By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When you play basketball for a coach like Paul Baruffi, the Ocean City skipper who has more than 300 career wins, you have to pay your dues. Nothing is going to be given to you, and you might have to adjust to an entirely new position just to get some playing time.
Rosalia Daddi, a Wildwood Crest resident, found that out when she enrolled at Ocean City four years ago. She had played guard most of her life, but with players such a Grace Sacco, Alexis Paone and 2016 graduate Nicole Piergross ahead of her on the depth chart, there wasn’t much playing time to be had. So when Daddi went through a growth spurt and shot up to about 5-foot-10, Baruffi hatched a plan to turn her into a center. Daddi didn’t protest too much. It was either learn to play center or watch from the bench.
“She was a point guard when she came in, maybe 5-foot-4. Her sophomore year, she started to develop and had a limited role because we had some other people. When you step back and think about it, she’s only played that position for two seasons. So, a lot of development had to take place very fast, and she’s been able to do that,” Baruffi said. “She had to learn how to make moves around the basket and where to position herself. At times, she’ll show she is still a little inexperienced there. My assistant coach, Mike Cappelletti, does a great job working with the centers and in a short period of time has developed her into a really nice post player.”
Rosalia had a great post player to learn from in Olivia Briggs, who helped lead the Red Raiders to a South Jersey Group 3 championship last winter before graduating in June 2016.
“Freshman year, I came in very small. I didn’t even play JV or varsity. I was only about 5-foot-6, but then I got a growth spurt. Sophomore year, I was more of a practice player than anything. But going into my junior year, that summer, I kind of turned the switch on,” Daddi said. “Olivia taught me everything I needed to know about the post and the moves, and how to keep control and composure. I had to learn and fill a big role in the center post, but now I have both the guard and center aspects and I think that works in my favor.”
Heading into this year’s state playoffs, Ocean City might have even be better than last year. After capping off a Cape-Atlantic League Tournament title with a nail-biting 39-37 overtime victory over Middle Township, the Red Raiders were 25-1 and Daddi has been a big part of that success as one of four seniors in the starting lineup along with Grace Sacco, Alexis Paone and Sadie Ford. She helped lead the Red Raiders to their second straight South Jersey Group 3 championship after Ocean City knocked off rival Mainland Regional, 38-31, in the championship game.
“She’s one of four seniors we have, and she’s really stepped up to make our season as successful as it has been. Last year, she got thrown into being a center after being a guard all her life, and she worked hard to improve and has gotten better and better. Her role evolved into what it is. Last year was her first time ever playing the center position. Once we put her there, we kind of told her that’s what she needed to do because we didn’t have any height with any experience. She’s gotten a lot better from last season to this season,” Baruffi said. “She’s very athletic, so she’s able to get position, block shots, and has a pretty good knack for defensive rebounding. Her athleticism lends to making her better than some other players because of her ability to jump and have some quickness to the ball.”
Baruffi said a big difference this year for Daddi is the confidence she has after having played her new position all of last year and through more than 20 games this season.
“She’s gotten stronger from lifting, and, with her especially, it’s only her second year in that position but with it not being 100 percent new she now has confidence in the things she does. Last season, everything she was doing was for the first time. There’s definitely a difference there from experience, and having that experience from last year, and playing with Olivia was a big help,” he said. “Olivia knew how to move in the post, so she was able to see those things. And having Grace as a point guard has really helped because Grace makes things happen. If you move to the correct spot, Grace is going to get you the ball. They’ve gotten better at reading each other and knowing where to be.”
Baruffi said when Daddi really brings it, the Red Raiders are a very tough team to beat.
“She’s very strong. When she brings her energy, we’re a totally different team. In games she might not have it as much, you can see the difference. The other players really feed off her because we really don’t have anybody with any experience playing that position. The other players are very young and still developing and learning how to play there,” Baruffi said of Daddi, who also has competed in soccer, crew, cross country and track during her four-year athletic career. “I think all four of my seniors have shown leadership, and the other players pick up on that and go along with what they are doing. When Rosalia really brings it, I think it brings everybody else into that style.”
Daddi said she had several choices when it came to selecting which high school she would attend, including another Cape May County basketball power in Wildwood Catholic, but she’s glad she chose to become a Red Raider, she said.
“I’m from Wildwood Crest, so coming to this school was a big eye-opener for me,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of new people and play for one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had the chance to play for.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN