Gov. Livingston's Versatility Key to Boys Hoop Season

Gov. Livingston Boys Varsity Basketball Team Credits: M. Kerr

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Gov. Livingston's third year Coach Chris Loeffler, approaches the 2017/18 season expecting his basketball program will take a major step forward after making incremental gains last season. Despite already losing two senior players for the season due to injury, there is plenty of room for optimism as Gov. Livingston returns five varsity players (three starters), adds a familiar junior transfer, and two new promising underclassmen front court players to their early season rotation. Loeffler was encouraged by how his team competed during summer league play (lost in championship game) and anticipates his team will transfer that competitive fire over into the regular season.

Versatility will be the key to Gov. Livingston's season as Loeffler has several players with the skills to step out of their "defined roles" and play multiple positions. This should allow the Highlanders to create favorable game specific matchups. With having only one true "big" in the rotation, interchangeable players who can play in both the front and backcourt will give Loeffler greater flexibility as game play dictates.

A season ago, Gov. Livingston struggled to score and rarely had multiple players reach double-digit scoring. One of the strengths of this year's team will be their perimeter shooting.  It should not be uncommon to see four or even five players on the floor who are all capable of knocking down the three ball.  For the first time in his short tenure, Loeffler will have several players who can score the ball, which should result in a much more balanced offense. Turnovers, and the lack of a transitional scoring bogged down the offense last year.  Improvement in both areas has been a preseason priority.

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After spending the past three years under Loeffler's tutelage, this team should have a better grasp of his defensive system and philosophy. One area of critical concern will be rebounding on the defensive end of the floor. The lack of size down low means that everyone on the floor will have to rebound. However, a quicker smaller lineup should allow Gov. Livingston to turn up the defensive pressure by employing more full court pressure and half court trapping, something they have done little of in the past.

Here is a look at the 2017/18 Highlanders:

Coach: Chris Loeffler 3rd season (15-31)

2016/17 Record:  9-14 overall, 3-9 conference. Lost to 7th seed Mendham 62-38 in first round of North II,Group 3 state playoffs

Season Opener - December 15th at 7pm at Roselle

Home Opener - December 19th at 7pm vs Rahway

Can’t Miss Game - January 6th vs New Providence . Gym will sell out on Super Saturday against GL vs. New Providence. Get your tickets early.

Union County Conference (Valley Division) - GL, Cranford, Hillside, Rahway, Roselle, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Summit

NJSIAA State Bracket - North II, Group 3

Key Players Lost

Highlanders lost seven seniors to graduation, most notably leading scorer and team leader, Billy Pencek (14.4 ppg). Front court players Chas DeAngelis, Jason Coldon and Kevin Keegan, who did most of the rebounding and inside scoring, were also lost to graduation.

Last season's starting center, Liam Wolfe, suffered a season ending injury in summer league play .The 6'5'' inch Wolfe will be missed particularly on defense and also leaves a rebounding void. Also lost for the season was senior guard Pat DeAngelis who was injured in the Highlanders Thanksgiving Day football win over New Providence. Quarterback DeAngelis returned to action after being sidelined in the middle of the football season. After scoring two first half touchdowns, DeAngelis reinjured his shoulder which will sideline him for the hoop season. 

Key Returning Players

Matthew Schuman (senior forward) – Schuman, a tough undersized power forward, is the team's best rebounder on both ends of the floor. Solid inside game is complimented with a nice mid- range jumper. His improved ability to score from the outside will be especially helpful if he finds himself in the 5 position drawing a larger defender away from the basket. Last season scored a season high 16 against New Providence while averaging 5 ppg.

Tyler McCulloch (senior guard) – Last year McCulloch worked his way into the starting lineup after Loeffler was looking for more offense. Can shoot the three and use his strength from the guard position to get to the rim. Closed out last season putting up double digit points over last three games. Hit for a career high 16 against Hillside, which included four three-pointers. McCulloch is heading to Iona College next year to play baseball.  He  thrives under pressure and won’t be afraid to put up a shot with the game on the line.  

