Rams hope for playoff success behind offensive prowess



South River High School is home to one of the most intriguing, if not perplexing, boys basketball teams in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC).

Coached by Rodney Harris, a former player in his sixth season, the Rams set the state record for most 3-pointers in a game (18) and season (268) last year, led by Matt Martinez, who drilled 136 on his own. This year, seniors Sean Darrar (25.4 points per game) and Zachary Torres (nine assists per game) lead the state in their respective categories. The Rams have also made 168 threes, which puts them on pace to again surpass the 200 mark, and Darrar leads the GMC with 64 on the season. Finally, Darrar passed Martinez for career threes and has hit for 185.*

Despite this scoring frenzy, South River is 11-8 overall and has no chance of overcoming Dunellen High School, Piscataway Vocational Technical High School and Perth Amboy Vocational Technical High School for the Gold Division title. In Harris’ six seasons, South River is 78-73.

Why the Rams haven’t won more is hard to figure; however, the team’s scoring average this year — 67.5 points a game — might provide a reason. Harris prescribes a run-and-gun offense with the goal being to launch shots within a reasonable distance of the basket seven seconds (or less) after transitioning from the other end of the court.

“When we’re on fire, you’ll see us scoring 70-plus points,” he said.

The problem is opponents have doused South River’s offense with effective defensive schemes, and the attack has simply been stagnant on numerous occasions.

Harris admitted his coaching style comes from a military background in the Air Force where he is still active. It is predicated on his players practicing every day with energy and being committed to the offense. When it comes to point production, it’s been pretty much a lengthy episode of the 1980s sitcom “All in the Family.” Harris scored over 1,000 points during his career in the late 1980s and is the uncle of Sean Darrar and older brother, Tim, who was also a scoring machine from 2010-13. Harris’ son, Tyler, passed the 1,000-point plateau in 2012, and his daughter, Gabrielle, a junior on the girls team, will soon surpass 1,000 points for her career.

Asked about his nephew’s (Sean) ability to score, Harris said he developed the knack to shoot on the local Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) third grade team.

“Even if Sean was 0 for 19 during a game, you better believe he would still take the 20th shot,” Harris said. “He developed that kind of confidence.”

Darrar scored 499 points last season and has already deposited 484 points, which means he should easily explode past last year’s mark.

“What has really helped his average is his [improved] ability to create off the dribble,” Harris said. “His 3-point shot is almost automatic, and he’s just fearless [shooting].”

The bottom line, according to the coach, is the whole team has been given the green light to launch any shot, which is why his players refer to Harris as a “player’s coach.”

Every member of the South River boys team wants to score, but what will really endear Harris to his players and the South River faithful will be if the Rams can advance in the GMC Tournament, which begins on Feb. 14, and the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I sectional, which starts on March 2.

That will determine if the Rams have made progress this season.

*Some of South River’s 3-point statistics were taken from an article published by longtime area sports writer John Haley on his website, The Authority.