Taking Lessons from Tournament Losses Last Year, PDS Boys’ Hoops Emphasizing Scrappy Mentality
BOUNCE IN HIS STEP: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Mason McQueen dribbles the ball in a game last winter. Senior guard McQueen’s energy helped spark PDS to the Prep B state final last season. The Panthers start their 2022-23 campaign by hosting WW/P-North on December 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
As Eugene Burroughs looks ahead to the upcoming season for his Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team, he believes two tournament losses last winter have positively impacted his returning players.
While PDS fell to Trenton Catholic Academy 50-43 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament and then lost 69-59 to Doane Academy in the Prep B state final, Burroughs saw those performances as a turning point.
“I think our game at TCA was a moment where I felt our team realized how hard we have to play,” said PDS head coach Burroughs, whose team went 5-13 in 2021-22. “We really competed with a lot of energy; I told them after that game this is the standard of how we have to play. The Doane game was another game where I felt like we played as a team at a high level. It was a physical game, we competed. Having returning kids who have experienced that is a great carryover for them this year. I feel that those guys all have improved their skill set as players. When you have that with the chemistry that our returning guys have, I think you are heading in the right direction.”
As his team has gone through preseason practices, Burroughs is seeing a carryover of intensity.
“Our energy has been great in the preseason, the best it has been since I have been here,” said Burroughs, who is in his third year guiding the program. “I feel my returning players have really just turned the corner on my expectations of them as players with our ability to move the ball on offense and rotate on defense.”
Burroughs is depending on senior guard Jaden Dublin to get things moving for the Panthers this winter.
“Jaden was a great addition for us last year; he is looking great, he is in great shape,” said Burroughs, whose team will start its 2022-23 campaign by hosting WW/P-North on December 15. “I feel he is going to have a great year. He is more aggressive this year at the offensive end. That is something that our team needs from him. Defensively, he has improved from last year in terms of his understanding of where to be on defense and what the expectations are.”
Another senior guard, Jaden Hall, is also showing aggressiveness.
“Jaden made great strides last year and from what I have seen this year, he has taken another jump in a positive direction,” said Burroughs. “He has been playing great, he has been making shots. He has been driving the ball to the rim and has been making good decisions with the basketball. His defense has been more consistent for longer periods of time which is a great attribute to his game. He has had a great preseason and I am expecting him to have a big year this year.”
Burroughs is expecting senior guard Mason McQueen to be a catalyst for PDS.
“He has been our energy guy, he has given us a spark in the past and I think this year he is going to give us a bigger spark,” said Burroughs. “He brings energy, he is passionate about the game and he is going to hustle. He is going to compete on both ends of the floor. I am excited to see his growth as an offensive player. He has definitely improved in his decision-making, his poise, his shooting, and just knowing where guys are on the floor. I think when you are a senior you play with a little more confidence. He has been playing with confidence and it has been great.”
Versatile sophomore Abdoulaye Seydi is playing with a lot more confidence in his second year with the program.
“Abdoulaye had a great showing in our first couple of scrimmages where you see the improvement from last year to this year,” said Burroughs. “He didn’t play many minutes on varsity last season, he was a swing player. This year, he has had an imprint on our team on defense by showing poise, being confident, making good plays. He still has a window to grow as a ballplayer. The more minutes he plays and the more games he plays in at this level is going to make him even better by the end of the year.”
The sharp shooting of senior Rafael Moore should help him get more minutes this season.
“I feel he is going to have a great year, he is probably one of our better shooters,” said Burroughs. “With the roster of guys that we have, I think that is going to allow him to be really effective for us, helping us spread the floor when teams play zone. His ability to make shots is going to impact our team. We struggled last year at scoring the ball and other teams zoned us a lot. I think with the core of guys that we have this year, we can shoot the ball better and make more offensive plays.”
Senior Bram Silva figures to have an impact with his toughness in the paint.
“Bram has had a great preseason; you can see his growth physically from last year to this year, his body looks great, he is in great shape,” said Burroughs. “I feel he is going to grow into his own as a basketball player, making plays at the rim and screening. He is doing all that things that he did last year and doing them better now.”
The pair of senior Nico Cucci and sophomore Adam Stewart is primed to do some good things this winter.
“Nino played a few minutes for us last year,” said Burroughs. “He is our back-up center, he had a great showing in our last scrimmage, just doing hustle plays, blocking out, getting rebounds, and helping to move the ball offensively. He is a role player who is going to play a lot for us. Adam is in the mix, he has an opportunity to grow as a basketball player and evolve. I am curious to see the impact he will have. He did a lot of work in the offseason on his body. He was in the weight room and he looks strong. I think he has the ability to be a solid defender for us.”
A newcomer, freshman Jordan Owens, is showing the ability to make an immediate contribution.
“Jordan is a really good shooter, he is still growing as a basketball player,” said Burroughs. “Going from eighth grade to varsity basketball is an adjustment. He is also adjusting to me as a coach and the learning curve of the defense we are playing and trying to learn offensively where to be on the court. He is coming along. He has the ability to make shots and to make some good basketball plays. He has impressed us in practice with his ability to put the ball on the floor and stretch the defense. I think he is going to be a great addition to this core of basketball kids that we have this year.”
With a core of energetic veterans, PDS will be employing an up-tempo style.
“Our strength is our ability to move the basketball, drive it, shoot it, and make the extra pass,” said Burroughs. “It highlights our whole team, our offense isn’t geared for one person to have 30 shots. On any given day, any one of our players could be a leading scorer. That is how we play, to be interchangeable. For me, it is improving our skill set. Doing that will allow our players to gain confidence in the skills they have learned and apply them in games.”
In order to win a lot of games this winter, the Panthers will emphasize ball movement and grit.
“Our success really comes down to our ability to be able to share the ball and be a scrappy team on the defensive end,” said Burroughs. “We don’t have a ton of size but we have speed and athleticism. Our guys are quick and they move their feet. We have a chance to be a competitive team. In our first two scrimmages, we started the year like we ended the year last season. I think that is a positive for this group.”