After last season, Hillsborough High School lost 11 seniors from a successful boys’ basketball team.
The Raiders reached the Somerset County Tournament quarterfinals and the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament quarterfinals. They fell to Montgomery High School, 61-34 and 53-44, respectively, in the Somerset County quarterfinals and in the state sectional quarters.
Even though they went just 10-16, the Raiders clicked at the right time, enjoyed a successful postseason run and stabilized the program in coach Scott Kallens’ first year. Kallens was Hillsborough’s third coach in four years.
Now, going into this winter, Kallens is still Hillsborough’s coach, but his seniors are gone. His new challenge is to keep the program moving forward through a transition season.
Kallens does at least have three players back who played a good amount of minutes last year, seniors Dylan Boczon, Brian Chung and Dante Walker. He is confident that they will show their younger teammates how to commit to a program and help it grow.
“Our guys come to work every day. They are not content or complacent,” Kallens said. “They will push each other in practice to be the best team and players they can be.”
But there will be growing pains. Hillsborough dropped its season opener, 86-43, to the Gill Saint Bernard’s School on Dec. 14. The Raiders will continue their season on Dec. 27 at home against Hightstown High School.
To start winning games, Hillsborough will need its three seniors to play big roles on the court, too.
Walker is a scorer who can drive and shoot from the outside. Chung is a shutdown defender. Boczon, a starting safety for Hillsborough’s football team, is a 6-2 athlete who can play inside and outside.
“Dante Walker is probably our most experienced player. He’s a guy that we will lean on for points. Brian Chung is one of the best athletes you’ll see. He’s incredibly fast,” Kallens said. “Dylan is a consummate team guy, a plus athlete and plays hard, incredibly hard.”
Another senior, forward Rupak Stephen, will also need to step up and play a big role. Stephen is a traditional, back to the basket big man who can step out and make a shot.
He is just relatively new to varsity.
“He’s learning how to be the confident player we know he can be,” Kallens said.
A junior, A.J. Strawderman, rounds out Hillsborough’s starting lineup. Kallens said Strawderman is a ball handler and one of Hillsborough’s top two or three defenders.
The coach is also confident in his bench.
Allen Holmon made two three pointers and scored 10 points on Dec. 14. Jared Smith is a muscular 6-4 post player with developing skills. Nick Fox and Tom Drake are both stretchy, 6-5 wings with inside-outside versatility.
“Jared Smith has done a job in the weight room. We hope he does dirty work, rebounds and scores inside,” Kallens said. “Tom Drake is a smart player who can shoot outside and finish. He’s an above the rim athlete and talent. Nick Fox is like Brian.”
The Raiders have the potential to be a deep and balanced squad this winter.
“The guys do a great job sharing the ball. We don’t have a player who’s looking to go out and score 50,” Kallens said. “I’d much rather have four or five guys score 8-12 points than have one guy teams can scheme against and try to take out.”
Kallens is optimistic, but he doesn’t have any specific expectations. He is just hoping this team does what last year’s team did: improve gradually and peak at the right time.
“We don’t know what our ceiling is. I think we can be a difficult team and the guys are working hard to be the best team they can be,” Kallens said. “We want to be in position to be the best team we can be as the season goes into the county and state tournament.”