MIDDLETOWN – It was a tale of two seasons for Middletown North boys basketball last season, with an injury to one of the top players in the Shore Conference the defining moment.
“We started the season very well and then Rob Higgins broke his wrist,” head coach Mike Iasparro said. “He missed five games and we lost four out of those five games. When he came back, we went on a run and put ourselves in a good position for the postseason.”
The Lions finished the season with a 16-11 record and earned a share of the B North championship. They were able to secure the seventh-seed in the Shore Conference Tournament, which enabled them to get a first-round bye. They defeated Colts Neck in the second round at home before falling to perennial power and second-seeded Raney in the quarterfinals.
It was only the third time the program had ever made it to the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament. Now, they hope to take the next step.
“All in all, last year was a successful year, but we have three starters coming back,” Iasparro said. “Going into this year, with three starters coming back, I feel good about our chances to repeat as division champions.”
One of those returning starters is Higgins, who averaged over 20 points a game and was first team All- Shore as a sophomore. Now, with the broken wrist behind him, Higgins is looking to take the next step and elevate the Lions to the next level.
“He’s a very special player. He’s unbelievably talented, but the best part about him is his work ethic,” Iasparro said. “He’s the hardest working kid we have in every practice. He’s a great teammate and he’s extremely coachable. It’s been a lot of fun. If he didn’t sit out those five games last year with a broken wrist, he would have scored 1,000 points last year. Going into this season he’s 90 points away and there’s only been one other player in the history of the Shore Conference to score 1,000 points their first two years. That’s Bryan Antoine at Ranney. That gives you an idea of how talented he is.”
The Lions will return two seniors to the varsity level in David Campbell and Sky Cherry. Campbell is a four-year varsity starter who brings a lot of experience to the court.
Cherry transferred from Mater Dei Prep two seasons ago and came off the bench early on, but saw his role expand as he got more acclimated with the program. He started the second half of the season and led the Lions in 3-point shooting percentage.
“We’re expecting Higgins to get a lot of attention from defenses this year, which I think is going to open up for opportunities for Dave and Sky to score the basketball more often,” Iasparro said. “We’re looking for both those guys to not only take on a bigger leadership role, but also take on a bit of the scoring load because I’m sure Higgins is going to see a lot of attention.”
The Lions are not lacking in depth either as senior guard Jack Kenny, senior forward Travis Cimmino, senior forward Tim McCann, senior guard Mike Youncofski, and sophomore guard/forward Matt Spencer all figure to play prominent minutes this season.
“Kenny is a very athletic player. He’s not much of a scorer, but he’s going to do all the little things for us,” Iasparro said. “He’s going to defend, dive on the floor for loose balls, take charges and he’s going to rebound for us. He has good ball-handling skills and he’s a good passer. Cimmino is kind of an undersized big man. He’s about 6-foot but he’s going to play the five for us. He’s strong, quick and athletic. He’s going to play a role that’s a little bit different than what he might be used to, but he’s more than capable of doing it.
“Off the bench we have Tim McCann who is also a football lineman. He will also play the five for us. Youncofski is a smaller player who is a good 3-point shooter off the bench. We also have a sophomore we think is going to be really good in Matt Spencer. He’s a very versatile player who can really play one through four. We’re looking for him to grow and have more of a role as the season goes on and he gains experience.”
Iasparro’s main goal this season is to go deeper in the postseason than they have the previous two years, and it appears the Lions have the talent and depth to have an opportunity to do so.
“This season we want to build off our success the last two years,” Iasparro said. “We won the division the last two years, so now we want to go deeper in the postseason. That’s one of our main goals.”
- 2023 JSN Awards Finalists Announced - December 18, 2023
- Sunil Sunder Raj Recaps Day One of State Football Finals With OnNJ (VIDEO) - November 27, 2023
- Mental Health and Exercise: Finding Balance in New Jersey's Fast-Paced Life - November 27, 2023