Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian boys’ basketball coach Cilk McSweeney still has a text message saved from Hialeah Gardens Mater Academy counterpart Shakey Rodriguez.
“Let’s do it,” read the text.
The text was dated Nov. 2. Two days later, Rodriguez, 67, died of a brain aneurysm.
Friday night at 8:30, the game that Rodriguez and McSweeney set up in November will be played at Mater Lakes, and it’s a big matchup. Calvary (9-3) is ranked No. 1 in South Florida and No. 21 in the nation. Mater Academy (12-0) is ranked No. 1 in Miami.
“I’m sad I never got to coach against Shakey,” said McSweeney, 37. “When I was a player for Dillard, Shakey had already won five state titles at Miami High. He had already been where I’m trying to go with Calvary.
“Coaching against him would’ve been an honor.”
Instead, McSweeney will coach against the next-best thing: Rodriguez’s son, Eric.
Former Miami Beach coach Jacob Shaw, who now runs MiamiDadeBasketball.com, said Rodriguez has done a “phenomenal” job this season.
“Eric’s going to be one of the great ones,” said Shaw, who has watched Mater Academy six times this season. “He controls the room when he walks in, and he knows how to manage a game.
“He learned a lot from his dad.”
Shaw said the Mater players “trust each other and play team basketball,” and Rodriguez credits his father for those traits.
“This has more to do with my dad than with me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just trying not to mess it up.”
Rodriguez and McSweeney agree that Calvary will be the favorite Friday, and size is a major factor. Mater’s players range in height from 5-10 to 6-5. Calvary’s kids look like a college team, ranging from 6-3 to 6-11.
Calvary has three players who already have major Division I scholarship offers: 6-8 junior guard/forward Gregg Glenn, 6-10 junior forward Taylor Hendricks and 6-5 sophomore guard Marvel Allen.
Mater has no players with D1 offers, although 6-5 junior wing Jimel Lane has a chance. He is averaging 23.0 points and 10.0 rebounds and is a front-runner for Player of the Year honors in Miami.
“He’s scoring nearly at will and from all over,” Rodriguez said of Lane, who played for Coral Gables last season. “He usually plays better in big games.”
Other Mater players to watch include 5-10 senior point guard Ryan Sanchez, 6-0 senior wing Jace Budin and 6-4 senior forward Torrence Shellman.
Sanchez, who is averaging 14.2 points, is Mater’s only other double-figure scorer besides Lane. And Budin is Mater’s most improved player from last season when he “couldn’t sniff the court”, Rodriguez said.
“Ryan is our most valuable player. We’ll go where he takes us,” Rodriguez said. “Jace is not naturally gifted, but he’s smart, and he outworks people.”
For Calvary, Allen leads in scoring (15.6) and assists (3.2). Hendricks averages 14.6 points while leading the team in rebounds (9.7) and blocks (2.0). Glenn leads the team in steals (2.1) while averaging 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Still, McSweeney is concerned that Mater will have quickness mismatches.
“Their biggest guy is as tall as our point guard,” McSweeney said. “This is the first time this season we play a team with all guards.
“It’ll be different, but we want to be their first loss.”
If Mater were to pull off the upset, then the Lions can start dreaming of an undefeated season, something Shakey Rodriguez never accomplished in his distinguished career.
“I remember my dad telling me his best season was 35-1,” Eric Rodriguez said. “I never expected [a 12-0 start], but we go into every game thinking: ‘We’re not getting beat today.’
“We’ll see what happens on Friday.”