OH Basketball Program’s “Culture Change” Paying Immediate Dividends as Lions Off to Best Start in Years

OH Basketball Programs Culture Change Paying Immediate Dividends as Lions Off to Best Start in Years

One-third of the way through its season and heading into the Winter Break, the Olympic Heights boys basketball team, under the leadership of new head coach Keith Mackrey, is turning heads with its 4-4 record featuring upsets and close losses to area powerhouses.

The Lions opened it 2018-19 campaign with a 63-49 win at district opponent Boynton Beach in which Micah Octave dropped a season-high 18 points while adding four rebounds and two steals. A.J. Mackrey added 11 points with four assists and two steals, and Austin Geller contributed 10 points and five rebounds in the win over the Tigers.

The Lions second game of the season was its home-opener against a tough Suncoast Chargers squad (currently 7-1) that was a back-and-forth affair the entire way, but Suncoast pulled away at the end to win 71-67. In that game Evan Botwinik had 11 points and five assists, Octave put up 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Lex Cadet added eight points and 12 rebounds.

In a bounce back game against rival Spanish River, OH picked up their second win of the season, 76-63, with Geller leading the way with 16 points and eight rebounds. Ryan Rubin and Marc Steig scored 14 points each. Octave contributed 12 points, nine rebounds, and two blocked shots, while Botwinik added ten points and eight assists in the win over the Sharks.

Going in to the second week of the season at 2-1, OH traveled the four-and-one-half miles west on Glades road to take on district rival West Boca High. The Lions controlled the first half of the game, leading by 15 heading into the third quarter; however, the Bulls managed to cut the lead to eight by the end of that quarter to put themselves right back into the game.

The fourth quarter saw the Lions hold off the West Boca comeback attempt to seal the 60-55 win to run their season record to an impressive 3-1. Leading the Lions ino the win were Octave (18 points , six rebounds, and two steals), Botwinik (12 points, three rebounds, and two steals), and Rubin (12 points, six assists, and three steals).

On Dec. 5, the Lions traveled to Wellington and gave a very tough Wolverines squad (currently 6-1) all they could handle, but lost in what Coach Mackrey termed “heartbreaking” fashion 61-60 off of a Wellington bank shot three point buzzer beater. Despite the loss, with their tenacious play against one of the better teams in the county, the Lions had served notice that this year’s squad is going to be a force to reckon with.

Redemption for the loss at Wellington came on the very next night when the Lions traveled the five-and-one-half miles east on Glades Road to face the Bobcats of Boca Raton High. And, it was a game just as exciting as the Wellington game that saw Jack Coulson – who had been substituted in on the play for defensive purposes – block a final seconds Bobcat three-point attempt to preserve the OH 58-57 upset victory. In the win, Geller had 15 points and four rebounds, and Botwinik had 10 points and five assists.

The impressive games against Wellington and Boca Raton have been followed by two consecutive losses against very talented teams. The Lions lost a home contest to Royal Palm Beach 81-71 on Dec. 11, and then traveled to Forest Hill where a second-half Falcons’ onslaught turned the Dec. 14 game into a runaway with the Lions on the short end of 90-56 blowout.

Still, heading into the Winter Break with four wins puts the Lions only one win away from matching the five total wins from last year’s. The turnaround is a direct result of a combination of Coach Mackrey’s immediate influence in instituting a culture change within the program and the players buying into that change by stepping up and taking on their roles as the team strives for continual improvement.

And Coach Mackrey is keeping his eye on the big picture. “At this point in the season, we are right where I expected us to be,” Mackrey explains. “We have come a long way since I took over the program this summer. The guys are slowly starting to buy in to the change of culture. We are playing some good basketball in spurts, but we still have a long way to go.

“Our district is probably the toughest district in the area,” Mackrey continues. “So I scheduled a tough non-district schedule to help us prepare to face those tough teams in our district. We will continue to build and get this program moving in the right direction.”

Second year varsity player Andrew Kaye is excited for the changes in the system. “The culture has noticeably changed. There has been a larger emphasis put on the defensive end by Coach Mackrey, which has proven to be successful in the first few games of the season,” Kaye comments. “OH has been a team that other schools have overlooked in the past, but they need to watch out now.”

The Lions will be playing in the Palm Beach Central Holiday Tournament, Jan. 3-5, with an opening round game against Jupiter. The regular season will pick back up with two road games against Dwyer (Jan. 8) and Seminole Ridge (Jan. 10). The Lions will then host Katz Yeshiva on Jan. 15. Notching three wins in that one week span could give the OH squad the needed momentum heading into the home stretch of rest of the January schedule and into the playoffs.