Evan Reiner (senior,guard) -  A fierce and athletic competitor, Reiner is a relentless worker and the team's best on ball defender. Last season against rival New Providence, his tenacious D turned a late 3rd quarter double digit Highlander deficit into a one point victory. Combo guard will play both the 1 and the 2. A slasher on offense, with a quick first step, he has the ability to attack the rim, which will setup a much improved  jump shot. A great leaper, Reiner will certainly help on the boards from his guard position. 

Ryan Davey (junior,guard) -  Started last year as a sophomore at shooting guard and is the team's best deep threat. Davey was second on the team in both scoring (8.5 ppg) and three pointers made (43). Had a stretch mid-season where he scored 22 or more points in four of five games, posting career highs in points(24) and 3-pointers made (7) against Hillside. Davey will surely be the focus of opposing defenses out on the 3-point line, but he has worked hard in the off season to elevate other aspects of his offensive game.

Josh Coldon (junior, guard) -  The team's best ball handler will assume fulltime duties as the Highlanders point guard after seeing limited varsity minutes last year as a sophomore. Coldon possesses outstanding court instincts and vision at the point and can get into the paint and dish or feed the post from the wing. Unlikely to be the team's leading scorer as a pass first decision maker, Coldon will be the Highlanders most important player as the facilitator of a half-court offense that needs to dramatically cut down on turnovers this season. However, if opposing defenses choose not to challenge him on the perimeter he will make them pay with a very capable jumper.

Promising Newcomers 

Matt Faller (junior,point forward) – Faller, a junior transfer from St. Peters Prep, will be an easy fit into the Gov. Livingston lineup since he has played with most of his teammates throughout travel ball and at Columbia Middle School. A long (6’3’’) slasher who can also shoot the 3, Faller will be an instant boost to the Highlanders offense. Best described as a point forward, he has the ability to break down defenses off the dribble and either kick out to an open teammate for a 3 or find a big down low. Will help defensively because quickness and a long  6’3’’  frame will allow him to guard 1 through 4.

Dylan Defronzo (junior,center) - DeFronzo, at 6’5’’ 270, is the Highlanders only true big. He has a wide array of post moves and can finish at the rim with both hands. DeFronzo is a capable shot maker away from the basket, with range that extends to the three point line, but he will be most valuable to his team scoring down low and drawing fouls. Will be counted on to be a consistent rebounder on both ends of the floor and a much needed presence in the middle on defense.

Ferdinando Melo (soph, forward) - At 6’2’’, sophomore Melo is quick off his feet and has knack for finding the ball off the rim and scoring on put backs. His main contributions will be on the boards and defense, but also has strength down low to seal and attack rim. Should be first big off the bench. 

Jackson Dultz (senior, guard) -  Dultz a senior guard who can play both the 1 and  2. When in the game he will give the Highlanders yet another solid 3 point threat.

This preseason has been a spirited and competitive one, as players have jockeyed for a spot on the team.  Rounding out the roster are five juniors who will be fighting for court time.  They include forwards Jake Pencek and Jake Faulkner  and guards Noah Truncale, Anthony Graziano, and Will Tracey. Also on the bench as a four year member of the team will be senior Max Charbonneau, who brings enthusiastic spirit and support to his teammates and coaches.

Loeffler on team chemistry: This team has good chemistry,” Loeffler said. “They spent a lot of time together this summer, and they are only interested in improving their game. Returning some varsity players is also strength in that guys have the experience to get things done now.”

Loeffler on Highlanders Conference/Schedule: "There is not one game on our schedule where we can expect to just show up and win,” Loeffler said. “Each and every night is a dog fight in this conference. The teams are well matched, and the parody in the league makes every game competitive. That starts with Roselle, then Rahway for us. Followed by the Rahway Holiday Tournament where we will open with Holmdel and then play either Rahway or Johnson.”

Loeffler on Expectations: “We are expecting a lot out of our team this year,” Loeffler said. “In addition to our key returning varsity players, the newcomers had a lot of success on the freshmen and Junior Varsity teams last year. The team has the potential to be very talented, but only if they push themselves every day in practice"

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