The building blocks are there for Randolph success

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Randolph 2012 season review

There wasn’t too much more that the Randolph Rams could have asked from the 2011-12 season.

They captured a share of an NJAC  division title, earned a trip to the Morris County Tournament semifinals and an overall produced an exciting and memorable season,

They were one of the year’s pleasant surprises, rebounding from a four-win campaign to become one of Morris County’s best teams.

Talented guard Julian Aiken sparked the offense and the Rams played just enough defense to make for a thrilling campaign. Building on the advances of a 19-9 season may be difficult especially after some graduation losses, but Randolph and coach Bill Kilduff seem to have the talent and energy to match or even surpass last season’s efforts.

Randolph’s Julian Aiken led the state in scoring and helped Randolph to a memorable season. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Season Highlights

There were numerous games where the Rams stood out. They got off to a 1-3 start and 5-5 at one point but then Randolph picked up its play and won 12 of its next 13 games. It was a dramatic turnaround from last year’s 4-win season.

“We had to really commit (to winning basketball) this year,’’ said Aiken after the season. “We forgot about everything else and focused on basketball, winning and hard work. Ryan (Harris) and I both had good years and we helped carry the team.’’

Two of the most memorable games came back-to-back. The Rams defeated Mendham 65-64 in a buzzer beater at their home court on February 7 to help set up division honors. Four days later they rallied to defeat top-seeded Morristown-Beard 71-62 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the Morris County Tournament which was played at RandolphHigh School.

Randolph which was seeded eighth, topped Boonton 79-45 in the preliminary round, and trounced ninth-seeded WhippanyPark 67-33 in opening round competition before hitting the quarterfinal round. Aiken registered 41 points in the upset victory over the Crimson.

The semifinal game was a thrilling affair that was decided by a controversial block-charge call in the final seconds of the game that eventual champion Chatham won 52-48.

A regular-season win against Delbarton earlier that week and Mendham’s win over Morris Knolls cemented a 3-team co-championship in the National Division of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference. In state play, Randolph defeated a scrappy Ridgewood team 57-54 in the opening round. Randolph wasn’t so lucky against Paterson East Side, which ended the Rams season with a 70-41 loss.

Senior leadership

You couldn’t find more of a leader than the Rams’ Julian Aiken. The senior guard emerged as the leading scorer in the state. The Morris County Player of the Year averaged 25.6 points a game for the Rams. Aiken was a slasher and driver that had a nose for the basket. He was very aggressive going to the goal. Fouled often, he usually hit his free throws which helped him pile up points late in games. His 41-point mark in the win against Morristown-Beard was his high mark but he also had 30-plus point performances in triumphs over Hunterdon Central, Monroe, Morristown-Beard (in a regular-season loss), Roxbury, Morristown, West Morris and Mendham (including five 3-pointers in their win). He also contributed 135 rebounds and 95 assists to the mix.

“His level of play, his leadership role, and the fact that he created confidence in the younger kids made a big difference this season,’’ Kilduff said. “We didn’t have a lot of experience coming back (from last year). He took us under his wing and said, ‘we’re going to be good.’

“Even in his big scoring games, he would never take more than 20 shots. One of the things he got even better at was in understanding his own game. I think last year he took a lot of those bad shots. This year he understood what he could and couldn’t do. The shots that he could make and the shots he could get. He really worked to get by people off the bounce. Nobody could keep him in front of him.’’

Aiken looked at numerous schools, including a couple of Division I programs but decided to continue his education and basketball career at Division II Assumption College in Massachusetts.

“I thought it was a great choice,’’ Kilduff said. “He can play in that league the same way he played in high school.’’

Randolph will also miss some key role players – most specifically Connor McMahon, an important rebounder and defensive stalwart.

“Connor McMahon did all the little things,’’ Kilduff said. “He’s our leading rebounder. He’s a big strong kid. He’s going D1 for baseball.’’

Matt Bonner and Garrett Gaudioso have also moved on. Neither player was big on the score sheet but both provided plenty of energy and the intangibles that winning teams need.

Ryan Harris had a tremendous junior year. The Rams will be asking even more of him in his senior season. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Future prospects

The Rams have a lot to build upon. Kilduff believes that this upcoming team might be the most athletic group to have ever stepped on a Randolph court.

The Rams have to find away to account for the 26 points a game that Aiken provided either by having other scorers step up or improving on the defensive end.

Consistent improvement from Ryan and Aaron Harris will help. Ryan, a guard, developed into a key secondary scorer with his 12.3 points per game average. He also hit some clutch shots during the season.

“If he plays like he played for us in the off-season he should be able to bring that level up,’’ Kilduff said. “He will be one of our go-to guys. He is a better shooter than Julian. He just doesn’t have that (fearless attitude) when he goes to the basket. He is not as good a finisher.’’

Aaron, a forward, made athletic contributions on defense (most notably against Morristown-Beard’s Chris Jenkins) and on the boards and also popped in a couple points on his own.

Guard Michael Talbert will also see more time and will be counted on more as he goes into his junior season.

“He only missed four or five games for us,’’ Kilduff said. “He’s going to be a 1 or 2 combo guard. He even played a little three for us last year.’’

A big plus will be the return of Pat Archer the team’s physical 6-foot-4 center. He saw plenty of action during his sophomore year. Chris Woodbury, a 6-foot-4 forward spent most of last year on the bench with a knee problem, can also change the team dynamic if he can stay healthy.

“He is going to help us,’’ Kilduff said. “He’s a pure inside high school player. We saw a lot of him this summer.’’

If the Rams can get sprinter Thayer Wallace to play up to his potential, they might have a more interesting mix and add a little more versatility.

“He is a big time Division 1 athlete for track in the 200, 400, 100,’’ Kilduff said. “He’s extremely quick. He knows how to play. He’s not a great shooter but he could become one of our better defensive players.’’

Another addition could be Morris Catholic transfer Josh Sharp. Although he missed last season for medical reasons, he is considered an athletic and physical competitor. His presence may give the Rams more options.

One player not expected to be on the Randolph roster is Bryce Aiken. All indications are that the youngest and possibly the best athlete in the Aiken family will attend Pope John in the fall.

Randolph’s Aaron Harris (33) is capable of being a shut down defender. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Off-season plans

The Rams were very busy this off-season. They appeared in one summer league and three team camps with mixed results.

“We played a lot,’’ Kilduff said. “We played about 30 games. We played well when we had everybody but we rarely had everybody.’’

They had enough players to have positive showings wherever they went. They had a good showing in the Bloomfield Team Camp in early June where they faced quality teams from Essex and Bergen County. They also mixed in the Rider Team Camp at the end of June which allowed them to play central Jersey and Pennsylvania foes and the FDU-Florham Camp which sprinkled in some MorrisCounty rivals. During the weeks, the Rams had a team in the Bloomfield Summer League. Their results were uneven because not everyone could stay committed to the schedule.

“We played Bloomfield, Newark Tech, WayneHills and Montclair,’’ Kilduff said. “We got knocked out of the playoffs early but it was good competition.’’

The only disappointing thing to happen to the Rams over the summer was the loss of their talented assistant coach Mike Radzieski. The former Hofstra standout was hired to take over the head coaching job at Madison when the Dodgers former coach Billy Librera became the Chatham High Athletic Director.

“If they are any good, he’s going to get a lot out of them,’’ Kilduff said. “He knows the game. He understands the kids and he gets people to play for him.’’

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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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