From time to time, South Hunterdon High School boys basketball coach Jason Miller sends emails to college programs asking for strategic insights.
“Usually someone’s secretary or director of operations will email us a couple of plays or a diagram here or there,” Miller said.
The response he got from Virginia Commonwealth University was a whole lot different.
“I was sitting in my office and the phone rang. When VCU came up in the caller ID I said, ‘Let’s see what the secretary has to say,’ ” Miller said. “I answered and it was Shaka Smart on the phone. He said, ‘I’ll send you anything you need, but if you want to come down and visit you’re welcome.’ We took him up on it.”
Smart, who attained celebrity status after guiding VCU to the 2011 Final Four, gave Miller and South Hunterdon assistant Frank Schermerhorn full access to the Rams’ staff for three days of practice in October. What a generous gesture out of the blue; it’s highly unlikely Smart will ever recruit a player from the small school tucked in a rural corner of New Jersey. Miller made the most of the opportunity.
“It was really cool to see that in person,” Miller said. “We like their pressure system, we like the havoc and chaos, and we brought the same thing back here and it’s been effective for us.”
The proof is in the results. At 10-2, Miller’s Eagles already have matched last year’s win total. When the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament gets seeded Feb. 1, they have a chance at the No. 1 seed on the Hunterdon side of the bracket. The Eagles own quality wins over North Plainfield, Voorhees and Delaware Valley. And that was without their best player, senior guard Jake Whitaker, who just returned from a broken collarbone suffered during football season.
Senior guard Devon Troutman (8 ppg), junior guard Brennan Carey (10 ppg) and senior forward John Conlon (7 ppg) have set the pace, with Danny Begg, Clay Hope and Elijah Davis playing key roles.
“We’re much better than we’ve been defensively,” Miller said. “We’re much deeper than we’ve ever been. We play nine, 10 kids, so we’re able to keep some fresh legs out there.”
Only two of the contributors are taller than six feet, hence the need for speed — and the interest in VCU. Now that interest is heightened.
“There’s VCU stuff up in my office,” Miller said. “I definitely am a fan.”
Player of the Week
It took nearly a month, but Bridgewater-Raritan guard Ben Miller finally missed a free throw. The senior converted his first 40 before misfiring in Saturday’s 73-59 victory over East Brunswick. Miller is now 42 of 43 (97.7 percent) on the season.
“My form is the same; I just worked on it all offseason,” Miller said. “I only shot 20-something of them all last year.”
Miller’s emergence is a big reason why Bridgewater-Raritan (8-3) is riding a five-game winning streak. He averages 16.8 points and has reached double figures in scoring in every contest, posting 18 against East Brunswick.
“Ben is a three-year varsity player who is showing the poise gained from his experiences,” Panthers coach Gene McAteer said. “His dedication and commitment to our basketball program has been extraordinary.”
Brayden Carr Challenge
Although the Skyland has gotten the better of the Greater Middlesex Conference in crossovers so far this season, the GMC prevailed in Saturday’s Brayden Carr Challenge, posting a 3-2 mark in the benefit.
Middlesex broke the tie with a night win at South Hunterdon. This was the second year of the inter-conference event, held at home sites to raise money for the Brayden Carr Foundation.
Created in honor of the late son of longtime South Plainfield residents Jim and Natalie Carr — Jim is now an assistant coach at the University of Rhode Island — the foundation helps children with seizure conditions and their families. For more information visit http://braydencarrfounda tion.com/site/.
Games of the Week
Union Catholic at Roselle, Tuesday at 7 p.m.: It will be an emotional night as Union Catholic plays its first game since starters Ashton Lofton and David Hawthorne suffered serious injuries in a car accident Friday.
Hillsborough at Ridge, Thursday at 7 p.m.: The difference between the third and fourth seeds in the Somerset County Tournament could be at stake. Both teams have size and skill inside.
Montgomery at Rutgers Prep, Thursday at 7 p.m.: Montgomery could be 12-0 visiting a dangerous Rutgers Prep team. The Cougars need this one to make a case for the top seed in the SCT.