Last year was supposed to be a chance for the rest of A Central to pick off Manasquan after the Warriors lost two 1,000-point scorers from a team that dominated the division a year earlier. As it turned out, only one team handed Manasquan a division loss all season long and that team (Red Bank Catholic) is no longer in the division. The Warriors return a healthy amount of talent from their 13-1 A Central team, but a number of their foes do as well. Shore and Rumson-Fair Haven both finished the season strong and each is hoping that it will finally figure out the Warriors this year.

Class A Central has the look of a division with three top-10 caliber teams, followed by a great deal of uncertainty. Reports on Raritan and St. John Vianney during the summer and preseason have been mostly positive and while Holmdel looks down at the moment, the Hornets are rarely outworked. Monmouth has had a forgettable stretch over the last five years, but could begin to turn the corner under another new head coach. There are three clear contenders in Class A Central and for the rest of the field, there could be one or two other postseason berths available with a good showing against those three. The six games between Rumson, Manasquan and Shore will likely decide the division, but keep an eye on the other four just in case a sleeper arises.

 

Manasquan

Head Coach: Andrew Bilodeau, seventh season
2013-14 Record: 19-4 (13-1, first in A Central)
Returning Players: Jack Sheehan (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Ryan Jensen (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Aidan McMenaman (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Luke O’Shaughnessy (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Matt Paturzo (Sr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Jack Fay, Tommy Toole, Ryan Kavanaugh, Nick Gilly, Luke Tausek
Newcomers: Kyle Bradshaw (Sr., 6-4, Forward; Transfer from Monmouth), Liam McAllister (Sr., 6-7, Center), Kyle Coyne, Devin Jensen, Dan Mopsick, Shane Flanagan

During Andrew Bilodeau’s seven seasons at Manasquan, the Warriors have enjoyed two separate runs of success, with just one season that could be considered a “down year.” That season was the 2010-11 campaign and it followed a season in which the Warriors advanced to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, led by Matt Vadas. The graduation of the Vadas class paved the way for a rebuilding season the following year, and after an up-and-down regular season in 2011-12, Manasquan took off in the Shore Conference Tournament and advanced to the SCT semifinals once again, two years after getting there with an entirely different group.

That back story is relevant because Manasquan faced a similar challenge last year when it lost two 1,000-point scorers and still managed to go 19-4 with a 13-1 record in Class A Central and reach the quarterfinals of both the SCT and Central Jersey Group II Tournaments. The difference between last year’s team and the 2010-11 team was that even though last year’s team had lost two top scorers, it still returned two tough, talented guards in Jack Fay and Tommy Toole. That continuity made a big difference and it will be a factor again this season, as the Warriors return a talented junior tandem in Jack Sheehan and Ryan Jensen. Sheehan was a breakout player for the Warriors as a sophomore after spending his freshman season in the CBA program, while Jensen has been contributing since his freshman year. Seniors Matt Paturzo, Aidan McMenaman and mid-season CBA transfer Luke O’Shaughnessy all played key roles last year and return to the rotation to add some stability around the two juniors. Manasquan will get a boost from Monmouth Regional transfer Kyle Bradshaw, a 6-4 senior swingman with athleticism and versatility to boost the starting lineup. There is no rebuilding at Manasquan and with a mix of senior and junior ability, the Warriors are not going anywhere.

Junior Jack Sheehan and Manasquan are out to claim a third straight Class A Central title. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

 

Shore

Head Coach: Frank Carmody, first season
2013-14 Record: 21-9 (10-4, third in A Central)
Returning Players: Kevin Bloodgood (Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Dan Largey (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Jack Byrne (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Matt McCarthy (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Billy Deerin (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Rob Gialanella (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Alex Mango (Sr., 5-8, Guard)
Key Losses: Dan Pillari, Matt Cosentino, Clayton Coffey
Newcomers: James Kelly (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Ryan Jones (So., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Tom Treshock (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Sam Parrino (Sr., Guard), Jared Graff (Jr.), Marco Parrino (Jr.)

Four years after entering the program as a much-ballyhooed class, the returning core at Shore is now a group of seniors who have been playing at all levels with one another and doing so with lots of success. Although Shore has not been able to break through and win a division or tournament title during the first three of those years, the Blue Devils made significant strides by reaching the Central Jersey Group I final last year. With Point Beach graduating three All-Shore players, the Blue Devils’ window is open in Central Jersey Group I and this core of seniors will also have a chance to make noise in the Shore Conference. That group will have its third head coach in four years, with well-travelled Frank Carmody (former assistant at Northwestern, head coach at Caldwell College and St. Rose coach) taking over for Dave Emery. While Carmody – brother of former Northwestern and Princeton head coach Bill Carmody – is a new voice on the bench, he will be working with an experienced, cohesive group.

