Whippany Park finds a silver lining

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

There was a time when Whippany Park boys basketball was considered among the worst boys basketball teams in the state and had a string of nearly consecutive three seasons without winning a game. In the last decade, Jeff Kleinbaum’s Wildcats have ranged from respectable to tremendous, something that is not easy to do for a Group I public school program. WhippanyPark’s season wasn’t the best at 9-15 but there is a silver lining for the cloudy Wildcats.

Senior leadership: Guards Nico Ignozza and Marc DiFalco and Ralph Alfonso were important to this year’s Wildcats. Kleinbaum gives them credit for working hard and keeping WhippanyPark competitive. They also helped make the underclassmen comfortable as they found their way on the varsity level.

Highlights: The Wildcats season was derailed somewhat early when their leading scorer Tyler Raff, who was averaging 21 points a game, left WhippanyPark to attend a private school out of state. WhippanyPark had to change their thinking and decide what would be best for the team in both the present and the future. The result was they brought some players up to the varsity level.

“I think we had a very successful year,’’ Kleinbaum said. “We integrated young kids who are going to be important to our program for the next two years into the varsity this year. I thought it was a successful integration.’’

WhippanyPark was quickly eliminated by Hanover Park in the preliminary round of the Morris County Tournament. They also got a glimpse of things to come in state play when the Wildcats posted a 62-52 win over Dunellen before bowing out in the next round.

Hope for the future: The varsity introductions of A.J. Holleran and Jake Wadden are significant developments in the future of the WhippanyPark program.

“I’m really excited about the next two years,’’ Kleinbaum said. “A.J. has a chance to be one of the top 15 players in the county in the next two years. The kid had 352 pointsthis year. At this rate, he’s going to be a 1,000 point scorer for us. He has a phenomenal attitude and he’s going to be a very good basketball player. He’s a shooter. He knows the game. He went from being a point to being a two-guard. He’s a real two-guard now because he has filled out a little bit. ’’

He was also pleased with the physical growth of Wadden and junior Josh Kallen. Both are about 6-foot-4 and filling out their frames. Wadden in particular has offensive skills that will benefit the Wildcats.

Ricky Tango, who also played as a sophomore, is the team’s most effective defensive player at the guard spot. Their prospective point guard is Tom Michelski, another player to keep an eye on.

“We skipped him from the freshman team and he played jayvee,’’ Kleinbaum said. “He’s going to have a chance to play varsity as a point. … We’re going to have good offensive players who have height. We’re going to have shooters. We’re also going to have a couple of handlers so I think it’s going to bode well for a very successful season.’’

Offseason plans: WhippanyPark didn’t wait for spring to end in order to start playing together again. They have a team in Hoop Heaven’s spring league which is in Whippany. They also plan to compete in a fall league as well once the summer season is over making them one of the few school teams that will compete all year around in some manner.

In July they are going away to a sleep away camp at Rutgers University for four days. It will be a thrill for Kleinbaum, who was a member of the Rutgers team in 1976 that went to the NCAA Final Four.

Whippany Park will take a part in as many as two summer leagues. The Wildcats have already selected to attend the Morris Knolls Summer League. They have also played in the Newark Academy Summer League for the last 10 years. They will play in it again if the private school continues its summer league tradition. If not, they will stick with just the Knolls league.

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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