It’s not very often I get to voice my opinions. However, I want to get a chance to reach out to you, the community.
First, I would like to extend my gratitude to all of the people in town who have greeted me with a smile, told me we’re doing a great job with Patch and helped me out with my work. The list is far too long to give my Oscar speech of thank-yous, but you all know who you are.
Second, I want to say: WOW! What an awesome season for boys’ basketball!
I’ve lost a lot of love for basketball since my diehard fandom in the mid-90s when Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley graced the courts with a strong team presence. (Yes, I just named almost the entire cast of Space Jam.) But wow, boys! You made me fall in love with basketball all over again!
For those that missed it, the Pirates lost a close battle with Haddonfield Wednesday night to end what was a truly amazing season. It was a season where head coach Mike Fries got his 100th career victory, Napoleon Blamon joined the 1,000-point club and made over 100 career 3-pointers and Max DiLeo possibly became the all-Burlington County leading scorer for the second consecutive year (still waiting on that one).
Don’t forget DiLeo also solidified third overall on career points with 1,223 behind John Souder (1,347; 1980-83) and Bill Pollock (1,239; 1979-82).
It was a season where sophomores Dan Haddon and Xavier Wilson started coming into their own. Wilson had a great stretch in the middle of the season where he was scoring double digits and helping the Pirates in big wins over tough opponents like No. 1 Paul VI. Haddon started the season off strong defensively, had a quiet middle-of-the-road and then stepped it up big as both a leader and a scorer in the final four games.
It was a season where Tim Kemmerle and Mark Berardis battled it out for the fifth spot, both solidifying themselves as clutch 3-point shooters. However, senior Iwakayode Oluwayose, a guy that got almost no time throughout the season, but wore the biggest smile out of the 10 varsity players all year, would have the last laugh, making some clutch shots of his own.
Kemmerle will be expected to fulfill a bigger role next year, along with Haddon, Wilson and freshman Alex Danko, who did a fine job filling in. Expect to see some pleasant surprises in Kevin Sotell and Chris Kirby, too. Am I forgetting anyone? Well, if I did, they’ll get their justice next year.
But, enough of the on the court stuff… I’m here to talk to you, Cinnaminson, about character.
Coming into this job, I really didn’t know what to expect talking to high school kids. Most of my experience was with college athletes. Knowing the way kids can be these days (trust me, I was one of them five years ago), I was hoping I didn’t get a load of shyness or disrespect. But, as a reporter, you have to deal with what you get.
After a full season of basketball, and even just seeing kids in the halls or at games, I can say that I am impressed with you Cinnaminson! Through big wins, tough losses, fundraising events and saying goodbye to the seniors, not once did I feel scrutinized, disrespected or that I didn’t get a good story.
Honestly, people, I think that this is a huge credit to Fries and his coaching staff: Dan Gallagher, Bret Jenkins and Jay Meile. And I think it’s an even bigger credit to the parents of this town.
The players I spoke with, this year: Max, Napoleon, Dan, Xavier, Tim, Mark… What an incredible group. I mean, just so much passion for the sport and so much maturity for their age…
I talked to a few of the guys, but didn’t really get a chance to say much to anyone after sadness filled the gym like a hot air balloon on Wednesday night. And I wasn’t going to be the guy maliciously sticking a microphone in Max’s face with the splitting headache he had from his injury, because, really, my job is to get the story, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
If I can say one thing to this group of kids, and I hate to be repetitive, but it would be: thank you. Thank you for your time and kindness, but most of all, thank you for showing myself, and more importantly, the fans of Pirates boys’ basketball some GREAT games this year!