Coach Chris Raba made history this year surpassing Charley Ross as the winniest Hamilton Township Coach with 281 wins. Raba, has clearly had plenty of teams he’s coached, both at his alma mater Hamilton West, and where he is now leading the Nottingham Northstars. This year, coach Raba enjoyed the team more than most others, and the team was more of an enigma than anything else.
“This season was a complete surprise and one of my most favorite to coach. I didn’t really have big expectations. We were coming off a 9-15 season, but we played a lot of sophomores, and we were around 500 in the summer. Two players that were with us as sophomores and played all summer with us, decided not to play. So I felt if we could be 500, that would be a great improvement from the previous year,” coach Raba said.
His son, who was one of the leaders on the team as a junior, also was skeptical about the team heading into the year. “my expectations coming into this year was to go about 500 but clearly we did way better than that,” Brandon said.
One of the things the Stars had going for them, was team chemistry. “We had 5 players play on the same AAU team, coached by Thomas Coleman, Josh Morrison’s father. That really helped team chemistry, and the kids knew how to play with each other from playing as sophomores on our High School Team,” coach Raba said. Just like any season would provide, the Stars were hit with a curveball. The team’s second leading scorer Josh Morrison, hurt his knee in a game against Ewing before the halfway point in the year. He was sidelined for the season.
“Different players needed to step up. Chris Williams, Jack Bissett, Kish Douragh, Nasir Collins, and Tre Kauffman all had their roles expanded,” Raba said. This ended up changing the strategy for coach Raba. “Teams couldn’t key on one player because we never just leaned on one player to win games. It was always five players, playing for each other, as one,” Raba added. “That’s when the kids started to play for each other. They all accepted their roles, and were very fun to coach and exciting to watch. At most schools 22 wins is a school record, but in our program it was the third best in school history, which means a lot,” coach Raba said.
The Northstars finished the season 22-7, that even does this team justice. At one point of the campaign, they won 11 straight, and 16 of 17 games. “During that long win streak we just played as a team and listened to coach Raba and played hard in practice and in games,” Brandon said. They won a trip to the Cure Insurance Area for the MCT. They played great down the stretch. Chris Williams made clutch free throws at the end of a few games. Kishawn Douragh was unconscious from downtown in the semi-finals, and Brandon Raba was as steady of a star player as they come. Raba told me that playing in Cure Insurance Arena was one of his favorite memories of the year.
“It was great that our players made it to Cure Arena. That’s the 3rd time in 4 years that we accomplished that. We beat Robbinsville, who beat us on opening night. It means alot to beat a team that you’ve lost to earlier in the year. It shows your team is growing, learning, and can understand how to make adjustments,” coach Raba said.
The Stars had a tall task against TCA in the finals. By that, I mean 6 foot 7 tall, which is what VCU commit Jamir Watkins was for TCA.
“We knew TCA would be an incredibly tough game. I felt Jamir was one of the best players in the state. We just wanted to slow the game down, run our offense, and be patient. When Jamir got the ball in the post, we wanted to double team him, and when he caught the ball on the perimeter, at times we would send another defender at him, to make him get rid of the ball. He’s very difficult to guard. He can really do everything on the basketball court,” Raba said.
They did not win that game against TCA, but played the typical grind it out competitive game you would expect. The Stars had the game tied in the second half, but lost 59-51. The Stars would be eliminated in the state tournament by a stifling Allentown team. However, coach Raba can look to the future and feel pretty good about next year.
“Next year, we have a lot of experience back. We are only losing one player, Javon Jenkins, but he was an incredible leader for us. Arterio Williams, Quiyon McMillan, and Joe Lemly are underclassmen who could make a huge impact on our team next year. They are ready to step in, and keep our team at the top of the CVC. We will have high expectations for next year, but we will be the hunted. We won’t sneak up on teams next year,” coach Raba said. His son Brandon, who will be a senior next year, went even further. “I expect HUGE things for next season. Going into next season my teammates and I are saying state championship or bust. We’re looking to win everything from the christmas tournament, a division title, Mercer County tournament, and states,” Raba said.
Finally, coach Raba is a lot like most, trying to do his best being stuck at home for the time being.
“Typically, this time of year, our team would be in the weight room, and doing things to get individually better. I always felt our player development was second to none in the CVC. I never step away. Coaching basketball at Nottingham is 12 months a year. There is no off-season. I’m going stir crazy at home, not being able to see the kids. We try to stay in touch with the kids by text messaging, just letting them know that we are thinking of them, and to see if they need anything, and are staying on top of their remote learning school work. I’ve been spending time with my younger son, and taking my dog for walks,” coach Raba said.