Vanguard (Ocala) boys’ hoops team had memorable season
By Jack DaSilva
Vanguard High School’s basketball team led the area in the standings for most of the year until the last month of the season.
Gainesville High School beat the Knights on January 26th to earn the No. 1 seed and secure home-court advantage throughout the 7A-District 4 tournament.
But Vanguard didn’t let that loss derail their incredible season, winning every game after, including wins against GHS in the district championship game and again in the regional semifinals, en route to the Class 7A state semifinals, which was their first appearance since 1982.
The Knights (24-7) fell to eventual state champion Dillard (Ft. Lauderdale) by a score of 79-54 to bring their season to an end.
“We set sights on Lakeland,” said Vanguard coach Phillip Small. “We knew we could get there but you never know when. I thought we were good enough last year. We weren’t able to get it done last year and I thought that was our chance.”
It’s been a process for the Knights, who won their first district title since 2003.
“This year we had a pretty good squad and I thought we had another chance,” added Small. “It’s been really tough.”
Vanguard was just 5-19 the year before Small got there and they had gone through some tough times according to Small.
“We just were not very good our first couple years,” he said. “We went through a cleansing process- we just had to change our culture and get back to working hard.”
Coach Small has definitely turned this program around. Under his direction Vanguard has had success year in and year out and this past season was no different.
Vanguard was led by seniors Devontae Bynes and Charquez Clayton and freshman Leonard Manuel averaging 12.1, 15.5, and 9.2 points per game, respectively.
Vanguard will be losing nine of their 14 players next year but will look for younger players to step up and fill the void.
Coach Phillip Small was quoted saying, “This season has been a roller coaster ride to say the least. Our season started off on a very good note. We went 8-2 in our first 10 games.”
Despite losing starting point guard, Phillip Ortiz, for most of the season, Vanguard came together as a team and became one of the best teams in not only the area but the entire state of Florida.
Vanguard came in 3rd place in the Kingdom of the Sun tournament and became district champions for the first time in 14 years. VHS was also FHSAA Class 7A Region 1 Champions, making their first regional final appearance since 1994 and reaching their first Final Four since their last state title in the early 80s.
There is no doubt that Vanguard is content with its season.
While the state championship was the end goal, Vanguard has much to look back and be proud of. The Knights accomplished more than expected this season but most notably they are now an experienced team.
Coach Small knows what adjustments the team needs to make in the off-season and what it takes to make it back to the Class 7A state semifinals.
The Knights were a guest on “The Prep Zone” show at Sonic on Easy Street in Ocala on Wednesday, March 8. Click here to listen to the show.