By Rich Fisher
Mar. 13: The last time a Chris “The Baron” Raba-coached team faced Haddonfield was in 2006, when 7-foot center Brian Zoubek made sure Hamilton West’s visit to the Tournament of Champions was one-and-done before he went off to play for Duke.
There won’t be quite the same individual force in tonight’s 7:30 TOC quarterfinal round at Toms Rivers’ RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, but Raba’s Nottingham team will still have a challenge in front of it.
The Bulldogs are 29-3 after defeating Newark Central, 62-45, in the Group II championship game Sunday. Haddonfield has won eight straight and 14 of its last 15 and has one of South Jersey’s most successful coaches in Paul Wiedeman. A former Rowan University guard, Wiedeman was inducted into the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame last month.
Since taking over Haddonfield’s program in 1999, Wiedeman has won five SJ titles and three straight state titles from 2004-06. His career mark is 441-109.
“They are well coached with some size, Paul Wiedeman has won a lot of state championships,” Raba said. “They will look to backdoor you on offense and will play a 1-3-1 and match-up zone at times.”
The Dawgs are led by 5-8 guard Mike DiPersia, a 1,000-point scorer averaging 13.6 points this season, while 6-7 forward Dan Fleming averages 10.9 points. Aiden Blake provides some more height at 6-4 and is averaging 9.7 ppg.
Haddonfield was a lot like the Hamilton West football team this year, with no home gym to play in, forcing it to practice in a middle school. And yet the Bulldogs earned a berth in the South Jersey Group II final with a with a thrilling one-point overtime win over powerful Camden in the semifinals.
DiPersia is definitely the man in the clutch for Haddonfield, and could likely get a big dose of defensive standout Deonte West off the bench. Nottingham is meeting a team with some height for the first time in a while, which on the surface could mean difficulty for Cliff Joseph and Darell Johnson. But both forwards are dangerous away from the basket as well.
Since Haddonfield likes to backdoor, Nottingham can’t get overly-aggressive on defense, which it likes to do to get transition baskets off steals.
The Stars have won 12 straight and been in a few skirmishes lately, leaving some observers wondering why they did not play great. News flash. At this point of the season, most teams are good enough to make other teams not look great. The bottom line is Nottingham has had what it takes to win these games in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs will likely make them have to do it again.