WESTFIELD, NJ — Led by the senior duo of Griffin Rooney and Jake Walsh, the Westfield High School boys basketball team will look to take the next step in the 2019-20 season.
The Blue Devils finished last year with a 10-15 record, reaching the Union County Tournament second round and giving Somerset County Tournament finalist Watchung Hills a very close game in a 54-50 loss in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 tournament first round.
Rooney nearly averaged 13 points per game as one of the top offensive threats on the team. He was on the first team of the Union County Conference All-Valley Division selections.
Westfield was in a number of close games last season. The Blue Devils won two games in the round-robin Len Sepanak Memorial Tournament by two points each. Westfield lost to Plainfield by a combined five points in two meetings, lost to Summit by one, defeated Scotch Plains-Fanwood by a point and had two-point losses to Rahway and Lincoln. In total, 10 games were decided by five or fewer points.
Coached by second-year head coach James McKeon III, Westfield could see much success in the 2019-20 season. The Blue Devils open the season against county foe Summit Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m.
“My expectations are very high this year,” said McKeon, who played at Westfield and is in his ninth year overall with the program. “The coaches believe that this team is very diverse — we have great guard play, have bigs that can score, and we have a team that is buying in and playing together on the defensive end. The best part about this team is that they are unselfish; they really enjoy seeing their teammates succeed.”
Rooney had a season-high 21 points come against Roselle last season. He reached double figures in all but a handful of games in 2018-19.
Walsh, an honorable mention in the Valley Division a season ago, will be one of the top shooting threats for the Blue Devils. He nailed four 3-pointers in a 16-point performance against Scotch Plains-Fanwood last season. Also capable of getting steals and performing on the defensive end, Walsh will be an all-around threat for Westfield.
“I expect them to be team leaders, lead by example and get everyone around them to raise their games,” McKeon said of Rooney and Walsh. “Griffin and Jake are two integral parts to this team. Their job is to do what they do at a high level and make everyone around them better. Griffin and Jake are two returning starters and two of three captains. A lot is expected of them, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.”
With eight returners, Westfield expects to be on the winning side of those close games this season.
“Experience will definitely help in tight games,” McKeon said. “We have a lot of players that are coming back, and we have a lot of players that play varsity in other sports. We are looking to take the next step to have a big year.”
Joining Rooney and Walsh are seniors Andrew Echausse, Hank Shapiro (captain), Declan McCauley and Ray Hurtt.
Returning is sophomore Logan Howland, who could make a big leap in 2019-20.
“We are looking to him to take a huge step and really own the paint,” McKeon noted.
Jake Spellman and Ryan Friedberg will be contributors right away. They were members of the junior varsity team last year.
“We can’t wait to see them succeed at the varsity level,” McKeon said.
Against a loaded slate in the Union County Conference, Westfield will certainly be challenged. The Blue Devils will compete in the Mountain Division of the UCC, going up against Plainfield, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Union and Union Catholic.
The team will also meet state powerhouse Roselle Catholic this season.
“Every night we are playing top players and top teams that are very well coached,” McKeon added.
Westfield will play in the Butch Kohls Holiday Tournament in Rahway. The Blue Devils will meet Arthur L. Johnson Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. The tournament’s championship game will be Dec. 29 at 7:30 p.m.