Tough-Tested Men's Basketball Shooting for Stars

Tough-Tested Men's Basketball Shooting for Stars
Head coach Cesar Odio's story may be the X-factor in a season built on toughness. Photo by Jason Roberts

MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- Throughout the Bucs lineup, a common theme runs from sweaty jersey to sweaty jersey.

OK, maybe two common threads.

"Unselfish and tough," senior guard Vladimir Raymonvil said.

That's what this year's brand of Barry men's basketball is all about, and you'll get your chance to see it beginning with Saturday's 2 p.m. home opener against cross-city rival Johnson & Wales.

Last year the Buccaneers withstood a gutty effort from the Wildcats in a 102-91 win at Health & Sports Center. Johnson & Wales averaged 10.6 three-pointers per game last year. Already this season, the Wildcats have indicated they're prone to shoot the long ball again, having scored 98 and 96 points in two of their first three games.

"It they get on fire, they're gonna hit their shots," first-year Buccaneer Filip Toric said. "We have to take their confidence away early in the game. They've never met a shot they don't like."

Maybe so, but this year's Buccaneer basketball demands defense, and acting head coach Orlando Gonzalez won't let his team think otherwise.

"There's a dictatorship defensively," said Gonzalez, a former walk-on at the University of Miami who's taking the reigns this season from 18-year coach Cesar Odio, himself another example of toughness. "It's about competing from the beginning. You've got to take every possession personally."

Personal is an understatement for so many of these Buccaneers, who are trying to reinvent basketball at Barry, following back-to-back lackluster years. With six seniors entering their final go-around, "personal" doesn't even halfway describe the mindset they're taking this season.

"The fans are definitely in for a whole lot of victories, God willing, and whole lot of excitement with this team," Raymonvil said. "We're capable of playing with anybody night in and night out."

How that plays itself out remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, this Bucs team believes in itself.

"Optimism is on a high level," said Toric, who has played for three different schools in his collegiate career. "This is the best team, chemistry-wise, I've been on in four years. I feel like we've bonded as friends, and that always helps. We have a lot of potential."

Last year, Barry didn't live up to its expectations. This year, with changes to the coaching staff and player personnel, the fever-pitch fervor amongst themselves is something only the Bucs can truly appreciate right now. But given time, they believe all of Barry will get a sense for what this team has to offer.

"Words can not even begin to describe how excited I am," said Raymonvil, whose mission is to provide energy and more offensive firepower to a balanced team so desperately itching to be practicing in mid-March.

"This year means a lot. Everybody's willing to kind of sacrifice. We expect, from ourselves, to play hard. Our coaching staff has definitely been stressing the defense. We have to close out on shooters, and force them into uncomfortable positions. We're definitely ready."

Ready and willing. Willing to gut it out for 40 minutes game in and game out. That's what these Buccaneers are about.

"We've got the kind of guys that won't fall apart," Gonzalez said.

That war of attrition starts with rebounding. And while the Bucs are undersized, they don't see their lack of inches around the post as a setback. In fact, they are determined to win each battle no matter what it takes.

"We're not going to give up any easy baskets," Toric said. "We're gonna fight to the last second every game. We want to be, obviously, the best defensive team in the conference. But we want to be recognized in the nation as well. We've got tough guys. We don't want to let anybody easily beat us.

"People are obviously excited about Barry basketball. I'm hoping we're gonna give them a reason to keep watching more."