R.J. Weise is a boys’ basketball standout for Allentown High School.
The junior, a 5-11 guard, is averaging 14.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. But in January, he has not had to do as much for the Redbirds.
Allentown coach Jay Graber has developed three versatile guards around Weise.
Joe Baldachino has emerged as Allentown’s best scorer. Jack Kudrick is playing strong defense and scoring in multiple ways. A sophomore, Brandon Pfeifer, leads the Redbirds in three pointers with 33.
It’s a Villanova-style four-guard lineup. With it, the Redbirds are playing sound basketball. All four players are pushing the ball, whipping it around and drilling open shots.
Allentown is 9-4 in its last 13 games. On Jan. 30, the Redbirds beat Steinert High School, 58-55. They lost to Steinert, 56-35, in their season opener on Dec. 14, which clearly demonstrates how much Allentown has improved.
“Our kids are doing a great job and that shows in their progression,” Graber said. “Everyone is opening the floor for everybody else and we are playing a free flowing style.”
Kudrick and Pfeifer came off the bench for Allentown’s 5-18 club last winter. Between last season and this December, they got enough reps to become confident as varsity basketball players.
Since Kudrick is 6-2, he also has to defend opposing forwards, a tough assignment for a guard. But the senior has responded to the challenge. In a loss to Trenton Central High School on Jan. 25, Kudrick held Ethan Garita, one of Trenton’s best players, to six points.
“He’s been playing tough on defense,” Graber said. “Which has really helped us.”
Pfeifer is a tantalizing talent with the maturity to sustain success.
“We’re very excited for him,” Graber said. “He doesn’t act like a sophomore.”
Baldachino, though, may be the biggest difference maker. The senior transferred to Allentown from Conwell-Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills, Pa., before the school year. Due to the NJSIAA’s transfer rule, Baldachino had to sit for the first 30 days of the season.
But when he joined the team in January, he became the Redbirds’ top scorer, averaging 17.6 points per contest. Baldachino is scoring in every way, too. He has 44 field goals, 33 free throws and 30 threes this winter.
“Joe has helped a lot offensively. He’s able to bring the ball up and take the pressure off other guys,” Graber said. “He is also a good shooter who can stretch the floor.”
Weise has welcomed Baldachino’s scoring with consistent dishes to his new teammate. The junior actually prefers to play a point guard role, which has tied Allentown’s four-guard lineup together.
“R.J. is very unselfish,” Graber said. “That helps open up his game. He has confidence in the other guys and can use his passing skills.”
“He’s a very good passer,” added Tim Mastromarino, Allentown’s lone starting forward.
Even teams that play beautiful game basketball, like Allentown, need a big guy to do the dirty work. Mastromarino is that guy for the Redbirds, pulling down 8.2 rebounds per contest.
The 6-2 junior loves and embraces his role.
“Every time a shot goes up, I’m crashing the boards and trying to get another open shot,” he said.
Allentown knows its identity, and is having fun playing ball.
Unfortunately, though, Allentown’s late surge was not enough for the Redbirds to qualify for the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament. But Allentown will at least get a chance to make a run in the Mercer County Tournament. Every Mercer County team automatically makes the MCT.
“We have to lock down on defense if we want to make a run, and that will create our offense,” Mastromarino said.