By Warren Rappleyea
With nine victories in its past 10 games, including a 53-48 win over previously unbeaten Manasquan High School Jan. 22, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s boys basketball team is 10-3 on the season.
Despite the strong play, however, Bulldogs coach Chris Champeau cautioned that his players need to stay humble and hungry.
“We’re winning, but I really don’t think we’re close to what we can be,” the coach said. “People think we’re all about 3-pointers, but this is a hard-working, defense-oriented team. We really don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of games left.”
Rumson-Fair Haven opened the season with losses to Manasquan and St. John Vianney High School — both games the Bulldogs were without sharp-shooting Brendan Barry. The senior guard returned Dec. 27 and scored 21 points to help his team edge Fort Hamilton High School of Brooklyn, New York.
Champeau’s team fell to 1-3 following a 3-point loss to Colts Neck High School Dec. 30 but have not lost since 2016 began. Barry has keyed the success, averaging 23 points and knocking back 30 3-pointers on the year.
His 23-point showing Jan. 22 helped Rumson-Fair Haven take its rematch with Manasqaun. It was also a milestone game for the senior, as his 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter gave him 1,418 career points to set a new team record. Barry, who added seven points in the second half, broke the record of 1,417 points set by Palvin Williams in 1973. Williams came up from his home in the Dominican Republic to attend the game and participate in the ceremony honoring Barry.
While Barry, a co-captain, has served as the Bulldogs’ primary menace to opposing defenses, Champeau noted that several players have stepped up.
Mickey Schluter, the other co-captain, has been superb, averaging just over 13 points and five rebounds. He calmly sank three free throws late in the win against Manasquan to put the game away. In Rumson-Fair Haven’s 66-49 victory over Gill St. Bernard’s School, Schluter had 14 points.
Tyler Pierson, a 6-foot-5 junior, has made his presence felt under the basket, and Michael O’Connor, who also quarterbacks the Bulldogs’ football team, adds quickness and lockdown defense to the lineup. Sophomore Elijah McAlister, a 6-foot-6 forward, is a standout in the paint, where he averages 10 rebounds and seven blocks. Besides blocking shots, McAlister’s menacing presence often makes opponents alter their field-goal attempts.
“Even though we lost the two games Brendan [Barry] sat out, it gave our other players a chance to get used to the bright lights,” Champeau said. “That’s definitely helped. They know they can make important contributions, and they’ve been doing it game in and game out.”
Off the bench, the coach calls upon seniors Colin McDevitt and Jack Solano, as well as sophomore Teddy Sourlis, who are all dangerous 3-point shooters, to provide instant offense.
“I rotate them around to see who has the hot hand at a particular moment,” Champeau said.
Seniors Matt Healy and Henry Sillen, a 6-foot-4 forward, provide additional depth. Healy a solid two-way player, is known for keeping his cool under pressure and keeping his teammates focused, while Sillen’s ability to score from inside helps keep defenders off Barry and Schluter.
“We have a great group here with a lot of talent,” Champeau said. “In some ways, I still feel like we’re only starting out. As long as we focus on the basics, playing good defense, not turning the ball over and making good shots, we’ll be all right. It sounds simple, but it takes teamwork and discipline. Fortunately, that’s what our guys have been doing.”