The Dickinson Rams own one of Hudson County’s best boys’ basketball record these days, posting a 9-3 mark as the season approaches the midway mark.
But what makes the Rams’ start to the 2012-13 season more impressive is that the team is doing so with easily the shortest lineup in the county.
“Our biggest player is 6-foot-1,” said Sean Drennan, who is in his sixth season as Dickinson’s head coach, after taking the reins from his legendary father, Bill “Red” Drennan. “Our center is six foot. We’re not big at all.”
When the Rams go out do to the warm-up layup drills before a game, the opposition must stand and say in amazement, wondering where the big guy is.
“We just don’t have one,” Drennan said. “But we have a good group of kids who have bought into defending. We’re not big, we’re not strong, but we play very hard.”
That’s pretty obvious.
“We’re also pretty long,” Drennan said. “We have kids with long arms who can defend well.”
But buying into an idea that a high school basketball team is going to succeed by just playing defense? That does not happen often, unless you’re coached by a guy named Hurley. Kids today want to play the fast-paced, over-the-rim style of basketball. Face facts, you can’t play above the rim if you have a team that is all around six feet tall.
“I think they have kind of understood that it’s the way we have to play,” Drennan said. “In the summer, we struggled to score and lost, so they got a chance to see it then. It’s a credit to them that they’re willing to play that way. We’ve been holding our opponents to under 50 points. It’s a credit to the seniors who listen to us and bought into it. They realized that when they did defend well, they were successful.”
However, don’t think for a minute that the Rams play at a slow and tedious pace.
“We do push the ball,” Drennan said. “When we play teams like North Bergen and Bayonne, we push the ball, because that’s the style of game they play. We can do that.”
Whatever the Rams are doing, it’s obviously working.
It also helps that the coach loves his team.
“This is the best group of kids that I’ve ever had,” Drennan said. “No kid has missed a single practice. There hasn’t been a complaint, a word, nothing. It’s really the greatest group of kids. I’m lucky to have that.”
Leading the team is senior power forward Duane James, all 6 foot 1 of him. James has been a three-year varsity starter who just recently reached the 1,000-point milestone, the second Rams player to reach the plateau in recent years. Brent Burgess (now at New Jersey City University) also scored 1,000 during his career at Dickinson.
James scored 28 points in a recent win over University Charter, giving him the prestigious honor.
“He has the most varsity experience on the team, so we’ve counted on him to take over the leadership role,” Drennan said. “He’s a very good rebounder, a very good defender. When he started for us a few years ago, I thought he might have to average like 25 when he was a senior, but he’s averaging 16 [points] and eight [rebounds]. He’s doing a nice job for us.”
The starting small forward is senior Denzel Clinton, who at 6-foot is probably shorter than the actor Washington or the former President Bill.
“Denzel is our best defender,” Drennan said. “He also plays long and gets his hands on a lot of loose balls. He’s a good slasher and a good finisher. I’m also impressed with his commitment to knocking down the 12-foot jump shot.”
The starting center is 6-foot senior David Bethea. Bethea is probably the shortest Dickinson center since the peach baskets were removed from the old Hilltopper Gym.
“He also always has a smile on his face,” Drennan said. “I’ve never seen him where he isn’t happy. He’s an excellent rebounder, but he has to be, because he has no other choice. Every team we play has a bigger kid at center.”
The shooting guard is 5-foot-11 Trevon Howard, who Drennan calls the team’s “biggest surprise,” although with a team like Dickinson has, nothing is really big at all.
“He came off the bench last year and didn’t play a lot,” Drennan said. “But he’s become our second leading scorer. He’s been working real well and hitting his threes.”
Howard connected on all 12 of his free throws in a recent victory.
The point guard duties are being shared by 5-foot-8 sophomore Carmine Marchitto, who has been a whirlwind, and the smallest of the small, 5-foot-5 Anthony Florence, who Drennan said “is going to be a very special player.”
“Carmine is really not a point guard,” Drennan said. “He’s been playing out of position. But he’s exceeding expectations.”
Senior Jaden Williams is a 5-foot-10 guard off the bench.
“He’s been a big help as a senior and he can hit threes,” Drennan said.
Antwand Williams (no relation to Jaden) is a 6-foot junior small forward and another solid defender off the bench.
Terry Taylor, a transfer from Mississippi, is a 6-foot-1 sophomore.
“He’s going to be very good,” Drennan said. “He shoots the ball well and he’s tough. You can see that he’s a good basketball player.”
So the Rams have opened some eyes this season, including the eyes of the coaching staff.
When asked if his team has exceeded his own expectations this season, Drennan didn’t hesitate with an emphatic response.
“Oh my God, yeah,” Drennan said. “Before this season, I told my assistant [Jimmy Morley] that if we were able to go .500 this year, it would be a blessing and we were doing our job. It still could happen, but we’re doing pretty well for the first half of the season. These kids are doing everything we’ve asked of them. They’re definitely doing better than what I thought they would do. I thought it was going to be a rebuilding year.”
But this group of undersized and undermanned Rams is surprising a lot of people.
“I think it’s official that we have a program now,” Drennan said.
Then again, so did the Smurfs and the Lilliputians.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.