Friday night at The Nest is going to be among the biggest basketball games ever played at Franklin County High School.
There’s an excitement that hearkens back to the days when Joe Hayes took the Apalachicola Sharks to the Final Four, and when Fred Drake repeated the trip to Lakeland with the Seahawks.
This time, it’s Ray Bailey who’s in charge and he’s got lot of talent, in one of the most formidable squad the school has boasted of in years.
After serving under coach Nathan West as assistant, Bailey was passed over for the head coaching job when West left, but coach Kam Ashabranner left after a season and now it is his turn.
The 35-year-old phys ed teacher at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School is from Gulf County, and it was as a player for the Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks, from 2001-2004 that he got his first taste of the toughness of Franklin County hoops.
He squared off against Joe Hayes’ stars, Dorian Evans, Emory Ross, and Mackenzie Williams, and even before that, in his freshman year against Timmy and Tyler Poloronis, Mario Lane and Willie McNair.
After high school, Bailey were to Gulf Coast Community College for two years, and then Savannah State, before coming back to St. Joe in 2009 to coach under Derek Kurnitsky.
“We coached a couple good teams in Port St Joe,” he said. “We went to Lakeland with Calvin Pryor and Roman Quinn in 2009-10.”
In 2013 Bailey finished his bachelor’s degree, and in 2017 was an assistant to West.
And now it’s his turn.
“We have more shooters than I’ve ever had before,” he said, quite a statement for a guy who’s seen quite a few.
Anchoring the team are two experienced senior guards who know what it’s like to go to Lakeland, since both were there with West’s squad.
Eden Brathwaite and Lamarius Martin, both six-foot, are, well, let’s hear how Bailey puts it.
“This is one of the top three backcourts in all of Florida,” he said. “Regardless of classification.”
They’re about to be joined by Neshon Gadsden, expected to start Friday night when the Seahawks take the court against Crossroads Academy, a school ranked third in the state, to the Seahawks’ fourth, in Class 1A. Gadsden has transferred in from Port St. Joe, and Bailey is confident he’ll add even more depth and some firepower.
In the team’s opener, at the Tip Off Classic, the team beat Mosley and then fell to Bay, but they didn’t count. And then with an undermanned squad, marked by injury and some ineligibility, the Seahawks lost at Rutherford 58-47, but since then they haven’t fallen.
In the first game Eden was a little shaky,” said Bailey. “But he’s turned it around.”
“Monk (Lamarous Martin) he’s just a gamer, He’s been on it since the Tip off Classic and he hasn’t slowed down yet.
Bailey credits a lot of growth to the tutelage of college star JT Escobar, whose Equal Shot program at the Matchbox has given his players a chance to learn, and sharpen their games, over the summer.
December has been a time for winning, with a 70-52 victory at home Dec. 4 against Wakulla; a 85-51 win against Sneads Dec. 7; a 88-34 win against Wewahitchka Dec. 8, and a 79-29 victory over Port St. Joe Dec. 10.
That’s right, you read that right, a 50-point win.
“It was personal, I wanted to run the score up,” said Bailey, who was chafed by how Gulf County treated his bid for their top coaching job.
Under the basket, Bailey has a six-foot, four-inch power forward in junior Carter Kembro, and he’s working right by senior Trey Jones, who transferred from Port St Joe.
“Carter controls the paint for us,” Bailey said. “I’ve been impressed with how he takes the charges. One game this season he took four charges
“Trey Jones can shoot it, he helps us on the glass,” he said.
Bailey is confident sophomore guard Owen Poloronis will surprise people with his play. “I think Owen is going to be a sleeper for me,” he said. “He’s worked extremely hard this summer to get faster and quicker and be able to go by whoever guards him.”
Plus there’s freshman guard Ethan Kembro, who Bailey said “he can flat-out shoot it. And he’s going to help rebound.”
Bailey has high praise for the work ethic and dedication of the four other players who round out his roster, senior shooting guard Jarvis Turrell, senior Ethan Anderson, junior Jamal Robinson and sophomore Jaiden Rhodes. Both Turrell and Rhodes didn’t play last year so they’re shaking the rust off.
As his team comes off a thrilling one-point win 79-78 against Bay High Monday night, and gears up for Friday’s game against Crossroads, Bailey has one message for his squad.
“I talk to them all the time about not being comfortable,” he said.
“I can kill an alligator with my bare hands,” he tells them, and then shares how a gator, after he’s fed, become listless. “Wait until they finish eating. Once an alligator is finished eating, he’s comfortable.
“We can’t ever get comfortable until the job is done and and that’s us holding the trophy,” he said. “All gas, no brake. We don’t let up until I tell them too, regardless of the opponent.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: 'All gas, no brake' as Crossroads comes by Friday