Can’t Stop the Ballers

The Blue and White had the chance to interview the Apopka High School basketball team. We spoke with Coach Williams and players, Daren Leath, Philip Tepper, and captain Malachi Brave, a group of high-achieving young men who are passionate about playing basketball and self-improvement and have grown fond of each other almost like family.

Coach Williams, is ardent about what he does and works hard to prepare his players for the seasons. He starts by explaining his experiences as a coach this year. “This is my 30th year as a head varsity basketball coach. I found that I was much more [of a] people-oriented person [rather than] a task-oriented person, and fell in love with coaching. I love trying to take the individual talents of our players and merge them into a team. I also enjoy getting players to play hard and with a common purpose, and I’m blessed to hopefully impact their lives as young men by what we do [as a team]. When former players let me know that I both prepared them for college basketball, and more importantly helped to prepare them into the men they’ve become, it just reminds me of what my ultimate purpose is. Which is not [to only focus on winning] games but to impact lives.”

Coach Williams gave us some insight into this year’s tournaments. “We are currently 1-1 with a game tonight against Lake Minneola and a home game next week against West Orange and Lake Buena Vista. We beat Bartow 52-36 and lost to CFCA 62-60 in overtime. It’s still very early in the season, but I believe we will have another great season and I really love this group of young men that I’m blessed to coach.”

I also spoke with Senior Phillip Tepper, an important member of the basketball team. He explains what it’s like to commit to basketball. “It’s very fun as I get to do what I do best, but it is a lot of constant hard work and communication with everyone. The relationship we have in the team is special, we go at it all the time at practice and make each other better. I can genuinely call [them] great friends. My goal has always been to use high school basketball as a path to get free education in college. I have been playing basketball for five years, since 7th grade. I think we have a chance to win districts this year. When we buy into our roles and make sure we pay attention to detail, we are a hard team to beat. We need to focus on paying attention to the details, listening to instructions, and making sure our conditioning is a top priority. Some [advantages that come with] being a high school athlete are the amount of time you spend using your opportunity to build relationships with teammates, having games with large practices, and being able to improve yourself as a person. [A disadvantage of] being a high school athlete is the amount of time it takes up, you rarely have days off or even weekends off. School work becomes much more challenging since you have so much of your after-school day taken up.” Even though Phillip doesn’t plan on playing basketball in the future, the connections and friendships he created along the way are the most important.

In the interview with Junior Daren Leath, he shared why he’s so passionate about playing basketball, reflecting on watching his older brother work hard and workout out and using that as motivation to become his own role model. “I’ve been playing [basketball] for as long as I could remember it’s been my dream for sure. It’s been my dream since I was young. After high school, I definitely want to continue playing.” However, there are some hardships and benefits that go along with devoting your time. “I mean it’s like having a job along with school sometimes it gets hard it’s like keeping up with your work and then having to go to and practice, play games, and condition. That’s [an unfortunate disadvantage] but a [benefit is that] it keeps you in shape playing basketball, and you make new friends, and meet new people you probably wouldn’t have met before. So it’s the relationships you build through basketball. My role model for sure was my older brother. When I was younger I was never the one that wanted to work out and go to practice and stuff but seeing my older brother play hard and work hard all the time just made me want to I don’t know do it myself. Ever since then, he just made me want to so he’s definitely my role model for playing basketball.”

Last but not least, I had the chance to interview Senior Malachi Brave, captain of the boy’s basketball team, and asked him to expand on what it’s like caring for a team. “It’s a very demanding job, I’m honored that Coach Williams believed in me to lead his team, but there are no days off. No matter what you have to be the engine that keeps the team going, paying attention to every detail and making sure that our culture shows throughout each and every player during the highs and the lows. I’ve developed a very tight relationship with my teammates, especially the seniors, coming from Orlando to Apopka in 9th grade, after tryouts they took me in right away. We’ve been through so much together and our brotherhood spread to the underclassmen and [so] it just clicked. With so many different personalities and people, the hardships and stuff we experience together bring us together. Basketball has been a part of my life forever, it’s always been something I’ve loved and wanted to do but coming to high school is when I started to take it more seriously.”

Malachi shared his observations on how the team will play this year. “I think we will do good [this season], coming off our playoff loss from last year we now know how hard it is to get there and [how] serious we have to be to get our spot. The only thing that can prevent us from getting where we need to be is us. Our main focus is the details, sometimes shots won’t always fall but we have non-negotiables, therefore playing hard and being detail oriented are main focuses that we sometimes lose sight of.”

“Being a high school athlete has a lot of pros and cons, it’s great to be a part of such a great program with coaches who truly care about you on and off the court, you get to travel and experience new things with your brothers and create memories that will last forever but it’s not easy at all, the times when you’re not playing well sucks and it’s crazy how a basketball can have so much control over your emotions and feelings, sometimes you lose sight of school work and outside things but after awhile you get the hang of it, Malachi explained.” It is self-evident that these players care a lot about their future.