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Review of Boys Basketball, 2019-20 (3)

Dawgs Hit the Heights

By Lauree Padgett for Haddonfield Today

The Dawgs pose for a group photo to celebrate their come-from-behind win over Sterling on February 20, which gave them sole possession of the Liberty division of the Colonial Conference crown. The team has either won the Colonial Conference outright or shared it for the past nine seasons! Photo: John Fell.

Part 3 of 5: What’s in a Name – And a Gene Pool?

I have known Matthew Guveiyian his whole life, although I confess, I did not really learn how to properly say his last name (“Gu-VAY-an”) until this year (and his little sister Sara had to coach me through it). I actually met him for the first time when he was still a newborn in the hospital. That’s because his nana, Debbie, is one of my closest friends. I have known his mom, Leigh Anne, since she was in single digits. I met his dad, Mike, when he and Leigh were dating in high school. (And yes, I was at their wedding.) But, it is actually with Gary Vermaat, Matthew’s pop pop, who is husband to Debbie and dad to Leigh, where this multi-generational hoops story starts. Gary, you see, played basketball for Haddonfield in the early, pre-Dave Wiedeman coaching days, 1970s. I saw him on the court when I would go root on my sister Carol’s then boyfriend Wayne Grear, although Gary graduated a year after Wayne, in 1971.

Jump ahead to 1983, when, newly graduated, I returned from James Madison University (hey, hey, what do you know, Aiden Bell!) back to my hometown. Without a “real” job, I started getting pocket money babysitting and doing child care for events at Haddonfield United Methodist Church. Sweet little Jamie Vermaat, second daughter of Gary and his wife, Debbie, a Georgia import, was one of the young ones I watched during a young mother’s Bible study. That’s how I got to know Debbie.

By the time the last two Vermaat siblings, Jessica and Kelli, were in high school, Debbie and I were BFFs. So, of course, when Jessie and Kelli started playing basketball, I watched them, just like I’d watched their dad more than 30 years earlier. In 2005, the Lady Dawgs, with junior Jessie and sophomore Kelli, won the Group 2 girls state basketball title, the same year the boys won their second of three straight state titles. In 2006, to show support for the girls and the boys, I went to all the home games, so I could see both teams play an equal amount of times. (Being the true friend she is, once in a while Debbie would say, “The girls game isn’t going to be much of a match, so why don’t you go watch the boys game?”)

In 2010, the Guveiyian clan, which now included Matthew, Andrew, Ryan, and baby Sara, moved to California for Mike’s job. But in the summer of 2018, the family moved back, again for Mike’s job. Since I knew Matthew and Ryan were very involved in hoops (now so is Andrew, and Sara may end up outdoing them all, if you have seen her during the half-court shootouts), I started getting excited thinking of Matthew, who was starting his freshman year in 2018-19, playing for the Dawgs. I managed to get to one freshman game, and when his coach Dave Epstein, saw me, I think he inwardly cringed a little bit, thinking, “Oh no, she’s starting to come to freshman games now.”

This season, when Matthew, who started off his sophomore year on the JV squad, got called up to varsity, I got to see his first game versus Collingswood on February 6. Two days later at Paul VI, I admittedly went a little crazy (hence the blurry image) when he came in off the bench in the 4th to swoosh in a 3 – and nearly made another one before the game ended. At my age (I’ll turn 59 not long after the 2020-21 season starts), I’m not sure if I’ll make it to see one of Matthew’s kids play hoops, maybe even for Haddonfield, but I’m going to give it my best “shot”! For now, I’ll settle for cheering on my third generation of Vermaats in the persons of Matthew and his siblings.

The History of My Dawg Obsession: It’s All Kevin Eastman’s Fault

Did you ever wonder how I became the one of the Dawgs’ biggest fans as well as the unofficial historian from the mid-70s through to the current season without ever having played basketball or having a child who played? Well, it all started with one player, my (now) brother-in-law, Wayne Grear (class of 1970). But during Wayne’s senior year, I had just turned 8, which made me a bit too young to stay interested in all four quarters of any given game.

