By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD — On a night when the head coach earned a significant milestone, one of the players from the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team practically stole the show.
Taj Thweatt scored 23 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and was officially credited with three blocked shots — although that total seemed to be at least double that number in reality — to lead the Crusaders to a 45-29 victory over Boys Latin (Md.) in the first round of the Frank McAlarnen Memorial Boys Bracket at the Boardwalk Basketball Classic Friday.
There was extra reason to celebrate the win, as Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese picked up his 300th career victory. DeWeese, in his 17th season as Wildwood Catholic coach, is now 300-167 for his career.
During his career, DeWeese has led Wildwood Catholic to two South Jersey titles and three Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament titles, including each of the last two.
“Well, I’ve been doing this a long time, and that’s one way you can get to 300,” DeWeese said with a laugh. “But I’ve been blessed with great players, great coaches, great mentors who have all put me in a position to win 300 games.
“This group playing now, they might be responsible for 25 percent of my 300 wins. These seniors have just about 75 of the 300 wins, and that’s a great credit to Taj, Jahlil (White) and Jacob (Hopping). They’ve really helped me get to this milestone. It’s special to have the opportunity to coach and it’s special to have the opportunity to coach a group like this.
“I have to say thank you to my wife (Michelle), because she’s allowed me to pursue this passion of basketball that I have. It takes time away from her and it takes time away from my (adult) children (Jen, Scott and Zach), but they’ve all been so supportive of me. This endeavor we do, we have a lot of fun with it. It definitely makes winters in Wildwood interesting.”
Thweatt thrilled the large crowd on hand for the game with an array of dunks and blocked shots. He capped the team’s victory with a double-clutch reverse dunk on a breakaway late in the fourth quarter.
“The first thing that popped in my head was, ‘Don’t miss it,’” Thweatt said with a laugh. “Because if I missed it, Coach would’ve been all over me.”
Boys Latin held an 18-11 lead early in the second quarter when the Crusaders used their defense to turn the game around. They finished the half on a 15-0 run, holding the Lakers (3-4) without a point for the final 6:11 of the half.
White added 18 points for Wildwood Catholic (3-0).
Thweatt and White combined to shoot 18 for 33 from the floor.
Wildwood Catholic will face Mervo Tech (Md.) for the bracket title on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. Mervo was a 66-53 winner over Wildwood (Fla.) in its opener.
“I’m very impressed with how Mervo played,” DeWeese said. “I was very impressed with how that team played — their effort and their enthusiasm. It’s going to take a monumental effort to get a win.”