Paul Wiedeman concedes that this time of year gives him a little extra jolt. The Haddonfield boys’ basketball coach was referring to the NJSIAA state tournament, which will begin Feb. 26.
“It’s amazing how fast the season goes,” Wiedeman said after a win Thursday over West Deptford improved the Bulldogs to 21-2. “You are in the grind and look up and you have another week to the playoffs, and it kind of invigorates you.”
While’s he’s eager for the playoffs, one question he won’t answer is about Camden, the Goliath of the South Jersey Group 2 tournament. The Panthers have won five straight South Jersey titles and, despite being the No. 3 seed, are the prohibitive favorites this year in Group 2.
Of course, that was the case last year, and Camden had to go to overtime to escape with a 42-40 win over Haddonfield in the sectional final.
The Panthers this season are ranked No. 1 in South Jersey by The Inquirer. Haddonfield isn’t exactly an afterthought, holding the No. 8 spot.
The Bulldawgs are seeded No. 2 and would face the Panthers in the semifinals if both teams win their first two games.
“Our guys aren’t looking at that stuff,” Wiedeman said about a potential rematch that everybody expects with Camden.
Haddonfield will open against No. 15 Cape May Tech on Feb. 27. If the Bulldawgs hold serve, as expected, they will meet the winner of No. 7 Haddon Heights and No. 10 Pleasantville.
Wiedeman is more than happy to point out that Haddonfield split this season with Haddon Heights. The Garnets won the most recent matchup, 66-65, on Feb. 1.
“They beat us and they are good, and they almost beat us the first time,” he said, referring to Haddonfield’s 58-50 victory. “And Pleasantville is a good team.”
So is Haddonfield, a team that starts four juniors and senior Ben Schroeter. The Bulldawgs will enter the tournament shorthanded, as leading scorer Will Bond, a 6-foot-4 senior, is out with a wrist injury. Asked if Bond is definitely out for the season, Wiedeman hedged, saying, “I don’t know if you can say definitely.”
Either way, the Bulldawgs should be formidable. They are led by junior point guard Mike DePersia, a three-year starter who has deep range and is a dogged defender. DePersia doesn’t lack a jumper, a handle, or confidence.
“I think we can hang with anybody,” he said. But he acknowledges that last year’s playoff loss, when Camden hit a shot at the buzzer in overtime, still stings. “That really hurt,” DePersia said. “Since that loss, we have been working hard, using it as motivation.”
Besides Schroeter and DePersia, Haddonfield’s starters are 6-4 junior Aiden Blake, 6-7 junior Dan Fleming, and 6-5 junior Louis Heine. Junior guard Lewis Evans and 6-4 senior Sam Heine have also been integral parts of the rotation.
Besides suffering several injuries this season, Haddonfield has been without a home court because of construction at the school. The Bulldawgs have been playing home games at Cherry Hill East.
“It’s been tough with the injuries. We have had the gym issues, traveling on a bus every time we go out,” Wiedeman said.
Then he pointed out that the football team had similar hurdles, with no home field. Haddonfield’s football team won the South Jersey Group 2 championship.
“We have talked about dealing with adversity as a team,” Wiedeman said. “The football team dealt with adversity and won a title.”
Then he pointed out another team he can derive inspiration from: “The Eagles were underdogs, and see what happened in the Super Bowl?”
We all know how that one ended.
Is another underdog ready to excel in Group 2? That’s one of the more fascinating questions as the one-and-done tournament approaches.