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HMHS Boys Basketball: Senior Dawgs: The Elite 8

By Lauree Padgett / Exclusive to Haddonfield[dot]Today

When trying to come up with a term to describe the senior Dawgs—Mike Feinstein, Zach Langan, Phil McFillin, Matt Morris, Sam Narducci, Daire Roddy, Nate Rohlfing, and Patrick Ryan—I wanted something to reflect both their number and their value. It took some time and some pondering, but finally “the Elite Eight” came into my head. This is what the teams from the NCAA basketball tournament are called that have made it through the earlier rounds to get to the quarter-finals. These teams are the cream of the crop. For many reasons, several which I’ll mention, this nomenclature seemed to fit.

I had the fun job of interviewing these eight young men during halftime of the JV’s game versus Paulsboro on 2/6. When I reached out to their coach Paul Wiedeman about the prospect, he quickly replied that he would set it up for us to meet in the cafeteria. As I saw the boys, who had been sitting up in the bleachers behind the Haddonfield bench, start to head down and out, I did the same. We met up a few minutes later and gathered around a big round table. In years’ past, I had the chance to get to interact with the players a bit, greeting and congratulating them on the court after games, so by the end of a season,  we knew each other a little. COVID, as it did for many things, changed all that, and those on-court meetups stopped. That meant this was literally the first time I had talked to any of them. It seemed fair that if they were going to share some info about themselves and each other, I should give them a bit of my backstory. I told them that I’d been coming to games since I was about 6 and that I had started covering the games, first for local town paper, The Haddon Gazette, which morphed into The Suburban, By the time the name changed again (to what I can’t recall),  I was back to just being a fan in the stands. During the mid-2000’s, while Haddonfield was winning back-to-back-to-back Group 2 state titles, David Hunter, publisher of What’s on in Haddonfield, had me write up some NJISAA tournament games,and then I migrated to Haddonfield Online. In those days, I often came home from games, wrote up the summary, and it was posted the next morning. Now, as you know if you are reading this, I do a mostly weekly recap for Haddonfield Today.

I told the seniors that I’d been to every state final game since 1973 and told them a funny story (well, the story itself isn’t funny, as it still sticks in my crawl 35 years later) about how Haddonfield had gone 31–0 en route to the state title Paul Wiedeman’s senior year only to lose in the first round of the inaugural Tournament of Champions game due to outrageous (I told you I’m still bitter) refereeing in the final minutes. They listened and responded appropriately to the parts about a technical and an offensive charge, both being called against Haddonfield, that cost us the game. Then I said, “Enough about me.”

All eight seniors have been playing together since their days in the HBYA (Haddonfield Youth Basketball Association), which starts in middle school, i.e., 6th grade. I first asked if that seemed like 7 years ago or not. Just like it would take them a while to warm up on the court a little while later, it took a few minutes for them to give me more some nods and smiles. As he often does on the court, Daire got the ball rolling, so to speak, acknowledging how cool it was that they had all stuck with the game and were still playing together as seniors.

My next question got them going and really illustrated how comfortable they are with each other on and off the court. I wanted them to describe their teammates with a word or phrase, and the answers I got made us all laugh, as often the terms they gave me could have been taken an entirely different way and resulted in me writing a different kind of story that could have piqued the interest of the Haddonfield PD.

For example, Matt was called “shifty” and “elusive,” as well as “goofy and fun.” What his friends meant by the first two words was that Matt has the ability to change direction on a dime and avoid the opposition so he can drive in, pass the ball, or, as he did a few games later, stop short and drop in a 3. Nate labeled many of his teammates “shooters,” which is quite true. (Looking at stats in the 2/11 edition of, which reflected games up through 2/8, Haddonfield has three players, with Sam number 1 despite all his missed games, in the top 10 for 3’s made. Together, their numbers add up to more than 160. Daire, Zach, Nate, and Mike have also hit their share of 3’s during the season.)

As for Nate, he got called “tall,” “strong,” “beast,” and “grizzly.” But my favorite word was given by Zach, who used his arms to emphasis what he meant by “Loooong.” At 6-8, Nate has quite a wingspan, which explains why he’s leading the Colonial Conference in blocked shots, averaging just under 2 per game. He is one of several Dawgs that have missed some games due to injury, and he confirmed that while he felt a bit out of shape his first few games, he is “back.” His ”strong” showing in the paint later that night echoed that statement.

