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Ridgewood senior finds niche

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 4, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Not everyone gets to average double-digit points. Not everyone is born with a sweet stroke of a 3-point shot. Not everyone gets the ball in their hands late, time running out, the game on the line.

That is not the player Brandon Presley is. Yes, he can score when he has to. But the 5-foot-9 senior knew that would not be enough to get him onto the floor for Ridgewood.

If he was going to become a significant contributor, if he was going to see plenty of minutes on the floor with the Rams this season, Presley knew it would be on the other end.

On defense.

"I just wanted to play," he said. "It really doesn't matter what I'm doing because I love the game."

Presley is especially loving it right now. Ridgewood is 27-2 and playing in tonight's region semifinal for the first time since 1997.

The Rams are here because they are a veteran team with a productive bench led by two offensive threats: 5-10 point guard Chris Halkitis, the Sunshine Athletic Conference player of the year, and 6-7 center Andrew Reed.

But defense is a team game, and for that, Ridgewood counts on two players: Presley and guard Brendan Geronimo. Geronimo usually gets to guard the opposing team's most dangerous player. Presley gets the next-best scoring threat. But Presley can do so much more than that.

He rebounds. He steals. He chases loose balls. He'll guard the perimeter then dive inside the paint. And he often will find himself matched against the opposition's top post player.

"It's dirty work. It's like playing defense (in football)," Presley said. "Of course, it's all about helping out, getting loose balls back, making rebounds, stuff like that.

"Nobody else wants to do it. I enjoy it, though, I like shutting people down. In football, I played cornerback, and it's the same thing here."

It's a tough job, coach Gary Anders said, one not everybody can do.

"I just felt with Geronimo and him on the floor, we're just a better team defensively," the coach said. "He's real good around the perimeter, but he can go out and guard kids down in the interior, too."

Presley entered the program as an unsure freshman and has progressed every season since. When Nate Bradley was run over by a car during football season, Presley started the opening games. "When Nate got hurt, it forced our hand," Anders said. "But I probably would have played Presley a lot anyway. But his role became a lot more important with Nate going down."

Presley is quick and athletic with enough strength to battle inside. He also can do something no other Ram -- okay, one other Ram -- can do: run the point.

"If Chris is forced to the bench or has the ball taken out of his hands," Anders said. "Brandon can handle the point guard duties.

But nothing has come easy to Presley. Every minute he spends on the floor, Anders said, he has paid the price in sweat.

"The thing about him is he has really earned his way just by working to get this spot," Anders said. "He put in time on his own before the season even started to make sure he didn't start behind. His determination just shows up in so many different ways."

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