By Mark Kitchin
WhippanyPark season review 2012
Jeff Kleinbaum knew almost from the opening tap of the first game last season that his team had the chance to have a very good year.
“Early on we broke a jinx and we beat a good Verona team,’’ Kleinbaum said. “On a Tuesday afternoon after the opener, we went there and we beat them by 10. We were just so solid. Then we played Governor Livingston and we were up 15 at the half and we held on. … We were 4-0 and played a 5-0 Madison team and lost by one. I realized early in the season that this was a good team. It wasn’t just a fluke team.’’
The Wildcats had a very good season despite having a lot of youth and inexperience. They finished 17-7. Most of them have returned with the intent of capitalizing on lessons they’ve learned from last year’s success. They have a chance to become something special.
Versatile Ricky Tango (5) has a variety of roles and duties on the Whippany Park team. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
WhippanyPark did get off to a 4-0 start and despite the narrow loss to Madison. The Wildcats rebounded with wins over Butler and Bernards to go 6-1. Twice during the season they rebounded from losing efforts with four game winning streaks and were competitive in nearly every contest.
One of their most memorable games was against Mountain Lakes on February 9. On a night when Lakers star Ethan Lubowitz scored his 1,000th career point, the Wildcats rallied for a 72-63 win on the road.
In Morris County Tournament play, they got off to an inexplicably slow start before defeating Dover 61-33 in prelim action. The ninth-seeded was matched against dangerous Randolph. They were competitive for a time but the athletic Rams eventually swamped them, 67-33
In state play, WhippanyPark handled North Arlington, 67-46. In the second round the Wildcats youth and inexperience showed up in the late stages of a game against talented New Providence. The Pioneers prevailed 50-42.
Only one key player graduated from the Wildcats but he was a big piece. Senior point guard Tyler Raff averaged 17 points and seven assists for WhippanyPark. The boys soccer Player of the Year in Morris County proved also to be prolific on the court. He was a great distributor of the ball but he could also shoot and drive to the basket. When he was fouled late in games he would often knock them down.
Jake Waddon’s improvement could give the Wildcats a big lift. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Scorers A. J. Halloran and Jake Waddon are back, bigger, stronger and with even more confidence on the court.
“The program is on the upswing,’’ Kleinbaum said. “I’m very, very happy with what’s been happening. A.J. Holleran has been dominant in every game we’ve played. At Rutgers (camp) they were trying to box-and-one him and they couldn’t. Jake has come on dramatically. He’s now one of the top 15 players in the county. There’s no question in my mind.’’
Last year Ryan Cahill and Ken Jones were tag team forwards now they have to play a full game side by side. They were counted on for rebounding and interior defense. Now they will have to step up on the offensive end, too.
“The two big guys were like a tandem last year (Cahill and Jones),’’ Kleinbaum said. “Now they have to learn to play together. Our big guys are 6-foot-4, 6-3, 6-3 up front. We have to learn how to guard a little better. We have bigger, slower guys but we have a lot of kids coming off the bench. I think we will be competitive in every game.’’
Specialist Ricky Tango will draw the tough defense assignments. A tenacious athlete with great stamina, he can cover athletes with great quickness.
The point position opens up several options including a chance for the Wildcats to play some promising freshmen. Lefty Ryan Gainor has made an impression over the summer but will have to continue improve during Fall League play.
A.J. Halloran may be handling the ball quite a bit for Whippany Park this winter. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Kleinbaum, a Rutgers alum and member of the 1976 team that reached the NCAA Final Four, brought his team to Rutgers Camp for the first time in years.
“It was such a great idea that we had to do it,’’ Kleinbaum said. “I think our kids had a little bit of an eye opener. They got down on a Friday and they had a game an hour and a half later. On that first day maybe they thought it was summer camp and not basketball camp. We started out 0-2 against teams that I thought we were the same as and then we were beating teams as good as us or that we thought were better than us. There were some really strong teams. There was a team from Pennyslvania that had kids 6-foot-9, 6-7, 6-5 up front. We ended up finishing 4-2.’’
Kleinbaum thought some intangible parts of the weekend camp were just as important as the performance on the court.
“Our kids came out and saw what other kids do,’’ Kleinbaum said. “They saw what St. Anthony’s (second team) does to prepare. On a day we came down early because we weren’t playing until later and they saw guys in the back courts doing drills. They thought, “Whoa!” I think that really helped them.’’
Although he admits he will never get the summer league referees to call a charge when the Wildcats defense is setting up to draw one, Kleinbaum said he’s glad that Newark Academy brought back their Summer League. It brings just the right level of competition to at a site that is fairly close to the Whippany area.
“I think this is good for us,’’ Kleinbaum said. “We’re playing three times a week. We’re practicing in between. Our kids don’t complain. They are always here. You don’t have that summer, he’s there and he’s there type of thing. The competition was very good here for us.’’