WOOD-RIDGE, NJ - In this most unusual of seasons, Wood-Ridge head basketball coach Jimmy Maher has learned to prepare for just about anything. So having to deal with assistant coaches Mike DeNichilo and Joe Mojkowski having to opt out of the program due to concerns around COVID, it was just another hurdle to face.
“We’re going to truly miss Coach D,“ Maher stated. “He has been a staple in our program for almost 20 years. Even though he won’t be there in person, he will always be a part of our team and will continue to contribute and help us in many ways.”
That hurdle however, has been lowered slightly, by the hiring of his brother Jack to be his assistant coach and JV coach this season. Having a brother who just came off winning an NJIC championship in football, albeit at another school, is a nice fallback to have. Kyle Auer will handle the freshmen squad.
But, fair is fair after all, as during the fall, Jimmy can be found manning the camera in the coach’s booth for his brother during Becton football games.
With games starting in less than two weeks (Wood-Ridge opens at home against Bergen Charter on Wednesday, January 27), Maher has not had all of his players at a single practice yet.
Wood-Ridge fans will still see an up-tempo game this year, as Maher likes to push the ball. But what will be unusual is that, going into the season, it is the front court that is set right now. The only three starters that Maher has set in stone for the Blue Devils, are all up front.
Returning big men Stephen Crandall and Matthew Dellapina are both solidly in the starting lineup. Crandall, who is a three-sport athlete, gives the Blue Devils a physical presence down low at 6-2. He averaged 9.8 points per game a year ago, and is a threat from behind the three-point line, having hit 44 three pointers in 2019-20.
Dellapina, at 6-4, is more of an outside shooter, as 81 of his 124 points in 2019-20 came from beyond the arc. A streaky shooter, the Blue Devils need him to be a consistent threat if they are going to be successful.
Junior Trey Packen, a 6-1 wing, is the third starter. Packen finished strong last year, and finished with a 5.7 points per game average. Maher is counting on him to step up another level this year, and help make up for the absence of Ryan Sarver and Liam Winslow, who were the leaders of the Wood-Ridge backcourt a season ago.
“Trey has looked the best of anyone so far in practice,” Maher stated. “We think he is going to have a big season for us."
If the season opened today, Michael Sarlo and Nino Iacovino would be the starting backcourt. The juniors have limited experience from a year ago, but have been practicing and ready to go.
Senior Tyler Raymond and junior Nicholas Rizos are not with the team yet as they are going through COVID protocols. Both are expected to challenge for time in the lineup when they return to the team.
“It is the way of the world today,” Maher stated. “We have to make do with what we have. We have not had everybody on the court together yet, but we will be okay.”
Senior guard Marcus Benevides and junior forward Thomas Mancini are two other players who saw very limited time a year ago who return.
Two sophomores, who played freshmen a season ago, guards Eric Barton and Owen Caprio are on the edge. Maher thinks highly of the two, but they are not quite ready to start the season. He feels by mid-year both will be seeing time on the court.
“They aren’t quite there yet,” said Maher. “But we feel they will both make an impact in the future for our program.”
COVID has also re-shuffled the NJIC Divisions, as basketball goes from four nine-team divisions to six six-team divisions. DIvision 5, where the Blue Devils will play Meadowlands Division rivals, Hasbrouck Heights, St. Mary, Wallington, and Becton, and a newcomer Bergen Charter. Weehawken, North Arlington and Paterson Charter, who has been the top team in Meadowlands the past few years are gone.
Wood-Ridge will host their new rival, Bergen Charter, opening night, Wednesday, January 27.
|2/1/2021||7:00PM||Elmwood Park Memorial||Wood-Ridge|
|2/5/2021||6:00PM||Hasbrouck Heights||Hasbrouck Heights|
|2/15/2021||5:30PM||Emerson Jr.-Sr.||Emerson Jr.-Sr.|
|2/17/2021||4:00PM||Bergen Charter||Bergen Charter|
|3/5/2021||7:00PM||Saint Mary's||Saint Mary's|