What can Jefferson do for an encore ?

Jefferson Mid-Summer Preview

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

The Jefferson Falcons were the feel good story of the 2013-14 basketball season. They started surprisingly fast winning 21 consecutive games to set a school record. They ended up making semifinal appearances in the Morris County Tournament and state semifinals before bowing out with a 25-2 mark.

Going into December varsity coach Joe DiGennaro knew that they were unlike any team he had ever coached.

“That was a special season,” DiGennaro said. “It’s going to be hanging on the gym walls in Jefferson forever.”

It was a different type of team. Not scrappy, determined underdogs of past Falcons squads but a team that used its natural ability and talent to the fullest and often overwhelmed opponents with double-digit victories. Consequently, he had to coach them in a way that suited the players more than himself.

“Last year I had to take the reins off them,” DiGennaro said. “They were too athletic. We had to spread the floor and let them attack the basket. … We didn’t work the hardest last year to be honest with you. We were just so athletic and so talented at all spots that we took it easy sometimes and took our athleticism for granted.”

41 bb st spjeffJefferson’s Bryan Langan is taking his fearless drives and leadership to the University of Delaware. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

DiGennaro admitted that although he enjoyed what his team did, it was awkward for him as a coach. At times their skill and athleticism took over games and who can argue with their success. The team that will be wearing the Jefferson uniform this December will not be as athletic or experienced. That doesn’t mean it won’t be as successful but it will certainly look a lot more like the Falcons teams of old.

Looking back

There was definitely a tight group of talented seniors that provided leadership during the 2013-14 season. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the improvement of guard Chris Telman. The 5-foot-10 athlete, who will continue his basketball career at Stevenson College in Maryland, emerged as a force on the team.

“Chris Telman took so many bad shots last year but those were the shots he made,” DiGennaro said. “He shocked everybody last year with the way he improved. I’m going to miss him tremendously. He was such a wonderful asset for us offensively and defensively.”

Bryan Langan was consistent in running the Jefferson offense. He also knocked down threes and was fearless on the drive.

“He was irreplaceable,” DiGennaro said. “He was such a leader and knew the system inside and out. I know it’s a cliche about being a coach on the floor but he really was.”

The athletic ability of Tyler Jones and J. R. Reese goes without saying. Jones set a school record 40-point performance against North Warren. He battled illness most of the second half of the campaign but his length and ability always earned the respect of opposing defenses. Reese, who started all four years, showed tremendous leadership skills and did a lot of the hard work on defense and rebounding as well as contributing points. Vin Ginefra also played a big role up front with boards, putbacks and strong interior defense. The team’s success would not be possible without all of their performances.

Some of the graduating seniors are continuing their play in college. Most notably Langan, who has chosen to be a hard worker and good teammate at Division I Delaware.

162 bbst jeffwm

Jefferson coach Joe DiGennaro enjoyed the ride but is happy to return to his coaching philosophy this year. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“They are very happy to have him,” DiGennaro said. “He could have played Division II basketball but he wanted the Division I experience. He knows he’s not a Division I player but he wants to walk on. He talked to the coach. He understands what he is stepping into and accepts it. They are glad to have him and he is going to have a blast. He’s going to be a great kid for them, a great practice player and he will be there every day, working harder than anybody.”

Looking forward

The Falcons are losing their starting five and a chunk of their bench but DiGennaro believes that Jefferson has enough returning players with promise to have a successful season.

“I think we are going to surprise people,” DiGennaro said. “I think our program is in a very good spot. We are not going to have the games we’ve had in the past. Hopefully, we can put up some W’s.”

One memorable returnee is 6-foot-5 center Joe Rossi. A sore back has kept him from a lot of the off-season workouts but his experience from last year will certainly help. Connor Asay, who saw some time on varsity, is expected to run the offense. His ability was visible in Hopatcong Summer League play.

“He’s a nice player,” DiGennaro said. “He is going to surprise a lot of people. Just playing behind Jones, Telman and Langan he didn’t get a lot of time but he certainly got his reps in practice. We’re expecting him to have a big season.”

Anthony Anderson, a 6-foot-4 athlete with strong leaping ability, should do a lot of the things that

Jones did. His ability to dunk and block shots should create plenty of thrills for the Falcons. Brendan Gill, who is expected to be Jefferson’s football quarterback, leads the contingent of seniors anxious for more time on varsity. Sophomores like Conor Brown will be pushing for opportunities, too.

What the Falcons might lack in physical ability, they expect to make up in hustle, initiative and good old fashion hard work. They are also a group that DiGennaro can relate to a little better.

49 bb st spjeffChris Telman, center, played a big role in Jefferson’s historic season. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We like to run the layup offense,” DiGennaro said. “We like to have everyone touch the ball and be very patient. For me as a coach, I like it a little better. I felt we were a little out of control last year. Without a doubt that’s the way I had to let them go. I’ve taken back control of my program this year.”

Off-season efforts 

Jefferson is always active in the off-season. They played well in the Hopatcong Summer League reaching the tournament semifinals. Another highlight is the summer is team camp over at East Stroudsburg during a June weekend. Like many teams they also hold a basketball camp for the youth players in Jefferson Township.

“We run two huge camps for back-to-back weeks in July where we have workouts every day and we always get 100 kids at the camps,” DiGennaro said. “Every one of my players and all my assistant coaches have been campers for me at one point. That’s how old I’m getting now. It’s just a great thing that we do. We get great numbers and preach program and being a part of something.”

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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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