Four years ago, Josiah Sabino stepped into his first basketball practice at Orange Park High School, and Raiders coach Derek Kurnitsky still remembers it.
The speed. The quickness. The movements of a budding track star.
One problem, though: As Kurnitsky put it, he "couldn't shoot."
"We joke about it now," Kurnitsky said. "But back then, he asked me how he was shooting, and I told him, 'You've got to fix your jump shot, fix your form."
Some 1,453 points and countless hours of shooting practice later, Sabino is the king of Raiders hoops.
Flying high to the rim, slashing into the lane or scoring from beyond the arc, Sabino did it all for Orange Park in his senior year, earning the Times-Union's All-First Coast athlete of the year award in boys basketball.
Sabino averaged 20.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Raiders, leading Orange Park to a district championship. He also became the first Orange Park athlete in any sport to win an All-First Coast player of the year award since Katherine Zander in girls basketball in 2009-2010.
'Just start hooping'
Can't shoot? Not a problem anymore.
"I had to just start hooping," Sabino said.
The quest to develop his shooting touch was one more step on his hoops journey.
Sabino doesn't remember all of the details about his first basketball experience as a fifth-grader in a YMCA basketball, but one memory sticks out.
"I just remember not being the best," he said.
It took a while. Years, in fact. But he stuck with the game, motivated by his parents and the drive to show his skills against the area's elite.
Kurnitsky said there wasn't any question about Sabino's athletic aptitude when he arrived at Orange Park. But he had to develop the skills, the confidence and the basketball know-how, all while managing the transition from middle school to high school.
"He had to become a student of the game, and he did," Kurnitsky said.
Sabino spent his first year at Orange Park on the junior varsity squad, then began to work his way into regular playing time as a sophomore. Work was the key word.
Work on shooting, yes, but also work on mastering the dos and don'ts of life in the backcourt.
"I worked hard on my shot, on my handle, and my bounce started to get much better than it was before," Sabino said. "It made me become much more dominant."
In his sophomore year, Orange Park entered the playoffs with a brutal away trip to Choctawhatchee to open the Florida High School Athletic Association regionals. The Raiders lost in the Panhandle, but with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds against Choctaw, Sabino gave a larger audience a preview of what he could accomplish.
"I said after that game, 'He could be really good,'" Kurnitsky recalled.
Building a champion
Sabino's basketball growth really began to take off during the long stoppage around COVID-19 in 2020.
While the sports world remained on pause, Sabino made the Orange Park Athletic Association his own.
"Josiah just lived at that park," Kurnitsky said. "You hear about old-school players outside at the parks. I tell people, that park made Josiah a Division I basketball player, and he made himself a Division I player there with his work ethic."
During that summer, Sabino said, he poured his energy into building a champion.
"It was run, hit the jump rope, get a gym session in, get another gym session in later," he said. "It was probably four, five hours a day, constantly grinding and improving my game."
When he wasn't working out or shooting hoops, Sabino said, he was combing through online video clips of NBA stars on YouTube, studying to pinpoint how they put their talents to use.
He said he focused on Steph Curry's outside shooting, on Kyrie Irving's dribbling, on Jimmy Butler's defensive game. When he returned to the court in November, it showed.
"Now, his form on his jumper is about as good as I've ever coached," Kurnitsky said.
All-around Raider winner
As much as Sabino achieved on the court at Orange Park, he continued to display his talents beyond basketball.
In track and field, he won three consecutive county championships and two FHSAA district titles in the triple jump, including a career best of 45 and a half feet, and earned a pair of meet titles in the high jump.
He even raced for the Orange Park swim team, earning all-county honorable mention recognition, and Sabino credits the transition from the water to the hardwood with helping to mold his hoops career.
"It really helped my basketball. It [swimming] works out pretty much everything, and it allowed me to be more flexible on the court and it helped me to get more strength in my legs," Sabino said.
This fall, he trades Clay for Duval. Sabino will be staying close to the First Coast to begin the next stage of his hoops career. He signed with Jacksonville University, planning to join the Dolphins under second-year head coach Jordan Mincy.
In the long run, he said, he's hoping to lead the Dolphins to a championship in the ASUN Conference — and, eventually, to leave the same kind of impact that he's made at Orange Park.
"I know it's going to be different, but I look forward to contributing as a freshman, and I hope I can be a d... Click here to read full article