Jay Graber does not really have long term goals for his Allentown High School boys’ basketball team.
Instead, the coach of the Redbirds is taking it day by day.
He just wants his team to get a little better in every practice, scrimmage and game.
It’s a sound approach for a squad of a season ago that went 5-18 and lost in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament to Hightstown High School, 57-45.
The Redbirds will open the 2018-19 season at Steinert High School on Dec. 14 at 5:15 p.m. They have a pretty talented and experienced seven-man rotation, which should result in an improved record this winter.
“We have a good group and the kids work hard,” Graber said. “We’re just trying to put it together for the first scrimmage and then improve for the next one.”
Allentown returns two starters in juniors R.J. Weise and Tim Mastromarino.
Weise grew four inches in the offseason, sprouting to 5-11. He went from being an undersized guard to a tall guard.
Graber thinks the growth spurt will help Weise cover opposing scorers and get to the basket himself.
“Now he’s big enough and strong enough to handle the pressure that comes with playing guard,” Graber said. “He’s a great shooter, very smart, knows the game very well and can handle the ball.”
Weise’s increased size and strength will complement his already prolific shooting. As a sophomore last winter, Weise scored 12.8 points per game, with almost half of his points coming on three pointers.
The guard drilled 46 treys in 2017-18. He also made more than two free throws per contest, so he can shoot and get to the basket, making him more efficient than the average high school scorer.
If Weise is Allentown’s best scorer, then Mastromarino is the team’s best defender. Mastromarino is a hustle player who can guard any position.
He came up to varsity halfway through the 2017-18 season, took on the stopper role and played well.
“We’ll look for him to cover big guys and guards,” Graber said. “He’s versatile.”
Graber hopes that Mastromarino will score more this winter, too. The junior is fast and quick to the rim. He just has to develop a shooting touch.
“He can definitely add scoring,” Graber said. “And we’re definitely looking for him to score.”
Allentown also brings back two bench players, Jack Kudrick and Brandon Pfeifer, from last year. Kudrick is a 6-2 guard who can shoot on offense and deflect passes on defense. Pfeifer is a combo guard who can handle, shoot and score.
“We’re not that big. So we’ll go to a lot of four and five guard sets,” Graber said. “Jack can hopefully create mismatches for us. Brandon’s a little smaller but he can handle.”
The Redbirds’ other three rotation players will need to rebound, and they have the size to do it. Sean Foley stands 6-5, David Barrero is 6-3 and Joe Baldachino is listed at 6-2.
Foley and Barrero, two sophomores, played on the freshmen and junior varsity teams last year. Baldachino transferred from Conwell-Egan Catholic High School of the powerful Philadelphia Catholic League, so he has experience against high level competition.
“We don’t have a lot of guys, so they’ll be thrust into these roles whether they are ready or not,” Graber said. “We are excited for them to work hard, develop and build.”
Graber was talking about his big men, but he was also describing his team in general.