By Lauree Padgett / Exclusive to Haddonfield[dot]Today
All things considered, the fact that the Haddonfield boys basketball team lost its last regular season game last Tuesday night to Eastern Regional High School seems the least important event of recent days to focus on. However, I’ll provide a recap of it before moving onto taking a look at the teams participating in the Group 2 South Jersey NJSIAA tournament, which starts this Tuesday, 2/21. (Because I am sure anyone who follows South Jersey basketball is aware of what happened during the final of the inaugural Camden County Tournament between Camden and Camden Eastside and the consequences thereof, I’m not going to go into that topic beyond how it will impact the Group 2 matchups.) And in between, I’m going to take a look at the latest chapter in a story about how two schools from different conferences (and even groups) continue to have a connection that has been decades in the making.
But first …
Eastern Regional High School vs. Haddonfield, 2/14/23
After both the Dawgs of Haddonfield and the Vikings of Eastern lost their quarterfinal games in the Camden County Tournament on Saturday, 2/11, I was not too surprised (in fact, I was expecting it) to see that the two teams were going to face each other in a nonleague game a few nights later. This made sense because if they had both won on Saturday, they would have played each other in the Camden County semifinals.
At the outset, the Dawgs were not looking too sharp on the court. The Vikings jumped out to a 5–0 start before back-to-back buckets by Zach Langan and Patrick Ryan cut the lead to 1, 4–5, at the 5:12 mark. But just like they would do throughout the game whenever the Dawgs got close, the Vikings went on a 3-point rampage, hitting two in a row and then a 2 to go up 13–5. After a basket by Sam Narducci, the Vikings struck again from behind the arc, making it 16–7. A 2 from the field and a basket from the foul line by Teddy Bond made it 16–10 with 1:18 left in the quarter. The Dawgs were still playing tough defense (despite all the 3’s) but by guarding against the 3, more than once during the game this set up an easy Viking layup, such as the one that was made with about 55 seconds to go, which pushed the lead back to 8, 18–10. Bond hit a bunk shot to get the Dawgs to within 6, 12–18, and that’s how the quarter ended.
The Vikings started the second quarter off the same way they started the first, scoring 5 on a 2 and 3, increasing their lead to double digits, 23–12. Almost half of the quarter went by before the Dawgs got a basket by Narducci, but luckily, the Vikings missed some scoring opportunities as well. So with 4:01 remaining in the half, it was 23–14, Eastern.
The Dawgs got a point from the foul line on a shot by Matt Morris and then a basket by Daire Roddy to cut the lead down to 6 with 3:29 on the clock. The Vikings got a basket before the Dawgs finally hit a pair of 3’s in a row, one from Morris and one from Narducci. So with less than a minute to go in the half, the Dawgs had clawed back to within 2, 23–25. However, the Vikings got the last basket—a 3—to end the quarter and were up by 5, 28–23, as the teams headed to the locker rooms.
The points put on the board in those last 4 minutes actually enabled the Dawgs to outscore the Vikings by 1, 11–11, in the second quarter. And the fact that Haddonfield had possession to start the third was promising. After a foul by Eastern, the Dawgs lost that possession due to bad ball-handling, and the Vikings took advantage, scoring a 2-pointer. After the Dawgs missed a shot, Roddy stole the ball, but the end result was not a bucket under the Haddonfield basket.
Another basket by Eastern made it 32–23 with 6:24 on the clock. The next 2 points were made by the Vikings on the foul line, and with 4:50 to go, Eastern had that 11-point, double-digit lead back, up 34–23. The Dawgs got 1–2 from the line and then 2 off a shot by Langan, but Eastern was still up by 8, 34–26 with 3:50 remaining. After procuring two offensive boards and surviving a near-pickoff by Roddy, the Vikings had a 3 roll, rather than swoosh, in, and then got another one of those annoyingly easy layups as Haddonfield got caught protecting against the 3 again. This gave them their biggest lead of the night, 13 points, at 39–26, with about 1:40 left in the quarter.
Narducci hit a 3 to make it 29–39 with 1:27 on the clock. Eastern got another 3, this time as a result of an easy layup and a resulting foul shot, to make it a 13-point, 42–39, game with less than a minute to go. A drive by Bond ended the quarter, and with 8 minutes left in the game, the Dawgs were trailing by 11, 31–42.
I may sound like I’m dissing the Dawgs, but I think most of us who had been following the team all season knew the team was playing tired. Unlike most seasons, the Dawgs had been consistently taking on three or four opponents each week, and for 5 of those weeks, had a 17-game win streak to show for it. Even though the Dawgs lost this matchup, in the last 8 minutes, they dug deep and started playing their kind of game. Thanks in part to 3’s by Morris, Narducci, and Bond, the Dawgs put 18 points on the board to the Vikings’ 14 and made a game of it. The 3 by Morris got the Dawgs to within 5, 45–50, with 2:01 left in the game. That was as close as the Dawgs would get, but when the buzzer sounded, even with their 49–56 defeat, it looked like the team had shaken off what hadn’t been the best 8 quarters of the season and had gotten their collective groove back.
