A season of obstacles for Butler

2012 Butler season review

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

The Butler boys basketball team entered the season with high expectations but an injury to a key performer forced the Bulldogs to retool their style of play. Finishing with a 9-13  record was not a disaster for the Group I school that has always put more of an emphasis on football than any other boys sport.

The biggest tragedy may be that head coach Jon Simoneau decided to step down at the end of the season because of the difficulties he has encountered after Hurricane Irene. Eight feet of water flooded his Pompton Lakes home and seriously damaged the foundation. He spent the winter dealing with insurance issues and trying to find a suitable place to live for himself, his wife Carrie and 3-year-old daughter Rylee. Under his watch, Butlerhas posted its best basketball efforts in more than a decade. He coached the Bulldogs for four seasons (35-58) and helped them to two state tournament berths.

“It’s just been such a long, confusing path,’’ Simoneau said. “When I was head coach I had all these plans for the Butler kids. I knew that once we had the flood I didn’t think I could take care of coaching both football (he is head coach at Bernards High) and basketball.’’

Butler coach Jon Simoneau, left, and his assistant Brandon Mefford talk to the team. Simoneau will not be back next year.

Season in brief

Butler’s season took a dramatic turn when James Spadaccini tore his ACL early in the fifth game of the season. As a junior Spadaccini led his team in scoring and was on track to become the Bulldogs first 1,000 point scorer in more than a decade. His injury forced dramatic changes.

“It hurt us,’’ Simoneau said. “We became a .500 team. It was a credit to the kids in Jim’s class for stepping up. We went from a team that would speed it up and down to a team that had to slow it down.’’

The Bulldogs had to make its changes on the fly and were competitive but could not keep up with some of the better teams in the NJAC-Liberty. In the Morris County Tournament Butler fell to Morris Hills, 56-37. In state play, the Bulldogs played valiantly but lost to Leonia 52-39 in the opening round.

Senior leadership

Spadaccini showed it early and had a thrilling 44-point, six 3-pointer game against Wallkill Valleywhich gave the Bulldogs high hopes. The vast changes the team had to make showed how much his absence hurt it.  Simoneau gave credit to Mike McConville for stepping up on both offense and defense.

“He did everything for us,’’ Simoneau said. “He was our inbounder and we scored 76 percent of the time on inbound plays. He had nine or 10 points and five or six assists a game.’’

Nick Dalpan also played well. The two-year starter proved to be a strong athlete and a good teammate for the Bulldogs. Nick Costa ran the point and did his best to keep the team together.

Nick Dalpan (21) helped keep the Butler basketball team together during a trying season.

Reasons for hope

Butler does have some guys to rally around next year but only if they decided to come back. Billy White is a 6-foot-6 athlete with long arms and leaping ability but a limited amount of hoop experience. “He dunks the ball with no problem,’’ Simoneau said. “He has long arms and can block shots. He doesn’t play much basketball off season but he’s someone who realized this year that basketball is something he can do. He’s still a very athletic football player who plays basketball.’’

Another Bulldog football athlete sophomore Nick Ballestreri stepped in to have several double-digit scoring games including an 18-point effort against Whippany Park. Overall he averaged 10 points a contest and showed tremendous promise. “He was going to be our sixth man,’’ Simoneau said. “He became a leader on and off the court. He had to adjust a lot and he ended up second team all-conference.’’ Kevin Fitzpatrick was also surprise. At times he drew the top defensive assignment and was successful in limiting his opponent.  

Off-Season Plans

The success of the Bulldogs program will be determined by who replaces Simoneau. The former coach injected a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the program at one of the smallest public school in Morris County. A decision will not have to be made for awhile but Simoneau would consider it a tragedy if assistant Brandon Mefford, a former Pope John standout, isn’t chosen.  

“He’s been with me for two years,’’ Simoneau said. “I felt confident that if I could hand it off to him, he will eclipse me. Everyone involved with the Bulldogs agrees. I made sure I emphasized that when I chose to leave. He’s already working with the kids as if he was the coach.’’

Keeping the players interested in continuing with the basketball program is another matter.

“Some of the football players are getting better for us,’’ Simoneau said. “We’re going to keep them going a little bit. We’ve been trying to get the kids to do basketball things year-round but football is big here.’’

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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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