By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Wildwood High School boys basketball team did something last season that has really never been seen around these parts.
The Warriors, under .500 at the close of the regular season and seeded 14th in the South Jersey Group I Tournament, made an extraordinary playoff run that culminated with an excruciatingly close loss to Clayton in the sectional title game. Wildwood beat three higher-seeded teams on the road to advance to the final.
The two leading scorers from that team, Tyler Tomlin and Will Long, are gone. But Wildwood brings back quite a few other contributors and adds a couple of other talented pieces, so the hope is that the team can build from how it finished last season.
“Last year was a great experience for our players and coaching staff, and just the way the town and our whole community was behind us,” Wildwood coach Scott McCracken said. “I was proud of the kids and proud of the program. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come and it can help us build for the future.”
Senior Max McGrath (6-2 F) and junior Seamus Fynes (6-1 G) are the most experienced returning players. They were integral parts of last season’s playoff run.
Another returnee is senior Karl Brown (6-2 F), a strong defender who provided valuable bench minutes last season. He’ll see an increased role.
Also returning, but almost feeling like a new addition to the team as well, is junior Diante Miles (6-1 G). He missed the last month or so of the season after breaking his wrist during a hard fall in a game at Penns Grove. He certainly has the capability to score in bunches.
Wildwood gets a major addition in junior Omarian McNeal (6-5 F), an athletic and talented post player who should provide the team a major boost in scoring, rebounding and interior defense.
Senior William Portalatin (5-9 G) and juniors Ethan Burke (6-0 F), Miguel Claudio (5-11 G) and Greg Mitchell (6-1 F) also are expected to contribute to the varsity. And a talented sophomore class is led by Ernie Troiano (6-0 G), Dom Troiano (6-1 G) and Joe’l Robinson (6-2 F). All three are expected to see at least some varsity action.
Wildwood will certainly miss the high-scoring efforts of Tomlin and Long. But this season’s Warrior team, at least on paper, is bigger, more athletic and deeper. That could allow Wildwood to compete for the Tri-County Classic Division title and for a good seed for the Group I playoffs.
“Getting Diante back, and then adding Omarian, will certainly help us compete,” McCracken said. “We think we can compete in our division. We’re playing a lot of good teams. We hope to get better as the season goes along.
“Adding Omarian to the guys we have back, it makes us a little bigger and a little more athletic. We definitely lost some scoring from last year but we think we can pick it up on the defensive end and through our rebounding. I feel like we’ll have a lot of different options due to the size and athleticism. Hopefully it puts us in a good position by the end of the season.”
Wildwood opens the season Friday with a Tri-County Conference crossover game at Woodstown before an early Saturday afternoon game against Oakcrest on Saturday in Ocean City.
McCracken is assisted by Jon Greene, Bobby Mulholland and Joe Murray.