Not many people know about the Holiday Heat. Fan support for the team consists of the coach and parents. Outside of that, there isn't much of a following for this highly competitive youth basketball team with a winning record.
It doesn't matter. The players are in this for the experience and for a chance to earn a slot in the National Amateur Athletic Union tournaments, which start this week. The Holiday Heat is an AAU-level travel team that puts the players into regional showcases, mostly in the offseason. College scouts often attend these and start evaluating rising high school talent at surprisingly early ages.
NCAA recruiting compliance rules are strict about direct contacts and the times when coaches, parents and players can be directly contacted.
“That doesn't stop evaluators from attending events and making notes about performances,” Heat Coach Joe Walsh said. Walsh also coaches junior varsity athletes at Anclote High School.
“There is no doubt that all of these young players have tremendous futures; they will all go to college because they are honor roll students and leaders off the court,” Walsh said. “We hope they will earn scholarships, but basketball is very competitive, and if tournament play helps, then we'll have done our job.”
In a recent tournament, the Heat met a highly competitive St. Petersburg team. They battled to take the lead and held it with 2 seconds to go. An at-the-buzzer shot launched by the opposing team snatched the victory.
“Those games hurt,” Walsh said. “The win would have been nice, but players learn from losses as the key turning points often play over and over in their heads, more so than with the wins. That is how players motivate themselves to get better.”
Walsh has coached some of these high-school-age players since entering junior high. “I love coaching at this age," he said. "It is my way of giving back to the sports that were a big part of my growing-up years.”
Walsh's Anclote JV team posted a 16-2 record this past season. The coach credits that outstanding record to the leadership of twin brothers Tymere and Shymere Carter, two of the youngest players on the Heat.
Others playing for the Heat are:
Brandon McWhorter, a standout athlete who is an excellent ball handler and an impact player. McWhorter moved briefly to Georgia before returning to resume a leadership role at Anclote and came out for the Heat.
Sevy Galati, who plays center, is an excellent inside player. He naturally leads in rebounds but also puts up points.
Luis Perez earned a varsity slot in his freshman year, he enters Anclote this fall as junior and one tough never-say-quit competitor. He was made the 3 point shot with 02 seconds, which was turned around with the-at-the-buzzer shot in their tournament game against St. Petersburg.
Dylan Walsh, a tough competitor on the court and an outstanding student of the game. Walsh earned a place in the varsity starting lineup this past season and as a rising junior will be seen again in high school play.
, the third-leading scorer in Pasco County this past season while playing for Gulf High School, he will begin attending Anclote this fall. He dominates at power forward.
Jessie Galati, a rising sophomore this year, is also an impact player with tremendous shooting ability.
Spence Guerette who will be a sophomore this year. He is also a distance runner for track at Anclote, he didn't start basketball until his 8th grade. As a freshman last year made the varsity team and was named most improved for the year.
AAU tournaments match players by age brackets, but coaches can choose to play against older teams. Among the coaches, the practice is known as “playing up.” The Holiday Heat, composed of 16-, 15- and 14-year-olds, are playing in the 17-and-under age group, which often pits them against varsity-level players.
Some coaches use the strategy to give younger players exposure to a higher level of intense competition. If the players can handle it, they learn some of the hard lessons of basketball and how to play in challenging games.
“These players work hard. ... They're are not just learning basketball, but life lessons.” Walsh said. “For the rest of their lives, they will know not to give up or quit; they will face tough situations and always give it their best because they learned through basketball that it can make a difference.”
The Holiday Heat will be in action Thursday at another regional AAU qualifying tournament at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Avenue South St Petersburg, Fla., 33711.
* This story has been corrected. Brandon McWhorter was in Georgia only a month. The previous version said otherwise.
* A previous version of the story said there were 30 seconds for the game against the St. Petersburg tournament, but it was actually only 2 seconds, then the other team got the buzzer shot.
* A previous version of the story said Walsh coached Tymere and Shymere Carter and Dylan Walsh since little league. It was actually since 7th grade.
* A previous version of the story said Walsh talked about JV district wins. The Anclote high school team as JV doesn't have district tournaments.