The West Milford High School boys’ basketball team officially kicks off the 2019-20 season on Dec. 20 with an away game against Mahwah.
“Our team will have opportunities to be contenders this season,” said Head Coach Timothy McClurg. “We have a dynamic combination of players this year.”
This will be McClurg’s first season as head coach since taking over for John Finke, who had coached the team for the previous 30 years.
McClurg, who played under Finke before graduating from WMHS himself in 2011, spent the last two years as an assistant coach and the last three teaching chemistry at the school.
The first-year head coach said he is excited about his squad this season.
“We have a culture of winning in basketball in West Milford,” McClurg said. “Our young guys are poised to step up and keep that culture going.”
With only one starter returning from last season, they’ll have to.
The lone returning starter, senior Kevin DeRaffele, will also be counted on to be a major contributor.
“Kevin is a complete player that can really do a little bit of everything for us on the court, especially with his versatility on offense,” said McClurg. “Kevin is trying to elevate his game to the next level (this season) by making his perimeter shooting more consistent.”
This will be DeRaffele’s fourth season playing at the varsity level and, according to his coach, the team will need to rely on that experience.
“Fellow senior Danny Woodcock also got some experience down the stretch last year due to some injuries and (he) will be looking to capitalize on that,” McClurg said.
McClurg named sophomores Chris Albar and Dylan Connors as two more players who gained valuable experience last year and who will also be counted on to take on larger roles this season.
Beyond that, though, the team has a notable lack of varsity experience.
“A good portion of our players experienced varsity level basketball over the summer or fall for the first time in their careers,” said McClurg. “They have an idea of the speed but haven't experienced it with the pressure of in-season games when every game counts.”
While that lack of experience can be perceived as a weakness, McClurg also believes that it will give his team a chip on its shoulder.
“We are going to push each other all year because we have a bunch of guys who want to win and feel like they have something to prove.”
How they go about proving themselves remains to be seen, but McClurg believes their energy will be key.
“We have some transfer players that have a great motor and great intensity,” he said. “The combination of our transfer players as well as our young players who are poised to take on a larger role has already positively impacted our preseason play as well as our tryouts.”
McClurg believes his team has what it takes to surprise some people this year.
“We have more than enough talent and a high enough work ethic to surprise some teams around the league,” he said. “As we gain more experience and become more comfortable with our different play styles, we have the ability to be competitive every night we are on the court.”
As far as hopes and expectations, McClurg said that while winning a county and/or state sectional championship is always a goal, that’s not his team’s primary focus.
“Our main focus will be to win and develop week by week and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.
“We have a culture of winning in basketball in West Milford. Our young guys are poised to step up and keep that culture going.” -WMHS BAsketball Coach Timothy McClurg