Boys basketball team rebuilding this year

Patrick Babbitt, Sports Editor

A new era has begun for the West Milford Boys Basketball team. Long-time head coach John Finke retired at the end of last season, and took over the program is WMHS chemistry teacher and alumni, Tim McClurg.

Despite being a first time head varsity basketball coach, this is not McClurg’s first time being a head coach. He also serves as the girl’s head golf coach, where he led them to the county title in the inaugural season. McClurg also serves as an assistant football coach at Pompton Lakes High School.

McClurg’s coaching staff features Tyler Mauer and Ken Cannali. Mauer is a new addition to the staff, replacing McClurg as JV head coach. McClurg described Maurer as “a high energy guy that knows the game of basketball and has a love for WMHS being that he is a 2012 WM Graduate.” Mauer also serves as an assistant football coach for WMHS. Cannali is a carryover from Finke’s staff, remaining as the freshman coach. 

McClurg is already trying to bring back some of the old-school intensity from when he and Mauer played. McClurg said, “The main change that I am trying to bring back to the program is the physical toughness that was always there when Coach Maurer and myself played. The mentality that we are willing to outwork any opponent and wear them down on our defensive end.”

After a 19-8 record last season which featured talented players such as 1,000 point scorer Josiah Basket, all time West Milford assist leader Chris Gomez, year round varsity sport athlete Brandon Licursi, and star football quarterback Zack Milko, the team returns just one varsity starter after graduating eleven seniors. That player is senior captain Kevin DeRaffele, who is a four year varsity player. DeRaffele is a 6’4” small forward with the ability to play all five positions on the floor.

The other captain of this year’s team is senior Danny Woodcock. Woodcock has been in the basketball program all four years, and is one of the team’s best shooters. The team features two other seniors, Andy Jerez and Josh Kesin-Good. Jerez is a transfer who brings a well balanced game to the team. Kesin-Good is a returner to the basketball program who also brings a good offensive game to the team

To fill out the roster, there are a bunch of younger players coming up from the JV and freshman levels. This includes juniors Luke Milko, Justin Spagnuolo, Nick Federici, Shaan Celik and Derek Shorter, as well as sophomores Dylan Connors and Chris Albar.

With a young team and a highly competitive early season schedule that features North Jersey powers such as Fair Lawn and Wayne Valley, the team got off to a rough start. They started the year off 0-8, as Woodcock missed a few games due to injury. Their first win came against cross-town rival Lakeland. The team won 52-51 off a buzzer-beater-three by Woodcock. Albar and DeRaffele led the way with 14 and 13 points respectively. 

After Lakeland, the team went on to lose the next few games until the play-in game of the Passaic County Basketball Tournament against Pompton Lakes 77-73 in overtime. Leading the way was DeRaffele with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists to go along with Milko’s 16 points and 8 rebounds. Woodcock also hit a buzzer beater three pointer to send the game into overtime, as this was his second buzzer beater in two weeks!

Following the Pompton Lakes game, the Highlander would lose their next three games. Although they lost, the team had improved much better, as they only lost to a very good Clifton team by five points, as Derafflle scored 21 points and Jerez scored 18 points. After that game, they went onto beat Lakeland for a second time this season by a score of 74-66. DeRaffele led the way with 26 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. On the defensive side of the ball, Connors led the way with 4 blocks and 3 steals to go along with 6 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. After the Lakeland game, the team would lose their next two games to Passaic Valley and Wayne Hills by less than 20 points. The first time they faced Wayne Hills in December, they lost 78-29. Now, in February, they only lost 64-54, which shows how much the team had improved. 

After the two games, the team would defeat Park Ridge 61-56, with Deraffele scoring 18 points, Albar scoring 14, and Woodcock scoring 13. After the Park Ridge game, the team would lose against Depaul 78-63. Aside from the loss, DeRaffele became just the eighth boys basketball player in school history to eclipse 1,000 career points. On senior night, the team honored all four seniors on and off the court, with the ceremony before the game, and a celebration after the game, as they defeated Bergen County Tech 76-70 in overtime. DeRaflee played a monster role, as he finished the game with 26 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 blocks. Two other seniors, Jerez and Woodcock played good as well, as Jerez scored 18 points, and grabbed 7 rebounds, while Woodcock scored 15 points, and 3 rebounds. 

After two more road losses to finish off the season, the team finished with a record of 5-21. Senior Kevin DeRaflee left a legacy at West Milford, as he ended the season with 1,074 career points. 

The Highlanders, despite not being the season the team had envisioned, have shown improvement both individually and as a team throughout the year. This is McClurg’s first year, as he has had some memorable wins in his first year. Although the team is losing key players with DeRaffele, Woodcock, and Jerez, the roster is still filled with young underclassman talent, as this year their conference was very difficult. With a young coach and young talent, the team is able to build off this season as a building block, and is ready to improve for next year.