Up by 18 points at halftime, a Bayless victory in Friday’s district final over Gateway looked like a sure thing. It wasn’t. From the city’s Public High League, the Gateway STEM Jaguars employed an up-tempo, full court-press defense that forced the Bayless Bronchos into mistake after mistake. With the Jaguars cutting the Bronchos’ lead to 50-42 with 4:05 left in the third quarter, Bayless coach Pat Triplett called a timeout. He was not pleased. He knelt down in front of his team, slapped the floor with his hand, and yelled, “Pass the ball.” The message was clear, direct, and loud: Quit dribbling so much, and quit holding onto the ball; pass the ball quickly to beat the pressure defense.
Triplett’s team got the message. After the timeout, they passed more quickly and effectively. And though Gateway pulled within five points in the fourth quarter, Bayless won the district final 90–80, earning the right to go to the sectional final against Affton on Wednesday night in Hilllsboro. After the game, Triplett admitted that after yelling a bit, he toned down his advice in the fourth quarter.
“They started to do what I asked them to do. We had played this team earlier in the year, at the Chaminade Tournament, and scored 30 points in one quarter against that pressure defense,” Triplett said. “I always ask them, ‘Do you want to win the ball game, or do you want to be the hero? If you want to win the ball game, do what you’re supposed to do.’ You have a kid putting the ball on the floor when he’s not really a ball handler. He wants to be the hero. That’s when the turnovers start. A kid takes a three-pointer when he’s 0-for-30 for the year. You have a kid taking shots that he shouldn’t.”
Bayless played the game like the senior-laden team it is. The five on the floor have been starting since they were sophomores. It’s obvious that they are experienced, in sync, and well-coached. It’s also obvious that they reflect the new reality in Bayless, an inner-ring suburban community in South County.
The starting lineup includes Excell Harris, Munir Hirkic, Edin Mehmedovic, Muhamed Pojo, and the coach’s son, Patrick Triplett Jr. Coming off the bench are Demir Tankosic, Colby Maynard, Victor Dang, Dionte McDonald, and Joey Cacciatore. It’s a high-school basketball version of the Mod Squad: four African-American players, four Bosnians, one Italian, and one Vietnamese-American. (For added stylistic effect, Dang sports a faux-hawk haircut, with a high ridge of hair down the middle and each side closely cropped.)
Triplett, who doubles as assistant principal at Bayless High School, has been in the district since 1994. The African-American Army veteran has been a teacher, athletic director, and basketball coach. “I’ve seen Bayless change. It’s done a 360 since I started there,” he says. “It’s great. We have a very diverse culture. We have 21 different languages as the first language of the kids. They get along great; they respect each other. It’s awesome.”
Ron Klutho remembers helping a Bosnian youth enroll in Bayless High School in the mid-’90s. Klutho, who works with social-service agency Places for People, has worked with the Bosnian community for 20 years. “That was unusual back then, because most Bosnian families were moving into the city,” he recalls. “I helped this kid enroll in Bayless High School, and [the school was] very welcoming even back then; they bent over backwards to make this kid feel comfortable.”
Klutho says many Bosnians moved out of the city for the usual reasons—and it wasn’t just the image of public schools. “When Bosnians were able to buy homes, they moved out because a lot of Bosnians like to have space, a big back yard to have barbecues. Bayless had decent-sized yards, it was fairly inexpensive compared to some other suburban areas, and they felt welcome in the school district.”
According to a Bayless School District spokesperson, about 46 percent of the Bayless school population is Bosnian. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education statistics show that 71 percent of the enrollment in the district is white, 12 percent is African-American, and 11 percent is Asian. The four-year high-school graduation rate at Bayless is 86.5 percent, which is comparable to the state average of 85.7 percent. At the state level, 50 percent of students qualify for free-and-reduced lunches; at Bayless, it is 61 percent. The composite ACT score at both Bayless and at the state level is 21.
By most measurements, Bayless is a solid school district with affordable housing. It offers opportunities to a wide range of students, including coach Triplett’s son, who is the team’s 6-foot-4 point guard and ranks 16th in the area, with 20.2 points per game, and fourth in assists, with 7.02 per game. He’s also been in the district’s gifted program since elementary school and plans to attend Brown University, where he will continue playing basketball. His father is proud of his son’s basketball IQ and that he’s going to an Ivy League university.
Coach Triplett is also upbeat about the rest of the team, including Edin Mehmedovic, a big man who plays center and is a good ball handler, as well as an imposing post man with deft baseline moves. “It’s hard to believe that at 6-4 and 250, we let him handle the balll,” Triplett says of Mehmedovic, “but he makes good decisions with the ball.”
The senior center says the team’s chemistry extends beyond the court. “If we go out somewhere, we go out as a team,” Mehmedovic says. “We don’t separate. We have good communication on and off the court. If we hang out, it’s the whole team together.”
Mehmedovic came to the United States and St. Louis in 2000, when he was 5 years old. The family lived in the city for a few years before moving to Bayless School District. Mehmedovic has played with Patrick Triplett, Muhamed Pojo, and others since middle school. Pojo, a 6-foot-4 forward with a tattoo on his shoulder outlining Bosnia, scored nine of his 12 points against Gateway in the fourth quarter. He’s a force in the middle and a solid rebounder.
Though Bosnia has its own basketball history, with Mirza Delibasic being the most famous Bosnian player and playing on numerous European champion teams, Mehmedovic and others admire NBA stars. For him, though, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is it. “Kobe was always so smooth,” Mehmedovic says. “He makes it looks so easy.”
Mersed Ramic, a Bayless basketball prime player from 2004 through 2007, agrees. “It was always Kobe Bryant, and it still is,” Ramic says. “He works so hard; he’s so determined. I wanted to be like him—that’s why I worked so hard.”
Ramic, who’s 24 years old, followed the familiar Bosnian path, first attending the Public High League’s Gateway, back when it was called Gateway Tech, then moving with his family to Bayless. He starred at Bayless, played briefly at the community-college level at Meramec and Forest Park, then attended Harris-Stowe University. Married with a child now, he’s planning to go back to college and become a teacher, so he can coach basketball. He’s glad his high-school alma mater has a basketball team with a Bosnian presence. “All races always like basketball—it’s the best sport in the world,” says Ramic. “And Coach Triplett is the best coach in the world. He was a sergeant in the Army. You better listen to him—he’s tough.”
Ramic sees the current team’s chemistry as a product of knowing each other well. “They live in the same community. They walk to each other’s houses. They play pick-up games,” he says. “They’ve been around each other for years.”
Ramic has a son now. He describes being a father as “the greatest thing in the world.” He has dreams for his little one, too.
“I hope he grows up to be an athlete,” he says. “He can do whatever he wants, but I hope he’s an athlete, so I can coach him.”
SOURCE: St. Louis Mag
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