Senior spotlight: Drew Dalzell has blossomed into a leader for the Mainland boys basketball team

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher When Winter Storm Juno hit the Jersey Shore in late January and school was cancelled, Mainland Regional senior basketball player Drew Dalzell was trying to find a local church that would open up the doors to its gymnasium so he could get in an hour or two of shooting practice. When you’re a prolific 3-point shooter, you don’t want to take a day off. That’s just the kind of player Dalzell is, a gym rat who wants to spend as much time as possible working on his game. “When I started, he was a sophomore. He’s the one who would call all during the season and ask if I could come and open up the gym. He’d be over here at 6 a.m.,” said Mustangs coach Dan Williams. “He’s in there constantly shooting. When we had those games cancelled and had no school he was calling around to local churches to see if there was a court he could get into to shoot.” “I definitely like to get in the gym and shoot a lot. I like to get in about an hour of shooting before we play,” Dalzell said. “Just having a couple days off, sometimes it feels like you haven’t shot the ball in a while, so I always try to stay in line and keep shooting every day so I don’t lose my stroke.” Dalzell’s sweet stroke from the outside has helped turn around Mainland’s basketball program. When he was a freshman, the varsity team went 2-22. But last year, as a junior, Dalzell helped lead the Mustangs to a berth in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game, where they lost by one point to Delsea Regional. “I think I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve always had a good surrounding cast and I love the guys I’ve played alongside, never had any problems with my coaches,” Dalzell said. “I really couldn’t have asked for more. I had the best opportunity I could have to win a championship. Unfortunately, we came up one bucket short, but that’s still an opportunity that not everyone gets.” That team featured stud big men Darius Jerkins, who now plays at Stockton College, and Kenny Randall. Dalzell said this year’s team has a different look, but he also said this season — although the Mustangs have been hovering near the .500 mark — has been equally rewarding because guys such as himself, Matt McLaughlin and Dean Deveney have had to work that much harder to stay competitive in the very tough Cape-Atlantic League American Conference. Senior guard Drew Dalzell averages 11 points per game for Mainland and has helped lead the Mustangs to a return trip to the state playoffs, where they will be the No. 10 seed in South Jersey Group 3. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Senior guard Drew Dalzell averages 11 points per game for Mainland and has helped lead the Mustangs to a return trip to the state playoffs, where they will be the No. 10 seed in South Jersey Group 3. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “Last year’s team was so much fun and I love those guys to death, but there were times when if a couple guys weren’t playing well we kind of relied on Darius and Kenny as our inside presence and they would carry us. Whatever we couldn’t give, those guys would pick up our slack,” Dalzell said. “This year, it takes every guy, one through 10, to win. It takes every single person and there is no room for error. But in the end it is fun because you are putting in more work than you’ve ever had to.” Williams said for a basketball program to be successful it needs to have guys like Dalzell. Guys who love the game, put the work in, and develop into leaders once they become upperclassmen. “He’s been great for the program. He’s really our leader this year in a lot of ways, and that really started last year, too. Drew is the most vocal and outgoing of the group. When I need to get something out to the team I talk to Drew and he gets the word out to the guys,” Williams said. “With him, it’s not so much the scoring, but the intangibles that he does for us that really make a difference.” Dalzell said he has become more accustomed to his role as a team leader, especially this year since he is one of just four seniors in the program. “After you’ve been in the program for four years you get more confident and you feel more comfortable. I’ve been playing varsity minutes for a couple of years, so I’m more comfortable,” Dalzell said. “There are plays I’m making now that last year or the year before I didn’t have the confidence to make.” Williams said what also makes Dalzell such a valuable player to have is the family he comes from. Williams said Dalzell’s parents, Stan and Barb, and sisters Lauren and Kelly are very supportive of Mainland basketball. “His family is great. His mom and dad, his sisters. I can’t remember a game they didn’t attend,” Williams said. “Pasta dinners, they help out with fundraisers. Through and through they are very solid. It’s appreciated, and I hope I let them know that enough.” Dalzell knows that at 5-8 he isn’t exactly a big-time Division I recruit, but says he is OK with that and is looking forward to college simply to enjoy that experience. He’s already been accepted to West Chester and Florida Atlantic, but said his top choice would be San Diego State. He said he should hear by early March whether he got accepted to that school. “I’ve really clamped down on my academics and I’ve really enjoyed my time at Mainland. It’s gotten me very prepared for college, which I’m very excited for. It’s just been a really good experience,” Dalzell said. He said no matter what happens next, he will remember his days at Mainland very fondly. “I love Mainland a lot. It’s a real tight community,” Dalzell said. “We all really like each other and it’s been an awesome experience. I couldn’t imagine going to any other high school.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]


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