By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Anthony Raffa played high school basketball at Wildwood Catholic at a frenetic pace.
His speed, ball-handling skills and toughness were a nightmare for opponents, as he relentlessly attacked his opponents at both ends of the floor.
Many of the thrilling plays he made en route to scoring 1,893 career points and leading Wildwood Catholic to back-to-back South Jersey titles as a junior and senior in 2006 and 2007 were executed on blind instinct.
But through the years, after productive Division I college and overseas professional careers, Raffa has also learned a lot about virtually all aspects of the game. And now he’s ready to pass that on to others.
As first reported by CoastSportsToday.com, Raffa was named the successor to Dave DeWeese as the head boys basketball coach at Wildwood Catholic Academy on Friday. This came after he served as an assistant under DeWeese for one pandemic-shortened season that saw the Crusaders play just five games.
“Obviously I had been with them for a little bit and I enjoyed it,” Raffa said. “Last year I got more serious with (coaching). One day Coach (DeWeese) told me that maybe I’d eventually become the head coach there. But I didn’t think about it at the time. I was more worried about the success of our team and doing everything we had to do to deal with COVID(-19).”
Raffa was among the surprised when DeWeese stepped down earlier this month, the longtime head coach explaining that he simply no longer had his usual passion for the job.
“It caught me off guard when he told me,” Raffa said. “We had good communication all summer. I was coaching them in the summer league and doing some other things with them and I had no idea this was coming. When I found out he was retiring, it kind of shocked me but then he explained how he was feeling. He said he had put a lot of time and effort into coaching but that his time was up.”
Raffa immediately expressed interest in the job and was officially named the new head coach two days after interviewing for the position last week.
Raffa feels honored to have the post.
“I feel great about it,” he said. “There’s a lot of tradition at Wildwood Catholic, from before my years (as a player), then during my years and then a lot of successful years after that, too. It’s a well respected school. There’s a lot of support from the alumni and community.
“I wanted to continue to be a part of that. I want to give back to the place that made me and I feel like that’s what I can do now as coach.”
From high school, through college and into professional basketball, Raffa has been around a lot of coaches with different styles and philosophies. He plans to bring some of what he’s learned from each of them to a Crusader program that features some talented, albeit mostly inexperienced, players.
“I’d like to run some European style offenses and be more up-tempo,” he said. “I think we have some players that are very skilled and they have some weapons, so I think we can do some things on the offensive end. We’ll also use some of the stuff we’ve been using here already and then also some of the stuff I learned in college.
“I think there are a lot of options for what I want to do for this team. I think we have the potential to be very good. Obviously we’re young but that doesn’t really matter to me. If you can play the game and understand the philosophies and what I want us to do, I think we can be successful.
“I want to coach them how I was coached. Getting coached by a lot of different coaches, I want to incorporate all of that into my coaching style.”
Raffa is fully aware of what could be a difficult task, taking over for a highly successful coach who won three South Jersey titles, four Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament titles and 324 games over his 18 seasons in DeWeese.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Raffa said. “But I think Coach (DeWeese) knows that I’ll do the best job that I can. It’s a great story. He was my coach and I helped him win his first two titles when we won South Jersey, and now for me to take over for him means a lot to me. He put me in this position to be successful and now I have to do my best to follow in his footsteps.”