Despite losing only two seniors from last year’s squad and having seven returning players to the roster, the Marathon High boys basketball team remains on the younger side as the Dolphins will once again have only a pair of seniors suiting up as they continue the rebuilding process.
“It’s going to be a work in progress,” said Dolphins coach Kevin Freeman. “I think we are a little bigger, taller and a bit more physical, and we have our basic defense down, we are working on fine-tuning things. We just don’t want to throw a lot at them too early on and add a little bit at a time.”
Knowing that it will be a process to get all the players up to speed, similar to last season, the Dolphins will look to slow down the game, to a half-court offense, and play strong on defense.
“I think with us being bigger this year, we will be able to control the paint better than we did last year,” said Freeman. “We are going to be pretty methodical on offense, not taking the first shot, but the open shot, and make the defense work a little bit and then play good defense on our end.”
Controlling the pace for the Dolphins on offense will be returning senior stater Dominic Cruz, along with junior Fisher Coleman-Sayer.
“They are good pals, so they have a good chemistry that helps out a lot on the court,” said Freeman. “Dominic is a very consistent player, who never gets too high or too low. He shoots the ball pretty well, so we are hoping he gains some confidence and plays really well this season. Fisher has grown two to three inches and is playing really well with Dominic.”
The other senior on the roster is Kymani Dixon, who has not played in two seasons but Freeman expects to play a crucial role as the team’s starting center.
“He has a nice soft touch and is very smart around the basket, so we are excited to see what he can do,” said Freeman.
Rounding out the starting lineup for Marathon are sophomores Adrian Cruz at point guard and Xavier Grant.
“I think Xavier, if he works hard, this could be a really good year for him,” said Freeman. “He has a knack at getting to the basket and getting to the free throw line. So far they are all working hard together, so we are excited.”
Juniors Oscar Garcia, Shawn Ridgell will both come off the bench, as will freshman Jesus Gonzalez.
“Shawn is a baseball player, but is a great athlete and will get a lot of time, same as Oscar,” said Freeman. “We have a good core group, who will have been playing together for two to three years now, so we are excited.”
The coach furthered that because his players are a bit tougher than last year, the opposition will “have to earn a win against us.”
“I’m looking forward to that, seeing how we respond to those situations,” said Freeman. “I think we are going to take our knocks, but this group will be patient and believe in the process.”
The young Dolphins will have an opportunity to work through the growing pains with a full schedule — in a season when most teams have lost numerous games due to a referee strike in Miami-Dade county — as Marathon will play 23 contests this season, with 11 at home.
“I have a pretty good relationship with other coaches, we have never tried to run up the score when we are better and always have treated them well when they came to our place, so because of that when we need a game we have the teams that will fill it,” said Freeman. “We are lucky to have these teams coming down to the Keys, which I think says a lot about our program.”
The Dolphins will have to broach that learning curve early in the season, as despite not having had many practices with a full team, Marathon will open the season with three games the week after the Thanksgiving break, starting with Everglades and Key West on the road.
“Our first three games are going to be an eye-opener, but it’s the just the start of the season and hopefully we can build from there,” said Freeman. “This is the earliest we have ever played Key West, but it’s when we could get them on the schedule, and after that we are playing some tough teams, and we are going to be challenged.”
Playing a tougher schedule, according to Freeman, who is entering his 19th season as coach of the Dolphins, will only help expedite the young team’s progress this season.
“They have seen the schedule, so they know what we are going to be facing, but they will still show up to every game ready to play, no matter who’s on the other side,” said Freeman. “We are going to play hard, we may not win every game, but we are going to play hard.”