With only one returning starter and a new coaching staff, a new flavor of Florence boy’s basketball is emerging.

“Most Florence sports have a tradition of winning and they are a contender every year,” new head basketball coach Caleb DeGroot said. “So when you take on a job at Florence, you take on a target. When you play people, they are going to be ready for you.”

With recent losses to Loyola and Hamilton in very physical matches, DeGroot is still optimistic about the team’s upward trend of individual improvement and team dynamics.

“Every one of our players is coachable and they’ve improved a lot on being disciplined on both sides of the basketball,” DeGroot said. “They’re making plays out of the offense and coming out strong. When we can do that for four quarters, it will be a beautiful thing. I have no doubt we’ll create championship-style basketball when it all comes together.”

Senior Cody Liles is a team captain and example in both athletics and academics. Basketball is his only sport and his focus is apparent.

“Cody is our best senior as far as scoring and overall playing,” DeGroot said. “But regardless of his performance on the basketball floor, he puts the most work into his game year-round. He works on his body, with lifting and nutrition, which a lot of high school kids can forget. He’s not an overly vocal leader, but a solid lead-by-example guy. I’m lucky to have him.”

Liles said he’s bought in to Coach DeGroot’s emphasis on daily improvement.

“Coach is always telling us to get better and better every day,” he said, “Every time after practice we all say it together, ‘Day by day we get better and better,’ and he’s right.”

Liles has been playing basketball since seventh grade and participating in as many camps and training opportunities through the years. He remembers his first game vividly and it continues to provide motivation.

“I remember the first play of my first game when I got the ball,” he said. “I had so much adrenaline, I got the ball and just ran half way down the court without even dribbling it. I remember that so clearly. Everyone was looking at me like, ‘What is this kid doing?’ Luckily I’ve figured it out since then.”

Liles said he’s always put academics first and then sports. “It’s another way to discipline myself,” he said.

He’s looking forward to his senior season and feels the pressure to perform.

“It’s nerve wracking and scary to realize that this is my last year playing at Florence,” he said. “I just keep thinking how could it be possible that this is my last year playing basketball, but you never know the future. You just have to work on today and improving today.”

Despite recent losses, Liles is also optimistic about the rest of the season.

“I feel like we should do pretty good this year,” he said. “We’ve got great seniors and (Marcus) Zeiler has a lot of experience. I know I’ve got to keep a positive attitude and not bring anyone down.”

Cody is the son of Alan and Jayne Liles of Florence.

“My dad and mom are my best cheerleaders,” he said. “Even though he has work, my dad has always found a way to take me to my camps and tournaments. I’ve greatly appreciated that.”

Liles said no matter what happens during his last season, he hopes his community and his teammates always remember his hard work ethic.

“When it’s all said and done, I hope they remember how hard I worked at basketball and how much time I spent in the gym to improve my skills – shooting, dribbling, anything I could to get better,” he said. “I remember how bad I was in the beginning and how much I’ve improved over the years and that’s a good life lesson to take with me.”