WOOD-RIDGE, NJ - Last year no one was predicting Wood-Ridge as North 1, Group 1 champs. But the Blue Devils, a streaky shooting team, got hot at just the right time, outscrapped two teams they had previously played, and lost to, and came away as North 1, Group 1 champs.
So, does Wood-Ridge have an encore performance coming?
Returning a starting backcourt, two big men who both started games in the middle a season ago the Blue Devils have an experienced corps. But will it be enough.
“Right now, we are not there,” said Wood-Ridge head coach Jimmy Maher. “We have just finalized our rotations, and we still have work to do. But we do have talent. By the end of the year, if we work, if we get better, who knows if we make another run.at it.”
Second Team All League guard Ryan Sarver returns to lead the Blue Devils attack. Injured throughout the second half of the year and the playoff run, Sarver is looking forward to being healthy and back on the court at 100%. As a sophomore, Sarver burst on to the scene late in the season with a few huge games off the bench.
A Second Team All-Meadowlands choice despite missing 10 games with a knee injury, Sarver averaged 15 points per game for the Blue Devils last year.
At the point guard is senior Liam Winslow
“I think Liam is one of the best guards in our league,” Maher stated. “I feel very comfortable that I have two of the best guards in the league, and at a Group 1 level you can be successful with two good guards leading the way.”
Winslow got hot late last season, and was an integral part of the Wood-Ridge win over Bogota in the North 1, Section 1 final. The duo lacks size, but has quickness and complementary skills.
The change this year is the plan is for Wood-Ridge to go big, with their three biggest players holding down the 3-4-5 spots. Last year, there were times when they started four guards. This year, size is the word.
Senior center John Kurz (6-3) came on strong during the year a season ago, grabbing six rebounds a game, He has a knack for keeping plays alive, and is deceptively physical down low. He started the season as an after-thought, and wound up being one of the most important players in the playoffs.
Junior Stephen Crandall (6-2) will start at the four spot.The bulkiest of the big guys, Crandall spent the season playing football for the Blue Devils, and Maher needs that physicality on the court this year as well. He will be joined by another junior, 6-4 Matt Dellapena, in the front court.
He just won the spot this week as a starter, and will definitely give the Blue Devils a different look over prior years.
“It is a different look for us,” Maher admitted. “We will have one of the biggest front-lines in the Meadowlands this season. Yet, we have the depth to change the look if we need to.”
That depth will come from a variety of players, each with a different skill set. Junior guard Tyler Raymond is first off the bench, and Maher raved about how he played so far in the pre-season. Sophomore Nick Rizos is another player who Maher is extremely high.
“By the end of the season, people who know who he is,” said Maher.
Trey Packen transfers back home from Bergen Catholic, where he played freshman basketball a season ago. Soccer player Marcus Benevides saw some time last year, and will lend some experience off the bench.
Michael Sarlo and Nino Iacovino, who Maher calls his “football players” will add some toughness, particularly at the defensive end.
“From eight to eleven, we could use in any order” Maher stated. “They each provide something different, but we are not hesitant about using any of them.”
The Blue Devils open Friday in Paterson against Paterson Charter, who the Blue Devils eliminated in the semi-finals in the North 1, Group 1 playoffs a year ago.
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