Absegami High School senior Darryl Loveland still thinks about last year’s first-round playoff loss.
Specifically, he thinks about his role in that loss.
“I had a crucial turnover,” Loveland said of the team’s overtime loss to Atlantic City. “The way I felt after that loss, I said I don’t ever want to feel that way again. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I want to get it out.”
Loveland’s opportunity comes tonight when the 13th seeded Absegami boys’ basketball team travels to No. 4 Toms River North for the opening round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV playoffs.
For Loveland, it will be the fourth playoff game of his career. Absegami has never made it beyond the first round, and on two occasions, the team that beat Absegami went on to win the title.
Loveland is hoping the Braves will be that team this year.
Loveland’s struggle in last year’s playoff game was one of many for the Braves, who suffered from distractions off the court.
“We had a lot of talent last year,” said Loveland, who added those distractions are gone this year. “Nothing’s holding us back this year.”
That said, it hasn’t been a smooth year for the Braves, but Loveland said the Braves have beaten themselves in their losses this season.
“Everyone’s contributed to the good and the bad,” Loveland said. “ … We would lose because we beat ourselves. We had to learn, and we had to man up to what we did.”
That’s what they did, and now the team is playing smarter and having more fun on the court.
“It wasn’t going well, but we’ve gelled together and now we’re playing well,” Loveland said.
He’s one of three key seniors on this year’s squad, along with Vlad Shustov and Jaleel Christmon. Loveland describes himself as a quiet leader.
“I can be vocal, but mostly I lead by example,” Loveland said. “When things are going bad, I try to keep my head up because I know the team’s going to be looking to me. I try to keep the team together, and everybody contributes to that.”
The Braves had a strong week last week, and hope to carry that momentum into tonight’s playoff matchup.