When people asked Scotch Plains head basketball coach Dan Doherty last year about how good his squad would be in the upcoming 2007-2008 season, with confidence the coach said “Yeah, we are going to be good.”
Scotch Plains was.
With a senior-dominated team lead by the school’s all-time leading scorer Bryan Dougher, the Group III school captured their first state championship title since the Kennedy administration.
Like the Foreigner song verse, “That was yesterday.”
The Raiders graduated eight seniors, including Dougher who is now starting for D I Stony Brook on Long Island. Doherty also stepped down. The exhausting commitment to the grind of the extended 12 month hoops schedule a coach is expected to maintain ultimately made the Scotch Plains High School math teacher to step aside.
Enter Scotch Plains assistant Ben Martinez as the new head coach.
Martinez played at Scotch Plains, graduating in 1999, and went on to play for New Jersey coaching legend Ted Fiore at Montclair State. He returned to his alma mater right after the exodus of blue chip recruits Derrick Caractor and Lance Thomas, who left for St. Pat’s and St. Benedict’s. Under Doherty, Scotch Plains rebuilt their program from the ground up to its apex of the State Championship.
With just one returning starter—Kevin Maroney – Martinez will have to put that rebuilding experience to work. Scotch Plains opened their season in less than stellar fashion with a 1-4 record. “This season we had a renewed expectation and also a lot was expected of us,” said the first year coach.
Scotch Plains beat an improved Elizabeth team in the Raiders’ first home game and the season started to turn around. “We defiantly had a sense of urgency before the Elizabeth game and if we lost it, we would have dug a hole too big to climb out,” said Martinez.
Although the team lost eight seniors, seven juniors gained valuable playing experience against better competition in last year’s championship run. Scotch Plains is a member of the Watchung Conference and is one of only three Group III schools in the conference dominated by Group IV basketball powerhouses Plainfield, Elizabeth, Irvington and Union.
“We would rather face the best competition and challenge ourselves with a higher expectation” said the Martinez. The energized group orchestrated six wins over the next eight games including big wins over state ranked Watchung opponents Irvington and Shabazz.
The Raiders starting five includes 6’5” Kevin Maroney, who signed to play D-I baseball for Monmouth next year; 6’3” All State linebacker Marcus Green, who will don a football uniform for the Temple Owls; 6’6” Ishmil Raymond. who is being recruited by some NJAC schools; Reggie Solomon, the starting point guard and Melvin Hanciles, a good defender.
Martinez credits Raymond as the nucleus of the team. “Ish is a good shot blocker and is the core of our defense,” said the Raiders head coach. “Reggie is our point guard and he goes as we go.”
Like last year’s team, there is a good mix of upperclassman and underclassmen contributing to this year’s success. Sophomores Patrick Dougher, Bryan’s brother, and Tim Bonacum are gaining valuable playing experience for the young coach and is cementing the foundation for Martinez’s program for the future. Some post season games will help the maturation process.
Going into Thursday night’s contest against Plainfield with a 10-10 record, the Raiders will have to win at least one of the next two games in order to be post season eligible and defend their Group III crown. Saturday’s match be the make or break game. Up next for Scotch Plains is Middlesex County powerhouse Cardinal McCarrick in the Bronskie Memorial basketball tournament.
Making the post-season will be one obstacle and Martinez knows that is only the starting line. “Going into the state will be a tough to navigate,” said Martinez. “We had some good wins and need to get over this hurdle before we can think about the next.”
Fending off a late surge by Cardinal McCarrick, Scotch Plains was able to maintain their composure and beat the Middlesex county school 62-61. Raymond had a team high 20 points. McCarrick’s Julio Rosario had a game high 31.