Hanover Park Mid-Summer Preview
By Mark Kitchin
They may not have been the most successful basketball team in Hanover Park history, but Coach Todd Hartman believes the 2013-14 edition of the Hornets will always be something special.
“It was one of my favorite teams ever,” Hartman said. “They were the most selfless team ever. They got what being a basketball team was all about. You are not going to get too many teams like that. I was really happy for them.”
The Hanover Park team was certainly one of the most balanced teams around. The Hornets usually had a different standout every game. Now that most of those athletes are not returning to wear the black and gold, Hanover Park will have to develop a new group of players in order to compete at the level of last year’s 17-6 squad.
Nick Burbella, Matt Geisser, Emmet Simmons, Max Reynolds, Tom Vaddekedam, Kevin Healy have all moved on and as a group will not be easy to replace.
“Every one of those kids either started or played every night,” Hartman said. “We played 10 or 11 kids every night. The closeness of that group and the way they played together — that’s the biggest thing. We are missing more than one individual. We are missing them as a group. Even organizing open gyms. I had to do very little. A lot of it was taken over by them. We had nine guys that averaged between 7 and 11 points a game. This year were going to be constructed a little differently.”
Hanover Park coach Todd Hartman rallies the team during Morris Knolls Summer League action. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Each Hornet had a role to play, but as far as consistency and leadership point guard Burbella loomed large in orchestrating the offense. Simmons also handled the ball well. Geisser was a sharp perimeter shooter. Reynolds was an athletic presence. Vaddekedam was an interior defender and rebounder and Healy was scrappy and tough as nails. The season started as no other in Hanover Park history. The Hornets played three games in Orlando over the Holiday break. Hartman believed it made a difference in the team dynamic.
“I think the reason that team was as close as they were was because of Orlando,” Hartman said. “It wasn’t just the trip but all the things we had to go through to get to the trip. Whether it was the fund raisers or some of the obstacles that were kind of thrown at us. It made us very much like a family. We had to rely on each other to get it done. There’s no doubt that it carried over on to the basketball court.”
After a 2-2 start, the Hornets won eight of their next nine with only a blemish against Delbarton during that string. A loss the Randolph in the Morris County Tournament opening round was tough to take, but Hanover Park rebounded by winning eight of its next nine games including a seven-game winning streak. In state play the Hornets had an opening game romp against Madison but struggled against a talented Newark Central team.
Even though Hanover Park lost quite a bit to graduation, they still have three players with experience to build around. Brad Daugherty, Donny Dattolo and John Crown were in the mix quite a bit and have a feeling for the speed and athleticism of varsity play. Daugherty, who has gotten varsity time the last two years, plays big and has a good inside touch.
“Brad has really stepped up,” Hartman said. “He was one of those kids that really took a lot from those two teams that he played on. He’s about 6-foot-2 but he’s put on 10 or 12 pounds of muscle. He’s been working out hard. He just has a knack in there. He’s one of those guys whose game kind of belies his height. He is able to get things done. He’s a lunch pail, hard hat. He gives you your money’s worth every single night.”
Much is expected of Crown, who had some good offensive games and ran the point at times last year. It’s likely he will be running the offense much of the time this season.
“I think John Crown is going to be one of the best players in Morris County this year,” Hartman said. “The biggest thing is you don’t want him to feel he has to carry the whole burden all by himself. You don’t want it to manifest into forced shots, turnovers, You still want to keep everyone else involved.”
Dattolo is also being asked to step up. A transfer from Morristown-Beard, he was one player that benefitted greatly from the Orlando experience. He can help the Hornets on both ends of the floor.
“The trip helped Donnie,” Hartman said. “We had five or six days together. You can’t help but build relationships. By the time we got home from there, we really were a team. There was no feeling out or anything.”
There will be a lot of new names on the varsity team this year. Two players that have stepped up early are upcoming juniors Alex Mazzone and Matt Pitts.
“Alex is 6-foot-3, 215-pounds,” Hartman said. “He has a big up side. The only thing stopping him is how hard he wants to work at it to be good. He can score. He can handle the ball really well for a big. He has a nice touch around the basket. Sometimes he gets too busy on defense and is not physical enough on offense. Right now the hard thing is keeping him on the floor and out of foul trouble.”
Donny Dattolo, left, should play a major role in keeping the Hornets among the area’s top teams. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Pitts is a 6-foot-1 swing player who has the skills and athleticism to be a top notch defender.
“Defensively at camp, we were putting him on point guards,” Hartman said. “We were putting him on big people. He’s as tough as nails. Last year he played a little varsity, he suited up and got some minutes. He played the whole game on jayvee. He got used to having the ball in his hands and being counted on to score. That gives him a great advantage coming in this year.”
There will be others in the mix but Hartman admits the Hornets will have a lack of experienced depth this year which might alter its overall game plans. The Hanover Park coach uses the summer season to find out what his players are capable of doing and consider his team’s options.
“Right now I have bunch of ideas about things I think would be good for this team,” Hartman said. “Over the summer you find out, if we want to have the opportunity to do this, we have to fix this, this, this and this. Is it worth the time it takes to try and fix it or is it never going to be an asset for us?”
Hanover Park might do more off-season work than any other team in Morris County. The Hornets were busy in the spring, competing in a league in Linden. The Hornets had 12 kids commit to it initially and brought 10 most nights.
“Basically the top 15 teams in the state, Linden, St. Peter’s, St. Anthony’s were there,” Hartman said. “A couple of the guys — Brad, John and Donny — said they really wanted to step up the competition so we did that and they played two games at night for a week down there. We did well. The only team we really got beat up by was Linden. It was a good barometer for them.”
The Hornets brought two teams to Rutgers Camp and had a good experience. They also had their usual open gym schedule. For the second consecutive year, the Hornets reached the title game of the Morris Knolls Tournament. Hanover Park takes the July league very seriously. They hold shootarounds and scrimmage in their own gym an hour or two before traveling to Denville to play their league games.
Basketball players that don’t compete in a fall sport, continue their efforts on the court. Hanover Park usually enters a team in the high school league at Hoop Heaven in East Hanover. Basketball is truly becoming a year-round sport at Hanover Park.
“It’s kind of keeping up with the Joneses,” Hartman said. “In order to keep competitive you have to keep playing. Basketball is one of those sports where you have to play. You develop ring rust really quickly if you are not out there playing. We graduated 15 seniors in the last two years. We have a lot of new pieces that we have to assimilate. We’re throwing them in the fire as early as we can and getting them used to playing together.”