The Nottingham Boys Basketball Team Celebrate winning the Group III Championship game after defeating Chatham by a score of 60 to 53. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
Nottingham tops Chatham in Group III final to win first state hoops title in school history
By Rich Fisher
Mar. 11: In a press conference with six players, a coach and Jordan Raba that lasted over 12 minutes in the Rutgers Athletic Center media room, there was just one question asked pertaining to the game that was just played.
That’s because the big picture was probably more compelling than defensive schemes, rebounding and getting open looks. Afterall, this was a history-making day.
It’s time for Hamilton Township to celebrate – particularly those on the corner of Hamilton and Klockner — as the Nottingham High boys’ basketball team is the NJSIAA Group III champion after taking a 60-53 victory over Chatham at the RAC today. The look of joy and happiness coming from all folks Nottingham was something to behold.
“As the clock was winding down, I thought I was dreaming,” senior guard Kostro Montina said. “I told Cliff (Joseph), ‘Cliff am I dreaming or something? Are we all dreaming right now?’ We got what we’ve been working for for a long time. Seeing that we accomplished this, means a lot to us.”
And what did they accomplish?
Well, it’s the first state basketball title in the school’s 36-year history of varsity sports; it’s the first state championship in Mercer County since Ewing won Group II in 2012, and the first state crown won in the township since Hamilton West won Group III in 2006 – the same year Jordy Raba was born.
The common denominator between today and 2006 is the head coach – Jordy’s dad, Chris Raba.
The Baron, however, insisted that the denominator is the guys in uniform.
“Players win games, coaches don’t,” Raba said at the interview table, with players Ku’Jane Johnson, Joseph, Richie Jones, Montina, Darell Johnson and Deonte West seated alongside him. “The benefit of coaching these kids, the memories they gave me, are gonna be memories of a lifetime.”
He then pointed to the newest piece of hardware that will be put into the school’s trophy case.
“This trophy here, in 20 years there’s gonna be a ton of dust on that trophy but in my head I’m gonna remember every player in this game,” Raba continued. “That’s a tribute to these six guys. That’s their trophy, that’s the school’s trophy. I didn’t even touch it. I don’t deserve to have that. When the state guy was out there I said, ‘I don’t want to touch it, just give it the kids.’”
Some might argue Raba had a little to do with it. Actually, many might argue he had a lot to do with it.
It takes the right conductor to make s band play together, and Raba is one of the best. He gets the most out of his talent – 15 wins out of average teams, or 29 and counting out of talented squads. Nottingham’s not done yet, as the Tournament of Champions begins Tuesday at Toms River North.
“We want to win some games there,” Raba said with a grin. “Let’s play ball, let’s go.”
Actually, he will have that attitude more so tomorrow, as he obviously wanted to celebrate tonight, for Pete’s sake.
And he was celebrating another win that was typical of what Nottingham (29-2) has been doing of late against scrappy teams who manage to hang around. The Northstars got a decent lead, let it get close and then put on a spurt whenever they needed.
“They weathered all our storms,” said standout Chatham guard Mac Bredahl, who had a game-high 23 points. “It’s tough to beat a team when they don’t stop scoring.”
Chatham (27-6) jumped to an 11-9 lead behind Bredahl’s shooting and penetration buckets, but a 3-pointer from Jones and a bucket by Joseph put Nottingham up 14-11. The Northstars would never trail again. Nottingham opened a 25-15 lead in the second quarter and held a 9-point edge at halftime.
A key to the first half was Ku’Jane Johnson, who scored all six of his points during that time (and finished with eight rebounds).
“That was real big because that’s not some of the stuff you expect from him,” Darell Johnson said. “That helps us a lot when we start slow. And then in the second half we pick it up.”
Trailing 33-25, the Cougars pulled within one point late in the third quarter before hoops by Joseph and Johnson pumped the margin to five. Bredahl scored to start the fourth and cut the deficit to three, but the Cougars would never get closer as Nottingham responded with five straight.
The Northstars opened a 53-41 edge before stubborn Chatham got within 53-47 with a minute left. Two straight Montina baskets put it away with 30 seconds remaining.
Joseph, a four-year starter under Raba, had a masterpiece game with 15 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocked shots and a steal. Darell Johnson scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and 12 in the fourth quarter. Bredahl could not help but be impressed.
“They threw a bunch of looks at us,” Bredahl said. “We had a chance to win down the end against some top athletes, it comes down to us playing good defense and holding those two guys to as little as you possibly can. You’re not gonna stop two kids like that, you just have to limit them as much as you can.”
Jones added 9 points and Montana had 10 points and 5 rebounds, while West’s defense helped limit Bredahl to some tough looks. The Stars shot 58.3 percent (21-for-36) and when they needed it most, were 7-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
It was another case of Nottingham using size and speed to its advantage.
“That’s a big key, our athleticism and how fast we are,” Darell Johnson said.
It was a fact not lost upon the classy Bredahl.
“They can score the ball and they did that tonight,” he said. “I really don’t think they had any easy looks tonight and they still put in their points. It’s unbelievable what they did and congratulations to them. They played a hell of a game.”
And as the clock ran down and Montina kept asking if he was dreaming, Raba just soaked it all in off to the side as his assistants and players mobbed each other in the middle of the floor.
“I just thought about all the hard work the kids put in over four years,” he said. “Basically they deserve everything they won this year. When you start a season, you have five titles to win — your conference title, your Christmas Tournament, your Mercer County Tournament, a state sectional, and a state championship. These guys won it all. They swept it.”
And they did it convincingly. This wasn’t a fluke, or a team getting hot at the right time. This was wire-to -wire domination.
“I’m telling you, the day we lost to Ewing (in last year’s sectional final), that was the turning point of their mentality,” Raba said. “They wanted to give the school everything they had.”
One look at the joy running through the RAC was enough to know they did just that.