After Starting Preseason Practices Outdoors, Hun Boys’ Hoops Back Inside for 2021 Campaign
APPLYING PRESSURE: Hun School boys’ basketball player Dan Vessey, right, puts on the defensive pressure in a game last winter. Guard Vessey emerged as a shooting star last year for Hun and is primed for a big junior season. The Raiders are slated to start their 2021 season this week by hosting Christian Brothers Academy on January 26 and Princeton Day School on January 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Starting in early December, the sound of squeaking sneakers, bouncing basketballs, and whistles could be heard emanating from the Hun School tennis courts on weekday afternoons.
With indoor sports banned in New Jersey for the last four weeks of December due to COVID-19 concerns, the Hun boys’ basketball team took its preseason training outside.
While braving the elements was challenging, Raider head coach Jon Stone credited his players with pushing through the situation.
“For all of us coaches and for all of these sports this year, we are starting with a lot of firsts,” said Stone.
“That was certainly a first, practicing outside, socially distant with masks on the tennis courts. I can’t say I have done that before. We made the best out of a tough situation; we tried to get done what we could get done.”
Getting back into the gym on January 16 proved to be a joyful moment for the Raiders.
“The minute they walked into the door they were hooting and hollering, as was I,” said Stone, who guided Hun to a 12-14 record in 2019-20 and a spot in the state Prep A semis. “It was just great.”
Maintaining that upbeat approach will be key in dealing with the inevitable scheduling changes that will result from working through COVID-19 concerns.
“The mood is great, they are super excited,” said Stone, whose team is slated to start its 2021 season this week by hosting Christian Brothers Academy on January 26 and Princeton Day School on January 29.
“I told them we have certain games scheduled now and those might change. We have had five changes already and we haven’t played a game yet. We could wake up one morning and not be able to play and then the next day play someone else. They seem to be OK with that and prepared for that.”
Stone is excited to have junior stars Dan Vessey and Jack Scott returning in the backcourt.
“Dan and Jack both have tremendous work ethic, high basketball IQs, and the ability to shoot the ball,” said Stone.
“They bring us a lot of stability and great experience from last year. We are certainly glad they are playing for us. As much as they have a lot of similarities, they also have a lot of differences too and they do complement themselves very well too.”
The team’s X-factor will be the athletic senior Kelvin Smith, who can excel all over the court.
“If you consider starting spots, he starts at the three (small forward), he will handle the ball plenty as well as be off the ball,” said Stone, noting that post-graduate Randall Brown will also be seeing action at guard and forward.
“He is literally the one who can play every position on the floor for us. He is also our best defender so he can guard any position for us.”
In the frontcourt, juniors Isiaha Dickens and Toby Thornburg are poised for a big season.
“They will give us some great leadership and experience up front. Both have improved,” said Stone, who will also utilize sophomore Ethan Gross at forward.
“Isiaha is a terrific passer, he has a point guard’s
mentality in a forward’s body. Toby is just so high energy and versatile himself with the strength and the soft touch ability. He can shoot it as well.”
Hun is welcoming a trio of newcomers, Anthony Aririguzoh, Tijmen Suijker, and Andrew Lancaster, who should also make an impact in the paint.
“Anthony is 6’7, he brings tremendous length, athleticism, and versatility; he can play multiple positions,” said Stone of Aririguzoh, whose older brother, Richmond, just finished a stellar career for the Princeton University men’s hoops program.
“He is young and is going to continue to get better. He is a terrific person. We have Tijmen who is from the Netherlands. He is 6’10 and can play inside-outside. He has really great touch and is a great shooter. He also has great length and the ability to rebound and block shots. We also have Andrew, he is 6’5.”
While the 2021 schedule will be limited, Stone believes that just being indoors on the court will be a plus for his players.
“We are just happy to be in the gym and practicing at the moment,” said Stone.
“If that is all we can do, that would be a big win compared to where we were. Obviously we are hopeful to play games too and we will take as many as we can get. Every day we get to play, whether it is a practice or a game, we will consider it a blessing. We can’t be too worried too much about the opponents we play or the league or the state tournament as long as we get to play. We may wind up playing some teams three or four times.”