OCOEE — Olympia High School is quickly becoming a difficult boys varsity basketball team to play.
And that suits first-year Titans head coach Matt Wheeler just fine.
This year marks a new era at Olympia with former coach Mark Griseck now across town at Apopka High. Wheeler is in the process of transitioning from girls basketball — where he spent last season directing the varsity team at Olympia — to the boys game amid a challenging early schedule.
The Titans played November road contests at two-time defending Class 4A state champion Lake Highland Prep and rival Dr. Phillips. They also dropped a four-point overtime decision to defending 2A state champion Orlando Christian Prep at the fifth annual Metro vs. Florida Challenge, before opening their Class 8A District 3 schedule last week with single-digit setbacks to Evans (71-62) and Ocoee (77-69).
Olympia departed Ocoee High Dec. 5 with a 1-5 overall mark, but Wheeler appreciated his team’s resilience against a talented Knights squad that extended its season-opening winning streak to six games.
“We’ve been playing a lot of tough teams, and sometimes, that’s good, because it kind of reveals our character and who we are,” Wheeler said. “The truth comes out, and we’ve got to assess where we are and whether we’re going to keep stepping up. But we’re fighting — we’ve been fighting every game — and the last few have shown that we’re getting better every game.”
Olympia will have several more opportunities to progress this month, with six games on tap prior to a scheduled appearance at Vero Beach High’s 32nd annual Holiday Hoopla Tournament (Dec. 27 to 30). The Titans faced Trinity Prep and Apopka to open this week — results were unavailable at press time — in advance of a Dec. 12 home game against district rival West Orange.
“Every team has to go through the storm phase where you learn who you are and, once you weather that, you go forward,” Wheeler said. “And we’re just trying to develop.”
Olympia faced an early 12-point deficit against Grant Riller-led Ocoee. But the Titans scored 24 points during the last 7 minutes, 5 seconds, of the first half to close within 33-29 at intermission, as Carl Cooper fueled the comeback with three baskets from behind the arc.
“(The Knights) are a great team, and they’re athletic,” Wheeler said. “We couldn’t make any mistakes, especially getting back in transition and with our communication, and every time we did, they made us pay for it.”
Ocoee gradually built a 71-58 lead with just over three minutes remaining, before Olympia closed the game with an 11-6 run. Riller (who signed last month with the College of Charleston) scored Ocoee’s final six points to keep the Titans at bay, but Wheeler liked his team’s offensive execution with the outcome seemingly decided.
“I really liked how we played at the end offensively,” he said. “I just want to move, cut and play fast, and we’ve been stagnant. That’s kind of the first time it finally started clicking, and it took us being down to fight back and kind of see what we can do.”
Seniors Scott Barbour and Cooper and impressive freshman Ronaldo Segu give Olympia a formidable trio of guards who can handle the ball. They also combined for 84% of the Titans’ points against Ocoee.
“That’s how we want to play: I want to keep driving and kicking it out,” Wheeler said. “If it’s open, shoot the three or drive to the basket. I’ve got a lot of interchangeable players, so whoever’s open can get it going. If they’re being guarded, they can pass it to the next guy.”
Wheeler has opted to use Segu and fellow freshman Dejuan Lockett in the starting lineup. Lockett, an athletic 6-foot-4-inch forward, totaled 19 points and 13 rebounds against OCP.
“Dejuan has been awesome, and we knew he was going to be good,” Wheeler said. “He’s developed a lot since playing (junior varsity) in the summer, and in the fall league, we kind of forced him into to some minutes. He was going to be a contributor, but now he’s a key guy.”
The same can be said for the 5-foot-11 Segu, who demonstrates strong play-making skills for a ninth-grader.
“The greatest thing about Ronaldo is he just wants to work,” Wheeler said. “He’s always in the gym working, and he wants to be great.”