By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
The Hillsborough High School boys’ basketball team had some of its best games over the last three weeks, but couldn’t extend its season beyond the first round of the state tournament.
The 14th-seeded Raiders ran into a buzzsaw in third-seeded South Brunswick, which jumped out to an early lead that it rode to a 65-25 win over Hillsborough in the opening round on Tuesday, March 1. With the loss, the Raiders closed their season at 8-17 but can look toward a future with promising young contributors due back.
“I enjoyed working with them from Day One and watching them grow,” said John Parham after the conclusion of his first year as head coach of the Raiders. “We had some good discussions when we were talking about basketball that can help them in life. I enjoyed that part of it.”
Five of the Raiders’ eight wins came in the final month of the season. They beat Franklin twice after losing to them earlier in the year as Parham saw steady improvements.
“Them having some time with me and me having some time with them, they settled in their roles and embraced their roles,” Parham said. “They saw the success coming out of filling their roles.”
Matt Moore led the Raiders with seven points against South Brunswick. Kyle Jeney and Jackson Parham scored six points apiece. It was just the second time in eight games that Jeney had been held under double digits.
“Kyle Jenney started to embrace his role as a feeder and scorer,” John Parham said. “He got used to the system and understood how to score out of the system. You can go down to each guy and that really helped the team.”
Tim Yost had three points in the finale. Justin Brown scored two and Sam Wakai had a free throw. The Raiders also had contributions all year from Luke Finer, Sean Plaskon, Steve Rudd and Jimmy Suseck.
“Our team was what it was,” Parham said. “It was young guys in the mixture of the five seniors. We were getting different contributions from different guys. Some of the guys started to play more consistently along the way.”
The Raiders gained needed experience as the season advanced. Even among the older players, there wasn’t a lot of previous varsity playing experience before the season began.
“It was a lot of newness out there,” Parham said. “It was embracing their roles and fighting through it.”
The Raiders lose a group of seniors that filled key roles this season. They helped to keep the team progressing and will be missed.
“Sam’s a good shooter so we have to find someone who can stretch the defense like he did,” Parham said. “Kyle improved his shooting and getting to the basket. Sean Plaskon embraced his role of coming in and being a spark, being a shooter off the bench, and he got better defensively and improved his game. Luke was a heck of a defender. We put him on the other team’s best player and he looked forward to that role. Jimmy Suseck played real good tough defense. He was like our anchor on defense. He brought a lot of toughness to our team. We have to replace that. That’s hard to replace those guys. I enjoyed having them.”
The players that will return next year will be back with the experiences learned from this year. It gives them a foundation as Parham looks to put his stamp on the program.
“You hope you can build on everybody having familiarity with the system,” he said. “They understand that now. They have to hone their skills. We had exit meetings. We talked about improving in areas we have to get better. They embraced that. I’m looking forward to working hard and getting better.”
There will be new faces in the mix next year, and Parham is hopeful they can fit in well.
“We had a number of guys that swung between JV and we got them some varsity minutes when we could,” Parham said. “They practiced with us. We have a lot of sophomores that are going to be juniors, and we need them to contribute in a variety of ways.”
The emphasis during the off-season will be on developing players’ fundamental skills as well as their fitness and conditioning.
“Shooting would be a big thing,” Parham said. “We have to score some points. We could improve our shooting. A lot of guys can do that, and (improve) being able to score off the dribble. We have to get stronger. We’re young. We saw our bodies against their bodies. We have to get quicker and more athletic so our team can be faster and stronger. There are a lot of areas to get better at. We’re really going to improve on fitness and improving our bodies and shooting.”
The hope is that those developments along with an increased understanding of Parham’s system will pay off with more consistency and a few more wins. The Raiders learned plenty over this season and gained invaluable experience that will help them improve for the future.
Said Parham: “They look forward to doing it.”
HILLSBOROUGH: Boys’ basketball meshed, grew over length of season
By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group