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Middleton accepted challenge, became go-to player for Holy Spirit basketball team

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Rob Middleton was a pretty good basketball player at Holy Spirit before graduating in 1985, and spent many years after that playing in summer leagues in the area. When his son, John, was a tyke, Rob said he remembers referees and other players commenting that they needed to keep an eye on the young boy’s athletic career as he grew older. All those guys who knew John Middleton as a boy certainly weren’t disappointed with how his high school career turned out. Middleton, a senior at Holy Spirit, was one of the leading scorers in the Cape-Atlantic League this season and helped lead the Spartans to an 18-8 record that included a second-place finish in the CAL American, a berth in the CAL Tournament championship game, and a spot in the second round of the Non-Public South B state playoffs. Middleton enjoyed a post-season honor recently when he was selected to the prestigious North-South All-Star game, where he scored 14 points in the South’s 124-121 loss to the North. “It felt good that my hard work was recognized by other people and it showed that I do have some talent,” John said. “I was kind of surprised (to be invited) but It’s always fun going up against competition like that and getting that challenge.” “It was awesome. It was a great feeling when he got the call,” Rob said. “He had some personal goals that he wanted to achieve this year, and that was definitely one of them, to play in the North-South game.” Last season, the Spartans had players such as Junior Saintel and Uudi Collier, who both graduated, and Leon Daniels, who transferred this year to Atlantic City, so Middleton didn’t have any pressure to be the man. This offseason, Holy Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie made it known that this year Middleton would have to be the man along with Jordan Taylor. John Middleton had an outstanding senior season for the Spartans, becoming one of the leading scorers in the Cape-Atlantic League and earning an invite to the prestigious North-South All-Star Game. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) John Middleton had an outstanding senior season for the Spartans, becoming one of the leading scorers in the Cape-Atlantic League and earning an invite to the prestigious North-South All-Star Game. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “I knew I could handle it. I was working out all summer during the AAU season getting ready for it, knowing I was going to have a big role. I knew I had to improve my jump shot and improve my scoring for the team, and I had to work on my leadership skills also. You have to know how to talk to guys on your team, your coaches, and just being focused,” John said. “It didn’t really feel different. What really felt different was playing without Junior on my team. The only thing I didn’t really accomplish was getting my 1,000th point, but I felt like I played well. There were games when I didn’t score as much as I wanted to, but I made up for it with assists and playing defense and just being a coach on the floor. I think that’s going to help me on the next level.” John said that Gillespie challenged him to improve his game to the point where he could be the focal point of the Spartans’ offense. “He coached me really well on the court, he made me smarter with my shot selection,” John said of coach Gillespie. “He helped me a lot with my jump shot. He definitely challenged me after last year. He said I was going to be the guy this year and I had to step up if we wanted to win some big games.” “It was great to see him reach some of his personal goals and take the team as far as he could. And the camaraderie that he demonstrated with the guys, too. At times he could have been selfish and scored a lot of points, but he always wanted to get his teammates involved and wanted them to experience some of the things he was experiencing. He’s a complete team player, that’s one thing about him. That’s one thing I was really impressed with was his unselfishness,” Rob said. “A lot of that was coach Gillespie talking to him at the end of last year and telling him that he had to take on a bigger role (this year) and he welcomed that. When they lost he would say it was on his shoulders. He definitely matured. I’m excited for him because the sky is the limit. He has everything in front of him.” Rob said this year has been special for him as a father, seeing his son become one of the best players in South Jersey. “I think he had a really good career. He was team-oriented, and he exceeded all of my expectations. He put in a lot of work to get to the point where he could lead the team. It was just all about him being more vocal and being able to lead by example. He always put the time in, and he’s always in the gym working on his game and trying to get better,” Rob said. “It’s a great feeling to see him mature the way he did. Last year, he had to grow up quickly, and this year he had to take on more of a leadership role. And his maturity level was just phenomenal. His mother (Christa) and I kept re-enforcing to him that he had to take things a lot more seriously and work hard, in the classroom and on the basketball court.” Middleton said he has played a prominent role on many of the teams he has played for in the past and was excited to become a leader for the high school team at Holy Spirit. “It felt good being a leader. I’ve been a leader for almost every team I’ve played for in my life, but it felt good being a leader on the high school team,” John said. “Guys would have to rely on me sometimes and you have to know how to handle it. You can’t fold, because then the other players would fold. You have to learn how to stay level-minded and stay focused.” That father-son bond between John and Rob has grown strong this year as Rob has watched his son mature into a man. “My dad’s always been at my basketball games and he’s my personal trainer, so he helped me a whole lot,” John said. “He told me how proud he was of me for making the North-South All-Star Game. He said he was really proud of my senior year, and my whole career at Holy Spirit.” Perhaps cementing that bond was the fact that John was finally able to beat his dad last summer in a game of 1-on-1 for the first time in his life. Rob, however, has a little bit different take on that game. “I let him win,” he said with a laugh. Sounds like a rematch is in order. Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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