Dunne back leading Matawan boys’ basketball team


By Wayne Witkowski

Michael Dunne is back in top form with his right foot fully healed, which is good news for Matawan Regional High School’s boys’ basketball team. The Huskies contend in the Shore Conference A Central Division and are rebuilding toward a strong finish at tournament time.

Dunne, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, was injured in Matawan’s first game playing in a Jersey City summer league in early June and missed summer workouts — a key time to get ready for the season.

“Since the season started, we see no ill effects,” coach John Giraldo said. “We were more cautious in preseason, but he’s even rebounding the ball well and had nine in one game. He’s not playing conservatively at all.”

Dunne is one of three returning starters — who are all guards — and averaged a team-best 11.9 points off last year’s team that ended a 13-14 season with an opening-round loss in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section II, Group III tournament to Colonia High School. The Huskies also lost their Shore Conference Tournament opener to Manchester Township High School.

Matawan is right at the cutoff enrollment of 779 students to return to Group III for the second year.

Dunne needs to be in top form, as he not only plays as a guard after playing at the point last year, but he also uses his size to post up inside.

“He’s our most versatile guy — arguably one of the most versatile in the Shore,” Giraldo said.

Dunne’s older brother, Jason, is playing at the University of Hartford.

Also returning to the backcourt is junior guard Reggie Tawiah, whose high energy puts him in position on defense to cover the best opposing player, and he also is the best on the team at driving to the basket. Senior Pat Hennessey, a dangerous spot-up shooter, also returns. Tawiah averaged 8.5 points last season and Hennessey connected on five points a game.

Junior Zaire Jackson starts at the point to take Dunne off that role so he can better move around the court without holding the ball as much. Joe Bueckers, a 6-foot-3 junior, is a physically strong presence at forward and also passes well.

They started showing more flashes of what Giraldo wants after an 0-2 start when they beat Shore Regional High School, 41-36, Dec. 22. Jackson dropped in a dozen points, while Dunne, Tawiah and Hennessey each added nine points.

Matawan opened its season Dec. 16 with a 43-40 loss to Red Bank Regional High School. Dunne sank 15 points and Tawiah fired in a dozen. The Huskies then got soundly beat by Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, 80-47. As Dunne and sophomore guard Quincy Worthington, who came off the bench, led Matawan with 11 and nine points, respectively.

Giraldo feels the victory against Shore Regional showed the team is starting to turn the corner for what he called a much needed win.

“Last year was a learning experience for a lot of guys,” said Giraldo, who can include himself in that category as a first-year head coach then after years as an assistant at Roselle Catholic High School. “This year, [inexperience] is not as much and we should be fine getting acclimated. This group brings so much valued experience and one of its strengths is having three or four ball-handlers, which works better finding open guys and getting the extra pass.”

That and tenacious defense that can extend Matawan’s zones out when it’s not playing man-to-man defense are a big part of the philosophy of Giraldo, who is a former star player at Marist High School and record-setting assists leader at Monmouth University.

“My philosophy is to get as many good shots as we can,” he said. “Whether it’s one pass or six or seven passes, it’s trying to get as many easy shots in transition but to be patient when we’re in half-court [offense].”

That translates not only to the four guards starting, but also the ones on the bench in Worthington and fellow sophomore Tyrese Bryant.

Giraldo is especially keen on 6-foot-5 freshman forward John Bueckers — Joe Buecker’s younger brother — who turned in a big effort in the final quarter against Shore Regional.

“He has a very bright future. He’ll be a big part of things this season,” Giraldo said.

Jesse Haber, a 6-foot-3 senior, also has fit in well in the rotation.

Matawan hosts its Husky Holiday Classic and played its first-round game in the eight-game tournament against Carteret High School Dec. 27. The winner played the victor of Ocean Township High School against Tottenville High School of Staten Island, New York, Dec. 28. Old Bridge High School, Colonia High School, Manalapan High School and Union High School also are in the tournament that will have the championship game Dec. 30.

The Huskies return from the holiday break for a game Jan. 3 against Middletown High School North.