Trusting the process

Bryant makes believers of Raiders en route to state title

Rickards basketball players trusted coach Eli Bryant’s system as the season went on and in the end they captured the state 5A boys basketball title in Lakeland.
Photo special to the Outlook

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Since the opening day of the high school basketball season last fall, coach Eli Bryant kept telling his Rickards players to “trust the process.”

By that he meant for them to believe in each other and execute the game plan – whatever it might be.

“They just had to grow to trust each other,” Bryant said this past Monday, two days after the Raiders won the state 5A championship. “Trust us and what we were teaching. That’s just the process.”

The Raiders won the title by putting down a potential rally by top-ranked Pembroke Pines to secure a 67-60 victory. When it was over, Bryant had only six players on the floor at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

They caught a break during the closing two minutes when Pembroke Pines called a time out. It was just long enough for the Raiders to catch a breather.

Bryant used the time to reiterate what he’d been saying all season.

A’Drelin Robinson (No. 10) scores a jump shot for two points against Sebring in the semifinals game at the state championship tournament.
Photo by Idris Smith

“We said all along trust the process,” he said. “We’ve been here before.”

The team returned to Tallahassee in the wee hours Sunday and was celebrated at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. RB Holmes, pastor at the church also recognized the FAMU men’s basketball team for going undefeated at home, a first in more than two decades.

As part of its 150th anniversary, the church also paid tribute to several former coaches and athletes along with member of the media.

During the championship game on Saturday, the Raiders held a two-point lead at intermission. They turned on the jets in the second half and at one point was up by as many as 12 points before the Jaguars (26-3) mount a futile comeback.

The Raiders (21-7) got 19 points each from Zackary White and Ke’Varius Taylor. A’Drelin Robinson added 14 points.

The title win is the third for the Raiders since the 2011 season when they won the second of back-to-back championship. 

As remarkable as this season was, it didn’t seem like the Raiders would be sitting as state champions at this point. Eight-teen players showed up for the team, but they were down to 11 before the season started.

“Guys weren’t satisfied with the playing time and guys didn’t want to give what we asked them to give,” Bryant said, explaining the drop in personnel.

They made it through the season with a roster that was supplemented by Tavion Ensor and Benjamin Smith, both 10th graders.

Just like it was back when the Raiders won consecutive state titles, Bryant will lose most of the championship team. He remains optimistic, though.

It’s a scenario he’d seen many times in the rebuilding process.

“Even if a kid comes back, he playing with different people,” Bryant said. “He is not playing with the people he played with last year.”