Two years later, Dave Wiedeman took over as Haddonfield’s head coach, and that season, junior Kevin (aka “Jake”) Eastman began to really shine. That coach and that player were about to change the course of basketball at Haddonfield and South Jersey and to initiate my devotion, some might call it my obsession, to the team and the game. Jake’s senior year, Haddonfield’s season ended in stunning fashion, with he and his teammates, who included Kirby Wood, Chris Whitten, Tom Hare, and Tom Betley, upsetting the highly favored Orange team 76-67 to capture the school’s first-ever state boys basketball title. Sixteen years later, in 1989, Haddonfield went for and captured its second state title, “nuking” Newark Tech in the very crowded Rider University gymnasium, still coached by Dave Wiedeman and featuring Paul Wiedeman, Doug Stewart, Matt Maloney (who would make it to the NBA!), Lionel Coleman, and Charlie Weiler. I was sure Kevin would show up to cheer them on. He did, and I made sure to say hello, stepping, I’m sure, on many toes, as I pushed my way over to him.

On February 9, 2020, 47 (what!?) years after he left an indelible mark on the basketball court at Haddonfield, Kevin was very belatedly inducted into the Al Carino South Jersey Boys Basketball Club Hall of Fame. Aside from leading Haddonfield to that first state championship and becoming the second player in the school’s history to surpass 1,000 points, Kevin went on to play hoops at the University of Richmond (where a scholarship was named in his honor). From there, he would go on to coach at the collegiate level at schools such as Washington State, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Colorado State, and Virginia Commonwealth. He also served as a college AD; ran a highly successful youth basketball camp for many years; was an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, including 2008, when they won their most recent NBA championship, and the Los Angeles Clippers, where he also worked in the front office as an executive; served as an executive for Nike; is a highly sought-after public speaker; and has authored Why the Best Are the Best, a book you may recall was presented at last year’s boys banquet to each of senior player. Sorry not sorry if I’m gushing.

Here is some of what I shared on Facebook about the evening:

I credit Kevin and Co. for my nearly lifelong love of basketball, particularly at the high school level. I should point out, even if it goes without saying, that I don’t root for just any high school team, but ever and only the Haddonfield Bulldogs (Dawgs). Some of my happiest memories, going all the way back to that March [1973] state championship game at Princeton, have to do with watching the Dawgs play. I have met so many great families while cheering on their sons, grandsons, and nephews. … And it all goes back to one of my first heroes, Kevin Eastman, who, four decades later, is still one of my heroes and favorite people.

So it was a privilege to sit with Kevin’s wife, Wendy; brother John and sister-in-law Gretchen; Dave and Paul Wiedeman; and talk basketball with Tom, Kirby, and another favorite player, Dennis Crawford, tonight. Kevin is a gifted public speaker, and knows how to keep your attention. He said, “Dave Wiedeman told me something a little earlier tonight, and I want to tell him he is wrong.” He paused so we could all wonder, “What on earth is Kevin going to publicly correct his former coach about?” And then he continued. “Dave told me I was the one who started to turn Haddonfield into one of South Jerseys’ great basketball programs. But it wasn’t me, Dave, it was you.” I would say they deserve equal credit. Kevin raised the bar for what being a tremendous player on the court and even better person off the court looks like. Dave set the example of what it means to be a tremendous coach not just based on win-loss records, but more importantly based on how his players represented their team and their school and the kind of people they have become. And now Paul Wiedeman is carrying on that winning tradition and mentoring of young men that his father began.

Haddonfield vs. Haddon Heights, the Rematch: February 11 at Haddonfield

On February 11, it was time for the second Dawgs-Garnets game, this one taking place on the Dawgs’ home turf. After the 2-point defeat to Moorestown, the Dawgs had won three in a row, were sporting an 18–2 overall record, and were still registering a 0 in the Colonial Conference standings’ loss column. Everyone in the stands rooting for the Dawgs were hoping that would still be the case after this game … But, alas, it was not.

