Franklin County varsity boys basketball coach Ray Bailey knows he has his work cut out for his team this season.
His Seahawks, who made it to Lakeland last season before bowing out against eventual Class 1A champion Williston, have lost three critically important starters from that team to graduation, senior Owen Poloronis, who led the team with nearly 18 points per game; and defensive standouts Ta’shawn Jones and Jaidyn Rhodes, both 10 points per game producers.
Bailey still has his 6-foot 4-inch star forward Ethan Kembro who last year produced 11 points and six rebounds a game, and freshman guard Sadiq Jones, who averaged seven points per game as he gradually grew into a team leader over the course of the season, to work with.
“We lost three big seniors. We have to work as a cohesive unit to make up for those three losses,” he said. “We just have more work to do. We’re going to have to play together and make it a team effort on the scoring end. ”
With senior power forward Lonnie O’Neal sidelined early on with a healable football injury, and Bailey taking the temperature of his other players’ abilities, the Seahawks dropped both pre-season games by 30-point margins, to Rutherford and Bay High.
But, for the record books, the Seahawks last week managed a season opening 71-66 win at Arnold, as they racked up a 42-28 margin at the half, and then were outscored 38-29 in the second half.
“In the first half they played well and got after it, but in the second half they fatigued, being a young group,” Bailey said. “They made young, stupid mistakes, taking unnecessary shots. We got lackadaisical on defense and stopped communicating.
“They hit a couple threes and that three-pointer is an equalizer. They can get back in it in a heartbeat,” he said. “Another reason they cut the lead is I played everybody. It was the first game of the season and I wanted to give everyone a chance.”
The coach said Kembro didn’t play his best in the opener, scoring only 13, and fouled out with five minutes left in the game. Jones was solid in the first half, with 15 points, but ended up scoring only two in the second.
Bailey said the best play of the night was that of freshman guard Jeremiah Allen, who scored 11. “Last night he was our best player,” said the coach. “He’ll cause some problems.”
O’Neal, who saw some playing time last year but frequently limited in duration, added 10 points, while eighth grader Dre North had nine, sophomore Jamichael Miller tallied eight, and junior Ajaylen McNair five.
Bailey is still developing the direction on the court he plans to take the team. “I haven’t really put in an offense yet,” he said. “I believe as we keep working this will be a better defensive team this year than last year as a unit.”
If the Seahawks match their 20-8 record of last season, it will be a remarkable accomplishment, because the schedule is noticeably tougher than in 2022-23.
“I come from a program,” Bailey said, referring to his days playing for the Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks. “When I was there and before me, you played a tough schedule.”
Bailey has dropped Wewahitchka, Altha, Wakulla and Wakulla Christian from the upcoming schedule, in some cases because the opponents didn’t want to take on Franklin County because of the program’s past history.
“Bozeman three years ago went 22-3 and lost in the first round,” Bailey said. “What good is that record?
“Everything now is based on power ranking, and you’re seeded off of that power ranking,” he said. “You have to play the games to see where your team’s at, to prepare for the Final Four.”
Bailey also opted for a long road trip at the start of the season, with six games before the team opens before a home crowd at The Nest.
“Before I play before that home crowd I want to get out of football shape, and work out all the kinks,” he said. “My expectation is to make it to the postseason. We can make it back to the Final Four. We’re going to have to play together.”