MOORE HAVEN — Just when it looked like the Moore Haven High School boys basketball season couldn’t get any better, it did, and Yopalakiyo Osceola was right in the middle.
“This was the best game,” Yo said after his senior night Jan. 27 was capped by a stirring late rally that propelled the Terriers past rival Okeechobee, 77-74. “Pretty special.”
Yo, who played his first season of football last fall on Moore Haven’s offensive line, picked a good year to make his debut with the basketball team. The victory against Okeechobee epitomized Moore Haven’s surge this season under first-year coach Matt Zinser, who guided the club to its first winning season (19-8) in more than a decade and its first appearance in the state’s regional playoffs since 2003. Moore Haven ended its regional drought thanks to its runner-up finish in the Class 3A-District 9 tournament that sent the Terriers into the regional quarterfinals where their season ended Feb. 11 with a loss to Community School of Naples.
“It’s my first year coaching in Moore Haven,” Zinser said. “What I have learned is that basketball was a big tradition here. They used to win a lot of ball games and that’s what we’re trying to get it back to. We’re trying to build on this year. This is a good foundation we’ve set. We just got to continue to get better.”
Although this season marks his first and last year with the team, Yo has enjoyed every step in playing a part of that foundation.
“I like it,” he said. “We have good coaching.”
Being the team’s sixth or seventh man, Yo has fulfilled his role as a 6-foot-2, 250-pound backup center who comes off the bench to battle on the boards at both ends. For a team that loves to run, substitutes play a vital role at Moore Haven.
“In basketball, you have six, seven, eight guys you depend on, and Yo is one of those guys we depend on,” Zinser said. “Yo has been a joy to be around. Every time he steps on the floor we can always depend on him getting rebounds and giving us solid minutes playing defense.”
Yo isn’t known for his scoring, but he did register a season-high seven points in an 80-58 win against Lake Placid in January. He scored six points each in three other games. Rebounding and providing size for a small, quick squad are what the Terriers count on the most from Yo.
“Yo has a good-sized body,” Zinser said. “He goes in and does his job on the rebounds. He doesn’t really have super-duper spring off the ground, but he does what he’s supposed to do and he uses his body and blocks out and gets rebounds.”
Senior night for Yo and two other Terrier players from the Class of 2016 started in a pregame ceremony. As a few students in the crowd yelled out his first name, Yo was accompanied onto the court by parents Dana and Richard Osceola.
Instead of heading to the sideline after the ceremony, Yo received a chance to stay on the court as a starter at center with more than a dozen family members in the bleachers. After exchanging pre-tip handshakes with Okeechobee, including Brighton Reservation resident Demetrius Clark, Yo helped stake Moore Haven to an 18-10 lead after one quarter.
Yo didn’t score any points in the game, but he notched a nifty assist with an alert pass in the paint to Tevon Thompson for a layup that gave Moore Haven a 60-58 lead early in the third quarter.
Moore Haven’s trip to victory lane only came after the Terriers erased a four-point deficit with a 7-0 run to end the game. Yo was on the bench in the waning moments, but he was a big part of the postgame celebration at midcourt with his teammates and classmates.
With his first seasons already in the books for football and basketball, Yo said he briefly set his sights on playing baseball but opted to take a break. Still, whether it was blocking for running backs on the football field or blocking shots on the basketball court, Yo made favorable impressions at every turn while helping both Terrier teams to winning seasons.
“He comes in, does his job and plays hard,” Zinser said. “That’s all I can ask of him.”