After an ugly and public falling-out with the winningest coach in team history, the Collingswood High School boys basketball team is hoping to turn the page with new coach, Patrick Dorney.
To do that, Dorney—a one-time CHS assistant coach (1995-2000) who's spent the past nine years coaching the Arcadia University men's basketball team—will have to return to his roots.
Coaching college is coaching the game; coaching high school is coaching fundamentals, and that's going to take some time to get used to.
“The biggest difference is with my 15-man roster at Arcadia University [is] 11 or 12 of the kids were the best player on their high school team,” Dorney said. “You don’t have to work on things like footwork, off-the-ball movement and screens, because they know that stuff.
"It was more about learning the shot clock, the physicality and the speed of game," he said. "Now I have to teach things...that I took for granted before.”
And another thing
Dorney will also doubtless have to deal with grumblings from McLoughlin supporters, who spent 14 seasons behind the Panthers’ bench, collecting 235 victories, eight straight South Jersey Group 2 appearances, and two sectional championships.
McLoughlin's contract was not renewed for 2013, however, setting off a firestorm in the community, as residents alleged that it was related to racial bias. An independent investigation chartered by the Collingswood Board of Education and led by Haddonfield Borough Commissioner Edward Borden has yet to produce a full report on the matter, although e-mails between the former coach and Superintendent Scott Oswald hinted at a deteriorating relationship prior to McLoughlin's removal.
Dorney was on the outside looking in as regards McLoughlin’s controversial exit, and said the series of events had no real impact on the way he is approaching the job.
“It affected me very little with the exception of the delay in hiring,” Dorney said. “The job was open and I applied.”
Collingswood players had little to say on the subject; after all, there is no time to think about the events of a previous season when there is so much technical coaching to be done.
“The biggest thing right now is trying to implement a system that is brand new,” Dorney said. “Everything is different for them, from inbound plays to the offense to the defense.”
Young blood, new system
Dorney said the players are still very much in a learning phase and that he expects that to continue into the early part of the season. Because there has been so much information to process, he believes the players are in a position where they are actually thinking too much.
“Basketball is so fast that you don’t have time to think," he said. "It needs to be muscle memory; right now, it’s all thinking. The mistakes the kids have made have been delayed mistakes.
"They are processing what’s going on, and while it is in their mind, it is not going to their feet, and they are stagnant," Dorney said. "There have been good days and bad days, but we keep reminding them they are 15 and 16 [years old] and are really still learning the game.
"At this point we are playing against the game of basketball, not the opponents," he said.
Collingswood enters the season with just two seniors, Ryan Dick and Samir Inge, expected to earn time on the floor. Alan Valentine and Stephan Copeland are expected to be solid contributors as juniors, and the rest of the roster will be comprised mostly of sophomores, including Jordan Wallace, Ibrahim Kargdo, Jeff Valentine, Steve Earle, Isaac Destin, Tyree Mann-Barnes and Malik Mohammad.
Although the group is young and mostly inexperienced, Dorney still expects it will compete for a playoff spot. To make sure his team is ready for the top teams in the Colonial Conference, the first-year coach has loaded up the non-conference schedule with Group IV opponents like Williamstown, Pennsauken, Cherry Hill East, Oakcrest and Hammonton.
That type of schedule could result in the Panthers taking a few extra lumps, but Dorney believes the experience will help his players in the long run.
“I’m expecting to compete on most nights,” he said. “I think the way the game of basketball works is if you defend and rebound every night you are going to be in most games. I know it’s going to take time for these younger guys to learn how to close out games. In those final four minutes, you need players to make plays and the kids will get those chances.
"I expect us to be playing our best basketball in January and February, and I expect us to be in the playoffs," Dorney said.