Don Clark has spent the early portion of the season preaching the importance of getting off to fast starts to his West Deptford High School boys' basketball team. The message is clearly getting through.
The Eagles have held a first-quarter lead in all five of its games so far this season, and Thursday’s performance may have been the most dominant opening-quarter yet. The Eagles jumped out to a 18-4 lead and cruised to a 64-47 win over Collingswood in Colonial Conference Liberty Division action.
“We have been doing that all season,” West Deptford junior guard Justin Hansen said. “During the summer league and fall league, we were coming out with sluggish starts and falling behind by 10-point deficits. We know we have to come out fast against these teams or we are going to get blown out in this conference.”
West Deptford established the tone of the game right from the tip as it forced the Panthers into turnovers in each of their first three possessions. By the time the first eight minutes concluded, Collingswood was in too big of a hole to climb out of.
“We talk about playing with tempo,” Clark said. “We have nine or 10 guys (that play) and we talk about pressuring the ball, making it hard on other teams and trying to wear them down. We talked (Thursday) about going out and pressuring the ball and that’s what we did.”
The Eagles got a balanced effort, but were once again led by Hansen, who had 18 points. Hansen is the lone returning starter from a year ago, and has plenty of experience playing with the many of the other juniors on the team.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since fourth grade, so I know everything about them,” said Hansen. “It just took some time to get used to them and that’s part of becoming a leader. I learned from Tommy (Jakubowski), Tim Krott and Tim Fair how to be a leader out here and I thank them for teaching me.”
Hansen said he is taking to his new role as the go-to scorer and feels like the game is coming to him much easier these days.
“I feel comfortable now,” Hansen said. “I had to work my way up, but the game is much slower now that it’s my third year. I have had 50-some starts so it’s much easier to get into the tempo.”
T.J. Harcum was used in a reserve role a year ago, but has blossomed as a starting center. He scored 12 points Friday, and has reached double digits in every game this season. Junior Mike Gardner had 12 points, while freshman Marquise Owens added nine points to go with four steals.
Clark credits his team’s hot start with the time the players put in during the full calendar year.
“You reap what you sow,” Clark said. “They worked hard so they deserve that. They are playing well because they put the time in. … Guys like Sean Langan (six points) will practice for two hours and then go to RiverWinds for an hour and a half and go shoot. When you put that time in, then it pays off.”
The Eagles' lone loss this season was a 79-74 overtime setback to Haddonfield two weeks ago when they squandered a 44-30 halftime lead. West Deptford saw its lead decrease from 24 down to 13 late in the fourth quarter but the outcome was never seriously jeopardized.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, because it’s a long season and a lot can happen, but I think we only get better,” Clark said. “I think that this team hasn’t even reached its potential yet.”