Senior point guard Mike DePersia is one of the best floor leaders in New Jersey and has the Bulldawgs in good shape to make a run at a second straight start title before he begins his Division-I collegiate career
You help win the school’s first state title in 12 years. You join your older brothers in the 1,000 point club, becoming just the fourth trio of brothers in New Jersey history to accomplish that feat. You pick up that momentum and shine during AAU play, securing a Division-I scholarship.
So what the heck more can Mike DePersia do at Haddonfield Memorial High School after a junior year like that?
“I just want to win,” the 5–11 point guard said after a scrimmage against Eastern Regional. “This is my last year and I want to leave it all out on the court. We have a great group of guys, we’re all close, best friends. We just want to win.”
With a majority of the Group 2 state championship team back for 2018–19, it’d be unwise to bet against the Bulldawgs’ chances of claiming back-to-back state titles (which they last did in 2006 for their third consecutive championship).
“That’s the plan,” said Paul Wiedeman, who is entering his 20th year as Haddonfield’s head coach. “I would say these guys would expect that, so there’s no reason why I wouldn’t. I’m not going to tamper those expectations, that’s for sure.”
Despite climbing to the top of the mountain last year to win the sixth state title in program history (among South Jersey teams, only Camden and Bishop Eustace have more), the 2017–18 season wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from preseason workouts in November to the Rutgers Athletic Center for the state finals in March. Haddonfield endured more than a few injuries, almost having more players sidelined than available at one point, and also were a team without a home, busing to Cherry Hill East for games and to the middle school for practices as their own gym was being renovated.
The bad news: the Bulldawgs’ gym is still unavailable for 2018–19. The good news: they’re healthy and have one of South Jersey’s best floor leaders eager to lead the team to a repeat crown.
DePersia, who scored a game-high 22 points in the state championship-clinching win over Newark Central last spring, has the ability to change the game on both ends of the court.
“Intensity,” Wiedeman said of what he liked best about his senior guard. “It’s right there off the bat. Enthusiasm. He sparks us; he’s the head of the snake, the guy that gets after it. And that just carries over to the other guys. He plays so hard that you have to keep up with him.
“He’s a point guard, he’s putting pressure on the other team’s defense, you have to know where he is at all times. He doesn’t get flustered. He’s been through everything as a four-year starter. It’s a second coach on the floor, it’s huge for us.”
In about 10 months, DePersia will morph from a Bulldawg into a Jaguar: he committed to play at Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) late this summer. DePersia and IUPUI head coach Jason Gardner, a former Naismith Player of the Year at Arizona, hit it off quickly during the recruiting process.
“Mike is your prototypical point guard,” Gardner said in a press release last month, when DePersia officially signed his National Letter of Intent. “He a coach’s son and comes from a basketball family and it shows in how he plays. He just knows the game, inside and out. He makes shots, he sets up his teammates and he’s an extension of the coaching staff on the court. As a staff, we fell in love with his game and the way he plays. He’ll immediately make us a tougher program because his toughness is contagious.”
It’s pretty high praise and it’s also a credit to the DePersia family. Mike joined twin brothers Rob and Nick DePersia (seniors at Rowan) in the 1,000 point club last year. Only three other sets of brothers (two from South Jersey: the Sacca brothers at Delran and the Harvey brothers at Audubon) have all accomplished the feat.
Mike DePersia, a twin himself, as his sister, Natalie, is a senior who will play lacrosse at Rowan after graduation, admits the sibling rivalries and backyard games helped mold him as an athlete. Similarly, the experience of winning a championship last year will make this year’s Bulldawgs team tougher and more prepared for the path that lies ahead in trying to repeat.
“It’s obviously going to be a challenge for us,” he said. “We have to learn that all teams are going to give us their best game no matter what. But we’re going to enjoy it. … Our goal is to win each game we play and I think we’ll do the best we can no matter what.”
Wiedeman believes his team has a healthy mindset in turning the page while also retaining the valuable experiences of last winter.
“I still tell the guys we’re not defending anything this year — we’re still pursuing a title like everyone else,” he said. “We still have to be hungry, still have to stay humble. … Every team that plays us wants to beat us now, so we do have that bullseye on us and all of the games are going to be intense, both in conference an out of conference.
“When you’re a champion, you still have to realize the journey is a big part of this. You can’t just wait until you get to a South Jersey championship or state championship. Every game matters. With every game you’re going to have something different, there’s going to be adversity. It’s just how we overcome it and play through it.”