While his teammates have all taken turns starting this year, I told Mike that I suspected he might love basketball more than anyone for sticking with basketball even though he does not get as much playing time. He gave me a big smile and said it is “always fun” to be a part of the team with his buddies. And when one of the adjectives shared for him was “underrated,” all seven of his mates nodded vigorously that this was an understatement. Their mutual appreciation of and respect for Mike came out during that night’s game, when they made sure everyone in the stands knew what he could do with a ball in his hand. Whenever he was on the court, they fed him so he could shoot. Thanks to their unselfishness, Mike finished with 14 points along with Nate.

Unselfishness is part of the Dawgs’ mantra, part of Coach Wiedeman’s core belief that every player wearing the Haddonfield uniform is part of the team, an important part. If you look at the Colonial Conference assists leaderboard, you wouldn’t likely be surprised that Daire is in the top spot. But proving how well they mesh on the court, several other Dawgs are in the top 20 for “dishes” per game. No one has to be, or seems to want to be, the “star.” Sam’s had a few monster games, but on any given night, three players will finish in double digits, usually only separated by a point or two.

“Unselfish” is also the word that when doled out for Daire, got his fellow senior Dawgs pounding the table in agreement. He was also called “talented” and “clutch.” “Clutch” was certainly the word to use when as a freshman and not the tallest Dawg on the court, Daire intercepted a pass with the Dawgs down 2 with about 2 seconds left in the game. Even then, he had the calmness on the court to plant his feet so he was centered before he let go a 3 that swooshed in and won the game (and an appearance on ESPN). I had noticed that in the past few weeks, Daire had started taking shots instead of just setting up his teammates to score. Was that intentional? Daire said that both he and Coach Wiedeman had decided he needed to take shots when open. It’s been paying off.

Patrick is “tough,” a “Dawg” (which I interpreted to mean he does not give up trying to get the rebound or score in the paint), and “physical.” But apparently this young man, who is among the Colonial Conference leaders in rebounds, also has a “silly” side.’s Kevin Minnick has also ID’d Patrick as one of the conference’s unsung heroes. In the 2/11 online issue, he writes that Patrick “does all the dirty work and generally makes the paint his home.”

What did his teammates have to say about Zach? They cited his defense, that he has a hand in everything going on, and that he is “the glue guy.” He was also sidelined with a calf injury for quite a while, but also says he is feeling good again. His on-court play also indicates that this is the case.

Phil has a reputation among his teammates of being cool on the court, nonchalant, and sneaky. He is sneaky because you never know what he’s going to do: Drive hard into the paint to score, make a great pass, or knock down a 3 just when it’s needed. And no matter which of these actions he takes, he demeanor does remain cool as a cucumber. (Although, I have to admit that after sinking a few of his trademark corner 3’s, he was playing to the crowd—the Sterling student section specifically—a few nights later. But, to quote a line in the Drama Club’s upcoming spring musical, Chicago [check out the drama club page,, for the March dates], “they had it coming.”)

Sam had been sitting directly across from me—with his right ankle and foot in a boot—during our interview session. He has very intense eyes. It’s probably one of many reasons the senior squad had a lot of superlatives for him: “basket,” “sniper,” “that guy,” “consistent,” and  “leader.” Even when he’s been sidelined, now for the second time, Sam still conveys that leadership quality. The good news is that the MRI he had the next day enabled Sam to get out of the boot. According to his dad Gary, Sam really wants to be on the court for today’s 4 p.m. Camden County tourney game versus Cherry Hill West, because he knows his teammates will need him. But whether he is on the court or not, Sam is a big part of the heart and soul of the team.

How, I asked, have all their years together, made them better on the court? Sam spoke up first, saying it has given them trust in each other. It’s also helped them almost instinctively know each other’s moves on the court. “We’re good friends on and off the court,” Phil added, saying that is why their chemistry is so natural. Daire expanded on Sam’s comment about trust, explaining that they can speak to each other freely during a game if a situation arises and no one gets upset. I saw a perfect example of this during the Winslow Township game on Saturday when Nate got called for a foul he didn’t commit and got a bit riled, since it was his fourth and he had to leave the game. A quick word from Daire and a pat on the back helped to calm Nate down.

Finally, I wanted to know what the Dawgs’ legacy means to them. Daire called it a “culture,” and being expected to win. Each team each year wants to keep that going. Phil also said there are different aspects. It’s about being on the court, but it’s also about what you do in the classroom and outside of it.

I can’t express how impressed I was by these eight young men. They were attentive, engaging, and polite, but above all, they were the definition of all the parts that make a team not just successful but special. As I made my way back to my seat in the stands, I was weaving in and out of a passel of current HYBA’ers. (It was also HYBA night at the high school.) While many of these boys may end up playing varsity hoops on this hallowed court and serve their team and school well, I suspect none will quite match the qualities exemplified by this elite group of eight.