After consecutive runs held short deep into the postseason, Westminster Christian coach PJ Brown found an alternative solution to unlocking the key to success: depth.
Home to seven seniors and four juniors, the Warriors’ 12-4 record says it all for the talent this team holds, as another shot at a state title approaches. They’ve done their job proving to be a top candidate for the No. 1 spot in Miami-Dade, even stepping out of range recently with an upset victory over Calvary Christian.
Entering the contest without starters Frankie Idlett and Sal Stewart Jr., a 20-point outing from senior Jayden Higgins propelled a 59-45 win over an Eagles team that was ranked No. 22 in the nation.
“[That game] was just another opportunity to play against a really good team,” Brown told 305 Sports. “We don’t really have many nationally ranked teams in the South Florida region, so when you play against a team like that you know you have to play well.”
Like they did against Calvary, the use of going deep into their rotation has made things smoother for Westminster Christian throughout the season. The chance to rely on either Idlett, senior David Fernandez or sophomore Danny Fernandez at guard has come in handy, while the forward spot can be occupied in a variety of ways, ranging from Higgins to Stewart Jr and Christian Munilla.
And to add fuel to the fire, the Warriors’ lineup is headlined by senior James Henderson, who’s earned offers from IUPUI, Hampton and Northern Arizona. Having the 6-foot-9 big-man force his way inside the paint has been difficult to withstand, considering the size advantage he holds among other centers in Miami.
“I think more than any year in the past that this team is really deep,” Brown said. “When it’s time for other individuals to step up they can because they have the ability to do so and that’s how we are as a team. We know that any given night, if someones in foul trouble or whatever the situation may be, we have a deep enough bench or roster that is going to do a great job.”
Having had a portion of players established in the program for over a year, along with a vocal senior class headlined by Fernandez, a Belen transfer, locating leaders on the team hasn’t been an issue, and that’s kept them consistently successful.
“Every day that passes by they don’t lose track of what’s important,” Brown said. “They don’t waste any time because, with COVID-19, we can stop playing basketball at any point in time, so we make the most of our opportunity in practice and in the game. Hopefully, once we get through COVID, that stays with our program. Every time you come to practice you have to make the most of it, every time you have a game you have to make the most of it.”
The Warriors closed out their regular-season schedule Thursday with a 57-50 victory over Mater Academy. That 75 percent winning ratio is their highest since 2018-19 (0.80%), where some late-game errors versus NSU University School kept them from advancing to the 5A Final Four. That said, being prepared since the summer has been crucial for Westminster, as they look to get past that hump.
“We were able to watch a ton of film and did a bunch of stuff virtually through the summer that I think ended up helping us a lot,” Brown said. “While a lot of teams weren’t doing as much, we were always doing something virtually, always connecting, always watching film to make sure all of us were on the same page. Once we were able to play, we had an understanding of what we wanted to accomplish as a team and individually as well.”
Next up for the Warriors is capturing the 3A District 16 tournament, where they open as serious favorites to win it all. Then it would be regional play, where they’d likely have to take on Florida Christian before advancing to states.
Having failed to defeat the Patriots for the last two years, it’ll be a challenge that can ultimately determine their legitimacy. Regardless, Brown isn’t limiting his expectations.
“The goal is to win a state championship,” he said. “I think it’s been a realistic goal the last number of years here. It’s something we’ve been talking about since day one, and we’ve been talking about it since the summer. We have weekly team meetings where we talk about team growth, and that’s always the center of our goal.”