I actually had a bad feeling about the game’s outcome as I saw the members of the Garnets’ varsity squad entering the gymnasium while the JV match was still in progress. It was apparent to anyone who saw them come in that these young men were on a mission to avenge their last-seconds’ loss at Heights in January. Still, for a while, it looked like the Dawgs weren’t going to let that happen.

The Dawgs were up by 2, 11-9, after the first quarter, thanks to baskets by Connor Fell, Justin Kasko, and Andrew Gostovich, who also hit a 3. It was not a good sign, however, when the Dawgs only mustered 5 points in the second quarter. However, since that’s all the Garnets put up as well, going into the half, the Dawgs were still holding onto that one-basket, 16-14, lead.

Heights’ offense was starting to heat up, though. In the third, they outscored the Dawgs 12-7 to take a 26-23 edge into the last 8 minutes. However, a last-minute comeback was not in the cards this time, as the Garnets built that lead up and claimed a 37-30 victory, getting the Dawgs back for that tough home-court loss a month earlier.

So, now the Dawgs were 18-3 overall and 12-1 in the conference t. Would Haddonfield — not to mention their coaches — let that loss define their season or impact the five regular season games, including three against conference opponents, that remained? The next two and a half weeks would show us what this team was really made of.

The Homestretch

Two nights later, on February 13, the Audubon Green Wave came to town. In early January, the Dawgs had crushed the Wave, scoring twice as many points as Audubon. But after the game against Heights, when the Garnet players had definitely outplayed the Dawgs, how would Paul Wiedeman’s team respond? Here are excerpts of my post-game FB summary:

The game started out well, and the Dawgs jumped out to an 8-2 lead before the Wave started knocking down some 3’s. Their third trey in a row actually put them in front 13-12 with about 2:15 left in the quarter. However, Tommy Mooney answered with a 3 at the other end and put the Dawgs back on top 15-13. A 3 by Andrew Gostovich make it 18-13, another 3 by Gos made it 21-13, and then Connor Fell, who is always hustling, grabbed a rebound off a missed Audubon shot and went to heave it—and got fouled. So literally with no time on the clock, he went to the free throw line by himself and made 1 foul shot, a second foul shot, and a third foul shot, giving the Dawgs an 11-point, 24-13, lead after 8 minutes.

Audubon wasn’t about to give up, though ,and kept scoring in, uh, waves, in the 2nd. The Dawgs never gave up the lead, but Ben Cerrato had to leave the game for a bit after going down hard and coming up limping. And the Dawgs were already short one starter, as Justin Kasko was home with the stomach flu. Still, Alex Kadar and Steve McClane put in some extra minutes and kept the Dawgs going. Although Audubon outscored Haddonfield 18-13 in the 2nd half, the Dawgs were still up, but only by 7, 37-31, when the teams headed to their locker rooms at the half.

Cerrato, who happily came back in the game at the end of the 2nd quarter, got the first bucket of the second half. After Audubon got a 2 at the other end, Kadar and Mooney hit back-to-back 3’s to push the lead back to double-digits, 45-33. Audubon got two 3’s as well, but Gos scored the last two baskets of the third, going up and in for 2 and then hitting one of his trademark 3’s. With 8 minutes to go, the Dawgs were up 50-39.

The Dawgs would get 7 of their 15 4th quarter points from the foul line. While Audubon never stopped playing hard, every time they got the deficit under 10, Haddonfield would answer. The closest the Wave would get would be 56-48 with 3:41 left in the game. When the horn sounded, after Coach Wiedeman had cleared the bench, the Dawgs had earned a scrappy, 65-49 W.

