Things are looking up for Knights

Published February 4, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - John Sedlack grips his dirty, broken clipboard and examines it through his glasses.

The varsity takes a quick breath while River Ridge's newest coach - a 19-year veteran - studies the meticulous notes that have defined him over the years. He looks up and barks sharp, punchy orders.

Go get it! No, no, no! Hurry back! Go hard! Gotta go hard!

Off to the side, a row of eyes stare onto the court. There's no small talk among the JV and no giggling.

Sedlack has them.

He breaks character for a brief laugh with the players. He snaps back into lion-tamer mode and cracks his whip.

"We know our boundaries and we don't overstep those boundaries," River Ridge senior Jeremy Bilancione said. "Like any new coach, he's intimidating."

No one's talking about River Ridge this season. From the looks of practice, next year they might.

Sedlack was hired March 10 to replace Robert Strong, the third coach in four seasons. Many say Sedlack's arrival has sparked a transformation. There are new uniforms, new travel bags and a locker room freshly swept with fresh attitudes.

"I love him," Fitz said. "I know the kids do, too."

Sedlack handed in his set of Central keys after he helped open the school 18 seasons ago. He was the coach that won 253 games and lost 236. He also was the athletic director.

Sedlack could no longer ignore his curiosity. He always had been enchanted by River Ridge since it opened. He viewed the program from afar and always believed River Ridge would be his avenue back into Pasco County.

Sedlack coached Land O'Lakes for one season to a 4-22 finish in 1982-83.

There had been opportunities to come to River Ridge - no coach had stayed more than four seasons - but Sedlack had been content staying close to his Weeki Wachee home.

He met informally with River Ridge principal Jim Michaels. They toured the campus, viewed the locker room and walked through the gymnasium. Sedlack was hooked and formally applied.

"The last two years (at Central) were so tough that it wasn't that difficult to leave," Sedlack said. "People get used to what you do. ... I had enough of the AD business. It was wearing on me. It's often tougher coaching coaches than coaching kids."

River Ridge has refreshed the 59-year-old. Suddenly, his players stare at him with hungry eyes. They want to learn, and he wants to teach.

"The whole program has changed," River Ridge senior Jeremy Swanson said. "It seems like a real basketball team this year. Last year was a lot like going out and shooting around with friends."

At times, it was even worse.

"There was a lot of in-fighting and turmoil among the guys," Fitz said. "What (Sedlack has) done is bring a family-type atmosphere where the middle school through the varsity gets along."

Sedlack was worried he'd lose the team when River Ridge got off to a 1-7 start.

"Every night I'd go home and say, 'We've got to start winning, the kids are working so hard,' " Sedlack said. "You're worried being what's gone on here, things aren't changing."

The second win came at Central, where Sedlack was honored before the game. Then came a string of wins, six in all, to pull River Ridge to 7-7 just after Christmas. Since then, the Royal Knights (10-13) are 2-7. But Thursday's practice showed a team with plenty of fight. Sedlack still remembers teaching them that lesson.

"We're down five points against Zephyrhills with 5:58 to go," Sedlack said. "I'm seeing chins going to the chests. I said to Fitz, 'What the hell is going on here?' He said, 'Coach, I told you. This is River Ridge. They get down.' I called a quick timeout and yelled at them, 'This ain't the old River Ridge now.' "