The Eagles Are Looking to Fly

Under new leadership, the returning seniors of Middletown South Varsity Boys Basketball look to make a huge statement in their final season together.


Danny DeCrescenzo, Staff Writer

The boys basketball program at Middletown High School South has endured a rough stretch over the past several seasons. The program hasn’t achieved a winning season since 2010. The 2017 team, despite a mediocre finish, was able to squeak into the state playoffs before suffering a first round exit. At first glance, this year’s team looks very similar to the 8-18 squad that took the court a season prior. That notion could not be farther from the truth. There is a new desire burning within everyone involved with South basketball. A new coach is taking charge, and the veteran seniors at the heart of the team are ready for a massive leap in success. This team is fully convinced that they could accomplish something truly special, and an unforgettable offseason has etched that belief into their minds and hearts. Only time will tell, but their excitement indicates their level of hope, entering a season that will see the departure of many mainstays in the program. Moreover, it will be South’s best chance, with a battle-hardened core, to rise from the ashes and earn the respect they seek to obtain. The coaches and players about to headline South’s 2018 varsity campaign are looking to erase the past and usher in a new winning culture of South hoops in a highly anticipated season.

Taking the reigns as the new head coach for South is Mr. Jim Anderson. As well as being a coach for South’s varsity team, he is also now a guidance counselor at South and North. South is familiar territory for Anderson. He coached the JV Eagles from 1988-1994. He was promoted to the varsity head coach after the 1994 season and stood there until voluntarily stepping down after a 2001 campaign that saw his team make a deep run in the Shore Conference Tournament. While at South, his varsity teams made the Shore Conference Tournament Top 8 or better 4 times. More recently, he coached Bayshore’s basketball team from 2013 to 2016. He is obviously very experienced and knowledgeable about the game of basketball. Upon being hired to become the varsity coach at South starting this season, his presence was definitely felt. He wanted the job to restore South basketball. It’s been his mindset since the very beginning.

“We’re changing the climate and culture of the program,” explains Anderson. “We want Middletown South to be a place for people to watch a fun and exciting basketball team.”

Soon after landing the job, he began to get the team playing by swiftly incorporating more summer and fall league participation, something he views with pride — a pride that is more than justified.

“We had a very successful offseason in the summer and fall league games,” remarks Anderson. “We’ve played 35 games, more games than any South team has had in awhile.”

This experienced varsity squad made a deep run in a league at Victory Park in Rumson, and started their league at Hoop Group 6-0 in a pool of very competitive teams. Aside from accumulating wins on the court, the team was accumulating strength. Another program Anderson introduced was a weight room program. It’s a three days a week program that focuses on all areas of weight training specifically designed for basketball.

“Attendance has been outstanding,” Anderson said. “It’s a full time weight program. I can see that we are getting stronger and more fit for our competition.”

While Anderson has triumphed in the offseason with his players succeeding in the weight room and on the hardwood, he is completely focused on the upcoming season.

“We are hoping the positive energy we’ve had from the offseason will transcend into energy when it really counts. You don’t win any banners for a great offseason,” Anderson explained.

Coach Anderson, in his first season back, is inheriting a group of players he has watched on the sidelines for several years. He has some praise for the way they stick together, and knows what he must stress to such a group.

“It’s a very dedicated group. They appear to be close knit,” observes Anderson. “They gotta play with focus and intensity, gotta play hard.”

With a senior core and Anderson at the helm, this team has some big goals. As the coach, it is Anderson’s duty to push his players to reach their maximum potential. He has a plan to do just that, and it is deeply embedded in his coaching philosophy.

“The players will be very well prepared to compete on a game by game basis. My personal goal is to never be out prepared or out coached by another team. I hope that translates to our players and staff.”

No team is a team without its stars. They are the players who, when all else fails, can be turned to in order to deliver in dire moments. South has two special players who fit this mold. Leading the on court attack for the Eagles this year will be the dynamic duo of wings David Gervase and Ryan Purcell. The 6’3 offensive juggernauts paced South’s offense last year, averaging 14 and 17 points respectively. Their play on the perimeter seems almost masterful. When asked to spell out their best attribute, it wasn’t a hard question.

“My biggest strength as a player is probably my scoring ability. I have a solid shot at 1000 career points so I would like to achieve that mark,” Ryan explains, his 17 points a night justifying that statement.

Dave was a bit more concise. “I would say the biggest strength of my game is my mid range jumper. While I have been working on all aspects of my game, I still believe it’ll be a big part of my game this year as well.”

Dave had an otherworldly breakout season on both sides of the basketball in his first year with starter minutes. He established himself as a lethal threat from inside the arc, displaying a superb mid range shooting and finishing around the rim. He was a defensive pest with his marvelous athletic ability. He even pulled off a few dunks during the season as well, putting the shore on notice as an up-and-coming high flyer. This year, Dave is clearly seeking to build on what was a phenomenal year in his first shot at stardom. Ryan reached new heights in his best year starting varsity. A nuclear offensive option for South, Ryan showcased an incredible scoring display at the rim, the mid range area, and from downtown. His brilliance on that side of the basketball put him on the conference’s top ten scoring list. He finished the year well on pace to score 1000 points by the end of his career at South. Ryan also represented South on the B North Second Team, part of a squad selected by a panel of coaches that comprises the shore’s top talent. Ryan is looking to that experience and success to help him grow as a leader.

