WEST DEPTFORD -- Two of South Jersey’s newest members of the 1,000-point scoring club couldn’t be any different.
But West Deptford’s M.J. Iraldi and Brandon Ratcliffe are the heart and soul of an Eagles’ team that soared high the past two seasons, including a 24-4 record in 2018-19 and this winter’s 19-7 record as they enter Tuesday’s first-round sectional playoff match vs. Middle Township.
“These two guys have known each other almost their entire lives, and they flat out complement each other well on the court,” said Eagles’ coach John McKeown. “But don’t get me wrong – they are completely different types of players.”
And that includes their paths to reaching the coveted career mark of 1,000 points.
For starters, the 6-1 guard, Ratcliffe, became the second member of his family to reach the milestone, joining his Dad, Phil Ratcliffe, who netted 1,042 career points for the program in a career that ended in 1999.
Ratcliffe, who scored his 1,000th in the second game of the season against Audubon and now has 1,331 total points, became the ninth player in WD history to surpass the scoring milestone.
And, when he was joined by his Dad on the court after reaching the scoring mark, the West Deptford senior could not have been happier.
"How many athletes get to celebrate this bond with their dad like I did?" Ratcliffe said recently. "I always looked up to my dad, and I was excited to share this special moment with him."
Ratcliffe is a University of Delaware recruit who hopes to continue his exceptional play at the collegiate level. His game at guard includes solid shooting from the outside – he averaged 13 points per game in a four-year stint – along with exceptional ball-handling and defensive skills.
For Iraldi, the experience was quite a bit different. The 6-feet, 5-inch senior shot up in height in high school, starting out as a 5-9 freshman guard who added 6 inches to his frame while a member of the program.
“I played guard my whole life, but I shot up in height in high school, “ said Iraldi. “Luckily my ball handling skills stayed with me, and I’ve been able to do a lot of things on the court. My teammates trust me with the ball in my hands.”
A big part of Iraldi’s game, noted Coach McKeown, is his aggressiveness on the court, coupled with his height.
“He has the playing mentality of a guard, and that will always be a big part of his game,” McKeown said. “He’s learned to use his height and ball handling skills to drive right to the basket. He leaves the outside shooting to Brandon (Ratcliffe) and others. And he’s never afraid to go guard the opponent’s best player. He thrives on that.”
That has led to plenty of interest from local college coaches, and Iraldi should have plenty of options on the D-II and D-III levels once the current season ends.
Iraldi, ironically, comes from a thriving wrestling family. His cousin Nick Iraldi, serves as West Deptford’s highly successful wrestling coach. His Dad, Mario Iraldi, also served as an assistant wrestling coach in the WD program.
“I grew up in a wrestling family, but my Dad never put any pressure on me to follow along,” Iraldi said. “I always had a basketball in my hands growing up, so it was pretty easy to stick with the sport.”
And now the West Deptford duo hopes to have one more successful run in the upcoming sectional playoffs when they open with Middle Township Tuesday night. The Group 2 bracket will feature several tough opponents, including powerhouse Camden High.
“We will be ready – we’re excited to have one last shot at the playoffs, although we expect some really tough competition,” said Ratcliffe.