Malachi Wideman will not be walking through that door and his viral dunk highlights will now only be found with a #GoVols hashtag.
Indeed, the uber-talented, two-sport star is missed at Venice, but don’t think his former teammates are anything less than ready for a breakout 2020-21 season.
“We have seven seniors, so we have a lot of guys coming back,” Venice coach Mike Montgomery said. The good news is they got to play a full year with Malachi, which helped them out tremendously, and of our seniors, most of them have been playing together since they were small.”
Montgomery described his team as having “10 guards and two big men” though they aren’t necessarily small. Still, lacking depth in the post means Venice will turn to its overall speed to push the ball up the floor and menace opponents with man defense or a 1-3-1.
“Just because of our speed alone, it allows us to play man, but then there are teams you don’t want to man-up because they’re not great shooters,” Montgomery said. “I’ll give up a 3 to a team that can’t shoot. I don’t want to give up drives and dunks.”
Scoring will come off whatever Venice produces at the defensive end.
“The loss of Malachi has forced some of our other players to raise their level, which is good because we’re going to be more of a ‘run the ball’ team,” Montgomery said. “I don’t want to have to set it up. We don’t have a 6-7 or 6-8 guy that we can walk down the floor and post up and take advantage of. We’ve got to get out and run.”
At the heart of the team is Tristan Burroughs, a 6-5 senior and three-year starter. Montgomery said Burroughs’ nose for the ball and his penchant for rebounding will be the fulcrum around whom the Venice transition operates.
“He’ll be our leading rebounder, no doubt about it,” Montgomery said. “He’s just one of those kids who has a nose for the ball and he never quits.”
Montgomery said he expects Venice to get into high gear once football players Jayshon Platt and Myles Weston, a pair of juniors, get on the court.
“They have both been at varsity level, as well, so I have a good core group coming back and we’re really excited about this year.”
In the end, Venice will look very familiar to long-time supporters of the program because the style of play will be a matter of reverting back to the pre-Wideman days. Because of that, the senior-laden team will be in sync from the tip, Burroughs said.
“We had to change with (Wideman) because it’s a different style you play when you’re playing with someone like that,” he said. “All together here, we’re all really good friends and its all good energy on this team. We have a good time together and we know what we’re supposed to be doing, be it in practice or in a game.”
Can Venice make a deep postseason run with this group? Can it post the school’s first winning season since 2016-2017? Montgomery is optimistic.
“We come out and compete every game. We’re not going undefeated – I’d love to, but that’s not realistic – but we’re not losing every game, either,” he said. “We just have to win the games we’re supposed to, and compete in the games they don’t think we should win.”