“I am looking to lead by example and being vocal this year,” says Ryan. “I have been a three year varsity starter, and I have the most experience at the varsity level.”

Following a standout junior campaign, the two stars are looking to the future with high hopes. It may seem ambitious given the year prior, but their insanely successful summer has empowered their confidence. Ryan and Dave made those goals, and how they could be achieved, very clear.

“The goals for this team include winning the WOBM Christmas tournament, win 20 plus games and make a state title run,” Ryan said.

“We believe we can make a deep playoff run, and who knows what we can do from there,” Dave explained. “If we play how we’re capable of playing, the individual goals of my teammates and I will be taken care of as well.”

With their tremendous talent being evident to all, Ryan and Dave have been in the college search with the intention of continuing their basketball careers. Their tenures as hoopsters won’t come to an end following a senior year that they hope will be special.

“It was cool to see all the different types of schools there are, but it was also very time consuming,” recounts Dave. “I recently committed to Drew University because I thought it was the best fit for me basketball-wise and academically.”

“The college search to continue my basketball career has been a ton of fun but stressful at the same time. Schools that interest me the most are Kings College, Mount St. Mary’s, Suny Maritime, Albright, and Elmira.”

Gervase and Purcell are looking forward to their last year at South, and they are ready for both themselves and the team to jump to the next level.

South’s 2018 team is much more than just its stars. The nucleus of players around Dave and Ryan is no doubt a solid collection of senior athletes ready and committed to give it their all. They are all eager, after a long time together, to embrace their roles in order to make their last year one to remember. Returning senior center Jack Anderson is ready to make the jump from solid sixth man to critical starter in his last year. The big man was a valuable contributor off the pine, averaging around 6 points a game and flaunted a nice brand of rim protection. His work ethic is simply extraordinary. He has taken large strides this summer as well. Thus far, Jack has shown he is ready to make a big impact as a starter.

“Going into the year I see my role on the team as a guy who can do a little bit of everything,” says Jack. “I expect to be in a position to collect a lot of rebounds and blocks. I’ll also be looking to make a few more 3 pointers than I did last year.”

One of the most important returning Eagles is senior point guard James Baldo. He has been the starting floor general for this team for the past two seasons and is ready to embrace a new era in South basketball, both on and off the floor. The most unselfish player on the team, James is a big time pass-first player with Mach 2 speed. Most of all, he brings a competitive fire that has grown over the offseason.

“I am looking forward to bringing back a winning culture back to South,” said James. “I’m excited because our new coach is definitely giving us a lot of freedom this year in the offense since many of us have been playing varsity for a couple years now, and this helps us play the way we feel most comfortable.”

Another noteworthy piece to South’s puzzle is sharpshooting senior guard Matt Laudisi. While not a volume scorer, he burst onto the scene as the premier three point sniper off the bench and has been working hard over the summer to expand his game to become more of a facilitator. Perhaps Matt’s greatest strength is his sheer confidence. He is hopeful that his confidence will spread to his teammates.

“Shooters shoot,” Matt remarked when asked how shooting will impact their season. “This year we are gonna play a lot more fast paced and I feel that accommodates our team the best.”

Returning forward and one of last year’s captains Nick Unrath was one of the bigger keys to what South was able to achieve. As a sweet-shooting big, he was a floor spacing stretch four. He was a decent scorer and lived off punishing defenses who ignored his nice outside stroke. His height was valuable on the defensive end, as well. He averaged a solid 8 points a game and went out with a nice 17 point outburst in their only postseason matchup last year. Over the summer, Nick refined his post game to better use his height. He also worked on getting stronger. Raring to go this year, he has taken full advantage off the rigorous offseason.

“Our team has a lot of chemistry, so hopefully we can put it all together when we step on the floor this season. It excites me that we have all worked as hard as we could this offseason, so I am anxious for the season to start,” Nick excitedly said.

The final returning member of South’s varsity team is senior forward, respectfully nicknamed “The Diesel” by his teammates. “The Diesel” is arguably the team’s most unique member. Despite being one of the shorter players on the team, he is without a doubt the strongest. He has a bit of talent in every skill, making him a very well rounded player. His game is mostly built on hustle and energy, things every team needs to compete at a high level. Last year, he began to find his groove by the year’s end and had carried that momentum into the offseason. The passion for the game that he brings off the bench will be invaluable in such an important season for South. After a good summer with a bigger role, he is ready to compete once more with teammates.

“Each team needs players who want to play their role, whether it be the leading scorer or defensive grinder,” he said. “Our core group of guys have been through a lot together and have stuck together, which is what makes our team chemistry so strong. Not many teams have a core that plays together year round for the past 5 years.”

With such optimism, everyone on South’s team is ready to tackle any challenge on the basketball court. While the Eagles are by no means a team that everyone believes will be successful, they just might be one of the biggest surprises in the basketball hotbed that is New Jersey. For this group, the sky’s the limit.