultimate goal is to get a chance to play for a state championship.
“We have to continue to push and do even more. If we keep pushing, it could help us get into the position that we want to be in,” said Sears.
Giddens added, “We are playing a really tough schedule and some really tough tournaments. We still have Orlando Christian Prep and Melbourne on our schedule.
“We also have a district tournament. It will help us get where we want to go. Most of the teams we are playing are playoff teams which, will only make us better. We’re playing in the big atmospheres that the playoffs will bring. We still have to put in work.”