APOPKA — Grant Riller and Vaughn McCall first took the court together in middle school.
The then-sixth-graders were teammates for the Ocoee Middle School Cardinals. Now, seven years later, they make up the dynamic duo charged with taking the Ocoee Knights to new heights.
The senior guards looked every bit that part as they led the Knights (4-0) to an impressive 53-50 win over Deltona at the Metro vs. Florida Challenge Nov. 26 at Apopka High School.
Trailing late, it was McCall, who hit a pair of 3-pointers to tie the game, and Riller, who knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer with 8.6 seconds to play, who led Ocoee to a thrilling win.
“We feed off each other well,” Riller said of the chemistry. “He makes me better, I make him better, and we just go from there.”
The two seniors have also played AAU basketball together but lost a season as teammates their sophomore year, when McCall played a season at nationally ranked Montverde Academy.
Still, the two standouts are quite close.
“It’s like having a younger brother,” McCall, who is a few months older than Riller, said. “It’s just fun having someone that understands you.”
Ocoee head coach Rob Gordon came on campus the same year as Riller and McCall and, for him, the senior duo is the anchor for a team that might just take Central Florida by surprise this winter.
“It’s ‘1’ and ‘1A’ — Grant and Vaughn,” Gordon said. “I’ve got to have ‘1’ and ‘1A’ playing their best basketball every night.
“And that’s what you expect from a college basketball player,” he said. “Those guys are signed, sealed and delivered — that’s what they do.”
Both guards signed National Letters of Intent during the recent Early Signing Period. Riller will play at College of Charleston, and McCall will play for Flagler College. Both said having the destination for their college careers settled early iwill enable them to focus.
“It feels good because, you know, you don’t have a lot of coaches calling you anymore or texting you,” Riller said.
Under the radar as a junior, due in part to injury, Riller’s ability to score almost at will is no longer a secret to Central Florida. That means opposing teams will have him in mind as they devise their strategy — something Riller is taking in stride.
“You still have to play through it,” Riller said of opponents keying on him. “I can’t make any excuses.”
Meanwhile, McCall’s play is vital for the precise reason that there will be nights when opposing teams are able to slow Riller. On a team giving significant playing time to a few underclassmen, including a freshman and a sophomore, it is critical for Gordon that “1” or “1A” — if not both — come to play every night.
McCall said taking things in stride, within the flow of the game, will be key.
“I’m not trying to force anything on myself,” McCall said. “I’m not going to go outside the offense. I’ll go through the offense and if I see something there, I’ll take it.”
Ocoee is undefeated so far this season and already has some impressive wins to its credit, including a season-opening win over Edgewater. Although the Knights are lacking in size and will rely heavily on underclassmen contributions beyond Riller and Vaughn, the possibilities for this year’s team, at this point, seem plentiful.
“We’re on a good roll,” Riller said. “If we play like how we normally play, so far, I think we can beat anybody.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].