1st Quarter: Haddonfield, 12, Eastern, 18
2nd Quarter: Haddonfield, 23, Eastern, 28
3rd Quarter: Haddonfield, 31, Eastern, 42
4th Quarter: Haddonfield, 49, Eastern, 56
Teddy Bond: 15
Sam Narducci: 13
Matt Morris: 7
Patrick Ryan: 5
Zach Langan: 4
Daire Roddy: 2
Nate Rohlfing: 3
The HMHS–ERHS Connection
Do you know where Dave Wiedeman was before he came to Haddonfield Memorial High School for the 1971–’72 school year and basketball season? He was the head hoops coach at Eastern Regional High School from 1965–1971. Dave had two stints as the Bulldogs’ head coach with a 3-year break in the middle and finished up his 16-year career at the end of the 1991–92 season. Along the way, he led his teams to many Colonial Conference titles and two state championships. The first came in only his second year as head coach, in 1973 and gave the school its first-ever state basketball title. (You will be able to read more about that memorable game in an article I will be posting in a few weeks, which will look at that 72–73 season and feature interviews with Wiedeman and four of his players: Kevin Eastman, Kirby Wood, Tom Betley, and Chris “Hank” Whitten.) After Wiedeman left Haddonfield in 1992, guess where he went? Back to Eastern! Although he continued to teach after he put away his trusty clipboard, Dave would coach the Vikings for four more seasons, through 1996.
With Dave gone from Haddonfield, guess who took the head coaching job? Gary Wilson, who had been, yup, you guessed it, the head coach at Eastern. (Old-time Dawg fans will recall that Wilson’s wife, Donna, was the head girls coach at Haddonfield for several years, producing many winning seasons.) After Wilson left, Phil Smart, who would later become the Haddonfield AD before taking the same job at, no, really, Eastern, took the coaching reins. And in 1999, those reins were handed over to Wiedeman—Paul, Dave’s son, who has coached the Dawgs to a 23-5 record so far in this, his 24th season. (No, Paul did not come to HMHS via ERHS. He had been the assistant/JV coach at West Deptford, the team the Dawgs will face in the first round of the South Jersey NJSIAA tourney …)
In those 24 years, Wiedeman has led his teams to five state titles and seven appearances (the first coming his “rookie” year at Haddonfield). He’s coached a lot of players in those 24 seasons, including Nick and Rob DePersia, who were the guards on the team starting with their freshman season in 2011–12 through their senior season in 2014–15. In those 4 years, the team had an amazing record of 96–20. Both continued playing basketball while attending Rowan University. Rob is now an assistant men’s basketball coach at Villanova University. Nick just finished up his first year at—can you stand it?—Eastern as the JV coach and assistant to head coach to Kevin Crawford. He spent last year as an assistant coach at Triton.
If your head is not spinning yet (mine is), here is a little aside on the Crawfords’ ties to Haddonfield. Jim (the elder) taught and coached at Christ the King at Haddonfield for I have no idea how many years. His oldest son Jimmy played at Camden Catholic before earning acclaim (and the nickname Skyman) at LaSalle University. Jimmy’s two younger brothers, Mike (1971) and Dennis (1976) played for Haddonfield. (Dennis is one of numerous basketball players from one of the Wiedeman eras who has been inducted into the Haddonfield Athletic Hall of Fame.) Jimmy is Kevin’s dad. His other son, Matt, is the head coach at Camden Catholic, and Matt gets a bit of help from its former head coach, aka, his dad …
OK, back to the Eastern–Haddonfield connection and the JV game which proceeded the varsity game at the Haddonfield boys gym on 2/14. It was the first time since I’ve been going to and/or covering games that two former Haddonfield players whose careers did not cross but who were coached by the same person, Paul Wiedeman, came up against each other as opposing coaches. Nick DePersia’s counterpart was Anthony Parenti, who graduated from Haddonfield in 2011, the year before Rob and Nick’s freshman season. Parenti’s senior year, the Dawgs went 23–6 along the way to winning the Liberty crown in the Colonial Conference. Parenti has been JV coach and assistant to his former coach for 7 seasons.
While I was watching the end of the JV game (which the Dawgs won, but not by much), I had this combination “Sunrise/Sunset”–”Circle of (Basketball) Life” moment. For as the game neared its conclusion, DePersia stood in front of the Viking bench, Parenti stood in front of the Dawg bench, and their former coach—all of whom I had rooted for as Haddonfield players—stood in the alcove taking it all in.
I wanted to know what it felt like for Wiedeman as DePersia and Parenti went up against each other. He said he was “”very proud to see two former players coaching and being role models for the next generation of high school athletes.” Who knows? Maybe one of them will become the Haddonfield head coach down the road after Wiedeman retires. (But that won’t happen any time soon, as Wiedeman has his own son, Matthew, yet to coach, and Matthew, a 5th grader, has a few years to go before he becomes a freshman at HMHS.)
I got the chance to talk to Nick at the Camden County Tournament for a few minutes, and later reached out to him via Facebook to ask him what the experience had been like to be back on his old bouncing grounds as a coach for the competition.