Next up was the Dawgs’ second game against West Deptford. In game 1, Haddonfield had needed OT to eke out a 41-39 win. As with Audubon, the Dawgs started out in front, up 15-10 after the first quarter. However, the Dawgs could only muster two baskets, both by Ben Cerrato, in the second, which meant the teams headed into the locker rooms at the half with the Dawgs down a point, 19–20. The Eagles would come out flapping, putting 5 points on the board before the Dawgs got one at the foul line thanks to Justin Kasko. Foul shots by Andrew Gostovich made it 22-25, West Deptford, but the Eagles made 2 foul shots of their own to go back up by 5, 22-27. An off-balance shot by Cerrato made it 24-27, but the Eagles got the next 5 points to push the lead up to 8, 32-24, with 47 second left in the quarter. Tommy Mooney’s 3 got the Dawgs back to within 5 again, 27-32, going into the final 8 minutes. And those 8 minutes started with the Eagles inbounding. Here is a close look at how those minutes ticked down, as I recapped them on FB:

While the Eagles did not score, the Dawgs got charged with an offensive foul to immediately give the ball back to WD. Luckily, Steve McClane stole it right back and went up an in for 2, cutting the lead to 3, 32-29. However, the next 3 points went on the board for the Eagles off a field goal and then 1-2 from the foul line. But second verse, same as the first: McClane stole the ball and went in for a layup, pulling the Dawgs to within 4, 35-31.

The Eagles got those points back on two foul shots, but then on back-to-back possessions, first Ben Cerrato and then Tommy Mooney converted both foul shots, and with 4:56 on the clock, the Dawgs were within 2, 37-35. A basket by WD got their lead back to 4, 39-35, but a drive by Mooney chipped that edge back to 2. There was a scramble on the floor for the ball, McClane grabbed it, and Haddonfield called timeout. However, the Dawgs lost the ball — I’m not even sure what happened. I just heard a lot of Wiedemans complaining about the call. But, WD then lost the ball under their basket right after they in-bounded it.

With 3:54 left to go, it was time for one of our big guns to step up and hit a 3 from the corner. And that’s exactly what Cerrato did, putting the Dawgs on top for the first time since the end of the second quarter, 40-39. The Eagles, who were getting rattled, lost the ball on good “D” by the Dawgs, but in their haste to get to the basket, they lost the ball as well. And then as is often the case, the player who turned the ball over tries to overcompensate and commits a foul. With 3:09 on the clock, WD stepped to the foul line with a chance to reclaim the lead. And as Dawg fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, neither shot dropped in.

At the other end, WD was called for a foul, sending Cerrato to the line for a 1+1 opportunity. He cleanly sank both shots, giving the Dawgs a 3-point lead, that WD promptly reduced to 1 on a field goal, and with 2:49 remaining, it was a 1-point, 42-41, game. This was not the time for a bad, cross-court pass, but that’s what happened when the Dawgs got the ball. However, WD very kindly returned the favor at their end, and with 2:35 to go, McClane launched a 3 from the corner, and the Dawgs were on top 45-41.

A foul that Connor Fell and the rest of the Dawgs did not agree with sent WD to the line. Although they had the double-bonus, only 1 of 2 shots dropped in, and with 1:44 remaining, it was 45-42, Dawgs. Mooney, who is getting adept at drawing fouls, did just that and headed to the line for a 1+1 with 1:29 to go. His first shot went in, but his second did not. Still, it put the Dawgs’ lead back to 4, 46-42.

After the Eagles did not score, neither did the Dawgs, and WD got the ball back. There was a near-steal and then the ball looked more like a superball, bouncing all over the court until the Dawgs got ahold of it and called timeout. Haddonfield would score the final 4 points of the game thanks to stellar foul shooting by Mooney, and when the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs had found a way to turn it up a few notches and seize the victory away from the Eagles. The final score was 50-42.

Thanks in part to going 7-8 on the line in the 4th, Tommy Mooney finished with 15 points. Ben Cerrato also put 15 points on the board.

