In high school sports, one of the most sure-fire ways coaches at a smaller classification school can prepare their teams for a deep run in the playoffs is to schedule tough opponents in their respective class and from larger classifications.
Windermere Prep boys basketball coach Brian Hoff takes that philosophy seriously, and despite a rocky start, it paid dividends for his team last season.
“We went through a lot of adversity in the regular season last year,” Hoff said of his team. “We especially did not play our best basketball early on.”
Of the 32 games the Lakers played in the 2022-23 season, they only faced three teams with records below the .500 mark. The combined record of the eight teams that beat Windermere Prep was 165-64. Of those eight, four were in a higher classification and none had a losing record.
“We lost some games, but we eventually found our identity, and that started on the defensive end,” Hoff said. “We became really tough to score on each night. On offense, we had some guys (who) could make shots. … And that allowed us to make a nice run there at the end.”
Given its tough schedule, a 24-8 record and a FHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish, Hoff may be underselling just how nice of a run his squad was able to make last season. Even more impressive: The Lakers were able to achieve all of this with only two seniors on the roster, and their two best players — Brandon Bass Jr. and Sinan Huan — were freshmen.
“Brandon was our go-to guy on offense last year, and Sinan was our go-to guy on the defensive end last year,” Hoff said. “It says a lot about these two, that as freshmen they were our go-to guys on either side of the floor.”
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Brandon “The Bucket” Bass Jr.
Bass is a 6-foot-5 wing with NBA bloodlines — the son of former Orlando Magic player Brandon Bass — who is by every measure a certified bucket.
“Brandon has all the potential in the world,” Hoff said. “He works his tail off. He’s a natural-born scorer who is very difficult to defend. When you have a guy who can shoot the ball from well beyond the three-point line and also drive it to the hoop, it’s tough to stop. He’s athletic, and he’s a skilled finisher, as well. It’s just difficult to guard a guy like him.”
In his first full season as a varsity basketball player, Bass led the Lakers in scoring with 17.4 points per game and scooped up 3.8 rebounds. His success led him to be selected as the Class 3A, District 11 player of the year.
The scary thing is, he still has a lot of room to improve as a player and leader.
“I just want to take what I learned from the people on last season’s team and before last year and … be like them for this team,” Bass said. “I feel like personally, for me to be a leader, I need to get my teammates going by keeping a good energy.”
Over the summer, Bass also has improved on the court.
“I got better at playmaking, and I think I got better at rebounding, too,” he said. “I really focused on those two areas of my game this summer, and I’m going to do that better this season.”
Bass already has offers from the likes of LSU, Stanford, UCF, Houston and others.
However, he still is only a sophomore, and Hoff believes Bass has even more room for improvement.
“He’s making steps as a player in a number of areas, but I think he’s going to become one of the best defenders around this year,” Hoff said. “I’ve seen the growth from Year One to Year Two in a number of areas, and that’s only going to continue, because of how hard he works.”
Sinan “The Shot-Stopper” Huan
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Bass is fellow sophomore Sinan Huan — a 7-foot rim protector from China — who led the Lakers with 4.7 blocks a game, to go along with his 6.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
“Sinan is unique in that obviously he’s 7 feet tall with long arms and jumps out of the gym,” Hoff said. “He affects the game on defense tremendously. I’ve never coached anyone (who) has the ability to block and alter as many shots as he does.”
Obviously, Huan’s size and athleticism are key to his shot-blocking ability, but so is his ability to mentally process what his opponents are going to do.
“It’s kind of weird to think about, because when I’m at the rim, I need to analyze what the opponent is going to do, so I can try to protect the rim,” Huan said. “But I think I’ve been good at doing it.”
Beyond his dominance on one end of the ball as a freshman, Hoff thinks Huan will become dominant on the other end of the floor, as well.
“He’s improved his offensive game a lot, as well,” Hoff said. “To the point where when we give it to him around the block area, we feel pretty confident we’re going to get two points or a foul. … Eventually, though, he’s going to be able to knock down outside shots consistently. He’s worked on that area of his game a lot and can knock down some outside shots here and there already.”
Although Bass and Huan are the focal points for the Lakers this upcoming season, Hoff knows if the Lakers are going to win the state title, they need to be a complete team.
“We want to be hard to guard to where if people decide to double team either Brandon on the perimeter or Sinan on the inside, we have the guys (who) can beat you,” Hoff said.
Those pieces include guards Samuel Shoptaw and Gustavo Roca and wing Malachi Martis.
“On any given night, those three guys are threats to lead us in scoring,” Hoff said.
“Sam’s going to be not only our starting point guard, he’s going to be a tremendous leader for us,” Hoff said. “He’s a great passer and can knock down open shots and get to the rim. … Malachi is a 6-5 big, strong wing who’s a great scorer. Really efficient around the rim. … And Gustavo Roca's a freshman — who’s been at our school since elementary — (who) is one of the most ready-to-play freshmen, that I’ve ever coached. He’s solid as heck.”
With its two returning sophomore stars in Bass and Huan, along with new pieces that will add athleticism, playmaking and shooting, expect Windermere Prep to be as good and exciting as last season, as the Lakers begin their road to hoisting the state championship trophy.
Sam Albuquerque is the Orange Observer Sports Editor, please contact him with scores, statistics and story ideas at this email: [email protected] or on Twitter at @SamBAlbuquerque