Brandon High School used to be the undisputed king of Hillsborough County boys basketball. They finished as state runner-ups in 2000 and went to the final four in 2008.
And, from 2003 to 2005 they had a 62-game winning streak against county teams.
The program has struggled in recent years, however. Prior to this season, the Eagles had just 35 wins against 64 losses since the 2008 state semifinal game. With head coach Jamie Turner in charge, who played on the 2001 squad, Brandon has started the year 11-4 and is first place in their district.
"We had to earn that respect back," Turner said, in his third season as head coach.
What makes Brandon's return to the upper echelon more impressive is how young their team is. The Eagles returned just one starter from last year and they only have two seniors on their entire roster. With such a young team, Turner expected to take some lumps early.
"I had an idea, but I didn't know how good we would be," Turner said. "I thought we would have a slow start and then pick it up towards the end of the year."
Perhaps Brandon's signature win this season came against 2012 state semifinalist Winter Haven Dec. 21. Brandon won in overtime, 63-61.
"I told them after that game, 'It's time to start believing,'" Turner said.
Brandon employs what Turner calls a "controlled freelance offense," where the goal is to eventually get the ball inside. Sophomore point guard Pedro Lopez runs the show, leading the team in assists and often looks to get the ball to 6-foot-8-inch junior forward Roderick Davis. Davis is averaging 13 points, 9 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks per game.
Davis, in his third year on the varsity, appreciates his role on the team and the growth it has undergone this season.
"I knew we were going to be a little bit better than last year," Davis said. "I just want to lead my team to more wins. I try to lead by example, listen to coach, and do what's right."
The Eagles have also gotten contributions from senior captain Avery Bolton. After not starting last year, Bolton is averaging almost 11 points per game.
"Bolton had been a big step surprise this year. He had gone from not starting to being a leading contributor," Turner said.
By getting back to winning ways, Davis said the students and staff at Brandon have become more interested in the team.
"They are starting to get more involved. More people are coming to the games," Davis said.
Like most teams, Brandon would like to end its season with a state title. Before the Eagles get to Lakeland though, Turner wants his team to focus on winning the district title.
"I said 'Let's focus on winning the district first'. Get past the district and it's a whole another season (in the playoffs)," Turner said.