Dwyer boys basketball team struggling through rare down season
Monday, January 28, 2013
by Jeff Greer
Fred Ross stood on the sideline, shouting and stomping like every other game of his 30-year coaching career.
His eyes widened and his brow furrowed with every stray pass or poorly timed shot his young Dwyer squad attempted. His team trailed rival Jupiter by more than 20 points and was well on its way to a 13th loss.
None of that mattered.
"He was still coaching," said Jupiter coach John Andersen, whose team beat Dwyer twice this season. "Does he like losing? I'm sure he doesn't, but I don't think he's stopped doing what he does."
Ross usually coaches winning basketball. Since he started Dwyer's hoops program in 1991, Ross and the Panthers have won three state championships. His teams have won 566 games, the majority at Dwyer, though he racked up a few victories during nine years at Jupiter in the 1980s.
Yet only two years removed from its third state championship since 2004, Dwyer basketball has hit a rut. The Panthers have just seven wins against 13 losses, eight of which Dwyer lost by more than 10 points.
One of Dwyer's top seven scorers is a senior. None of the current players played on the 2010-11 team, which finished 32-1, won the Class 5A state championship and played in the prestigious National High School Invitational tournament staged by ESPN.
"They're very young," Wellington coach Matt Colin said. "It's high school basketball, eventually you go down. How long can you be on top with great talent coming in? That's the natural cycle and progression, even at Dwyer."
When programs rise as high as Dwyer, any struggles catch the area's attention. Ross coached Alonzo Gee, the starting small forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Joel James (North Carolina), Greg Louis (Penn), Ramon Galloway (La Salle) and several Dwyer alumni play Division I college basketball.
At that NHSI tournament in 2011, Dwyer even beat Findlay Prep, a basketball star factory from Nevada, before narrowly losing to high school hoops juggernaut Montrose Christian.
This year, Dwyer hasn't necessarily lost bad games -- combined, opponents boast a .637 winning percentage -- but normally Dwyer beats at least some of the top-notch teams on its schedule.
College coaches aren't lined up along the sideline at practices, anxiously watching big-time prospects run up and down the court.
But Ross doesn't mind. He expected to take some lumps this winter with eight freshmen on his roster.
"We've gotten a lot better since Day 1," said Ross, who's in good spirits as district playoffs approach. "It's frustrating but it's going to happen. We had juniors and seniors playing all those years we were winning big. This group has to learn."
After the 2011 state title, some wondered if Ross was done coaching. His 2011-12 team, with James as the centerpiece, lost in the first round of the regional playoffs, but never struggled like this group.
Those retirement questions kept coming up, and they haven't stopped, especially when a season like this one would drive so many insane. Ross just laughs them off.
He looks a lot calmer these days as practice runs in front of him. The enormous expectations of his old teams don't exist for this one. They're just playing and learning.
"It's a fun group," he said as the players bantered in the near distance. "Even when we're not winning, it's been a challenge and it's been great seeing them grow."
Then he brings up that Jupiter rout.
"(Jupiter) deserves the success, with all those seniors," he said of his old program. "I knew someday we'd have a year like this. It makes me better. It makes them better. It's a challenge."