“It was very weird sitting on the other side,” Nick acknowledged. “It was awesome being back in that gym because it’s been so long with Mikey’s teams playing at Cherry Hill East.” (Lest anyone has forgotten, Mikey DePersia took over the point guard position as a freshman in the 2015–16 season, the year after Nick and Rob graduated. In his junior and senior years, due to ongoing construction, the Dawgs played all their home games at Cherry Hill East.) Nick also told me that Coach Wiedeman’s first comment to him was how strange it was to see him in blue.“Gotta get you back in red and black,” Wiedeman said. (My sentiments exactly!) For Nick, coaching against Parenti and Wiedeman was a tremendous experience. “I knew a lot of their sets and actions, so we were very well-prepared coming into the game. It was a big [varsity] win for us going into the playoffs. I know that was our coach’s first win ever against Haddonfield.” And may it be his last! (Just kidding. Well, not really, because it’s hard for me to get too upset when there is a DePersia on the winning side …and it’s not the last game of the season.)
I’m not quite through with all these connections. While Nick was aware of the Crawford–Haddonfield links, he reminded me of one more involving Haddonfield and Eastern. His grandfather Jon Batchelor, a stellar athlete at Haddonfield, who, along with his wife Mae, is also a member of the HMHS Athletic Hall of Fame, was a math teacher at Eastern for 33 years and was the head football coach there for 17 of those 33 years.
Nick, who likes being a high school coach, has a “day” job as a civil engineer. But who knows? Perhaps he’ll eventually follow the path of his grandpa or his former high school coach, who got a business degree from Rowan (it was still Glassboro when he started his college career) before realizing his heart was on the court, not in an office, and ended up turning to teaching and coaching. In the meantime, it’s nice knowing that both Nick and Rob are sharing the lessons their high school coach taught them about the game of basketball and the game of life.
After the NJSIAA’s official brackets for the four public and the two non-public groups came out on 2/14, I turned to someone who knows as much about South Jersey basketball as anyone in the state: Tom Betley. How, I wanted to know, did Betley see Haddonfield’s South Jersey Group 2 bracket shaking out? First, Betley wanted to make sure everyone knew the Dawgs had “earned” the #1 seed. I think most of you can read between the lines and infer what Betley meant, so I’ll leave it at that. Before the unexpected turn of events last Thursday, Betley was projecting a Haddonfield–Camden showdown in the finals. He predicted Camden would be up by 12 at halftime and bluntly said, “We’ll lose by 31. [We] can’t hang with them.”
Here are the other teams he thinks have some potential to advance into the later rounds. He noted that Lower Cape May Township (#9), who Haddonfield blew out last year because they had all lower classmen, is much improved. Betley calls Medford Tech (8#), who will be Lower Cape May’s first-round opponent, “dangerous.” Whoever wins that matchup would face Haddonfield, who Betley says will “cruise” by West Deptford. He thinks Overbrook (#5), in Haddonfield’s half of the bracket, and Cinnaminson (#3), in the bottom half, could wind up in the mix. He reminded me that Cinnaminson has former Dawgs’ freshman coach Pat Harvey’s twin nephews, noting, “They are good.” He also added that Cinnaminson has had an easy schedule, which is why their record is good but they aren’t ranked.
Camden’s unexpected exit from the tournament before it even began drastically changed the dynamics of the South Jersey Group 2 bracket. With Camden, which had been seeded at #2, out of the lower bracket (Lindenwold has been awarded a 2–0 victory), there could be a showdown between Cinnaminson and Middle Township (#7) in round three. After initially picking Cinnaminson to advance, upon doing further research, Betley revised his position and now favors Middle. In Haddonfield’s half of the bracket, it could be a win-all-or-go-home rubber match between Haddonfield and Sterling (#4) in that semifinal round. Biasedness aside, Betley and I both would give the edge to Haddonfield, who would then not have Camden waiting for them in the wings.
The saying, “What a difference a day makes” may be old, but in this case, it rings true. Four days ago, all prognosticators had the same view: Nobody was going to beat Camden on the way to or in the Group 2 final. Now, as a result of the brawl at Cherry Hill East on 2/16, no one has to. The absence of Camden has infused quite a bit of excitement into that looming final: It’s now up for grabs instead of literally being a no-contest done deal. Although it’s anyone’s game, Betley’s got Haddonfield and Middle Township, who have a history of close South Jersey finals, duking it out for a chance to advance to the state semis. That he’s sticking with his alma mater to come out on top 45–41 is more a sign of Betley’s honed hoops instincts than his partisanship to Haddonfield.
Let’s go Dawgs!!!
And speaking of going, all fans must purchase tickets in advance of Tuesday’s 5 p.m. round-one game versus West Deptford. Click HERE to get to the Haddonfield Ticket Box Office: https://haddonfieldathletics.org/main/ticketing. No other passes will be honored. You can also purchase tickets for the girls game at 7:00 p.m. versus Camden. Both games will be live-streamed on the Haddonfield Athletics’ YouTube channel.