This gave the Dawgs their 20th win of the season. If they can get another road win Thursday at Sterling (5:30 game), they will win the Colonial Conference outright.

Thursday, February 20, fans piled into the gym at Sterling. The Silver Knights, you may recall, were supposed to be in the run for the Liberty Colonial title. Now, it was down to two teams: the one playing Sterling this night and Haddon Heights. Heights had already lost two games in the Liberty division: one to Haddonfield and one to West Deptford. If Haddonfield beat Sterling, the Dawgs would win the Liberty crown outright. If we suffered our second defeat in the division, we would have to share the title with Heights.

As I noted at the outset of my Facebook game wrap-up, it was another slow start for the Dawgs, who didn’t seem to be too energized about what they were playing for. They trailed by 5, 8-13, after the first quarter, and 8 minutes later, were down by 6, 19-25. A win that seemed likely at the outset was not looking as certain as the Dawgs headed to the locker room at the half.

Let’s pick up the action as the second half begins with a bit of my FP post:

Kasko started the third off all fired up. He went in on a backdoor cut for 2, then blocked the ball at the other end. When Sterling in-bounded it, he knocked it back out of bounds off the Knights. That led to a 2-pointer from Cerrato with an assist from Kasko. And with not even a minute gone, the Dawgs were within 1, 25-24.

Sterling got 2 back at the foul line, but after a steal by Gos, Steve McClane grabbed an offensive board and went up and in, making it a 2-point game, advantage Sterling, again, 27-25. Sterling got the next two baskets to go back up by 6, 31-25 with 3:35 to go in the third.

A few plays later, Cerrato showed how hard he hustles and how tough he is, as he dived for the ball, saved it from going out of bounds, and then crashed into the Dawgs’ sideline chairs. Connor Fell, another tough-as-nails Dawg, pulled down an offensive board, fed it to Cerrato, who laid the ball into the net.

Nobody scored for a few plays, then Gos stole the ball and didn’t give up when his layup did not fall in, driving back in the lane and making sure the ball dropped this time. His field goal at the 56-second mark made it 31-29, Sterling. Fell and Gostovich procured another steal, but the ball went out of bounds at our end with 34.4 on the clock. Sterling did not wait until the clock ran down to make a shot, and even better, it did not go into the net. The Dawgs brought the ball down and were causing anxious adult fans to start counting down, afraid the team wasn’t going to get a shot off. They needn’t have worried. With 3.0 on the clock, Cerrato danced into the lane, got the bucket and the foul. His foul shot put the Dawgs up 32-31, and that’s how the third ended.

But it wasn’t time to start celebrating yet:

If Dawg fans were hoping for a stress-free 4th quarter, they were out of luck. The lead kept changing. Sterling got the first 3 points on a foul shot and a field goal to take the lead back, but Gos hit a 3 to give the Dawgs the edge, 35-34, at with 6:33 left in the game. …

To skip to the good stuff I’m going off the FB post, and picking up the action a few plays later, as Cerrato stepped to the foul line. His shots gave the Dawgs their biggest lead of the game, 37-34 at the 6:33 mark … only to have a 3-point Silver Knight bomb tie it at 37 all. But off a big offensive board by Fell, Gos nailed a 3 to put the Dawgs back on top 40-37 with 2:30 left in the game. After that big bucket, the team was not going to let Sterling get any closer than 3 again. Foul shots by Gos and Tommy Mooney made it 43-37, and it was only a last-second trey from Sterling that cut the final score to 3 points again, giving the Dawgs a 43-40 victory that secured the Liberty crown.

And now it was time to celebrate. Kudos for the Sterling athletic staff for allowing the opposition to stay on the court for lots of hugs, congratulations from family and the rest of the happy and relieved Dawg fans, and many photographs. With a record of 15–1, the Dawgs had finished on the top of the Colonial heap in a year they weren’t even considered viable contenders.

For Part 1, click HERE.

For Part 2, click HERE.

PART 4 of 5 will be published on Thursday, August 6.