Kevin Bloodgood and Jack Byrne have played significant minutes during each of the first three years of their varsity careers, and junior Dan Largey thrived in his first varsity season last year as a scorer (13.7 points per game), rebounder (6.1) and shot-blocker (2.0). The Blue Devils will have to replace two capable starters in All-Shore point guard Dan Pillari and hard-nosed guard Matt Cosentino, which the Blue Devils will do with depth. Matt McCarthy was a significant contributor and Rob Gialanella and Billy Deerin will be asked to expand their roles as well. Seniors Alex Mango and James Kelly will come off the bench, giving Shore a senior-loaded rotation that is out to finish off a successful four-year run.

 

Rumson-Fair Haven

Head Coach: Chris Champeau, sixth season
2013-14 Record: 18-11 (7-7, fifth in A Central)
Returning Players: Brendan Barry (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Thomas Famulary (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Morgan Maguire (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Alex Geiger (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Kenny Ferrare (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Jack Luby (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Jackson Reid (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Mike Caruso (Jr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Jack Herrmann, Chris Drummond
Newcomers: Elijah McAllister (Fr., 6-6, Forward/Center), Mickey Schluter (Jr., 6-1, Guard)

Like the two teams listed above, Rumson returns a deep crop of players from last year’s team while simultaneously losing its top scorer as well. The Bulldogs caught fire in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II Tournament, beating Point Boro, Lakewood and Willingboro to reach the sectional final, where they ran into Matawan. The now-graduated Jack Herrmann keyed the run with his scoring and rebounding, but the Bulldogs return just about every other key contributor from those three huge wins. Junior Brendan Barry and senior guard Thomas Famulary were Rumson’s two perimeter threats last year, with Barry averaging 15.7 points, 4.1 assists and two steals during a breakout sophomore campaign. Famulary, meanwhile, averaged a tick under 10 points per game and exactly four assists and will play off the ball with Barry running the point.

Senior Morgan Maguire – also a standout pitcher for the baseball team – emerged as a hard-working front-court player in the paint for the Bulldogs, while Alex Geiger earned a starting spot and showed an ability to hit the open shot and defend on the perimeter. Senior Kenny Ferrare also returns to the frontcourt and will see an increased role this season. Rumson’s most noteworthy newcomers are 6-6 freshman Elijah McAllister and junior guard Mickey Schluter. With his size, McAllister is ready to contribute right away, while Schluter will give the Bulldogs yet another guard who can knock down the three-ball. Rumson showed at the end of last year that it had the talent and the chops to beat high-level competition in big games and although Herrmann will be missed, this version of the Bulldogs has a versatile roster that should build on a great postseason run last year.

 

Raritan

Head Coach: Denis Caruano, 10th season
2013-14 Record: 4-19 (2-12, seventh in A Central)
Returning Players: Dylan Dewysockie (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Joe Strand (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Eddie Tynion (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Chris Nicholl (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Jordan Smith (Jr., Forward), Jepi Tonuzi (Sr., Guard)
Key Losses: James Wines, Joe Eckel
Newcomers: Kevin Rodriguez (Sr., Forward; Transfer from St. John Vianney), Mike Kelleher (Sr., Center), Jon Rodriguez (Jr., Guard), John Guccione (Jr., Guard), Danny Lehan (Jr., Guard), Mason Sheehan (Jr., Forward), Zach Mojica (Fr., Guard)

Now four years removed from its Shore Conference Tournament championship, Raritan is slowly creeping back to the front of the pack in Class A Central, and the Rockets are ready to make a leap this year to distance themselves from a rough season in 2013-14. With a rather young roster, Raritan managed only two wins over a 1-19 Monmouth team in Class A Central and escaping the A Central basement was the one of the few redeeming factors last year. This season, the Rockets expect to be a much better collective unit after a strong summer and good preseason that saw top players Joe Strand, Dylan Dewysockie and Eddie Tynion all improve. Strand, in particular, gives Raritan a quality combo guard running the show after Strand averaged 11 points and six rebounds as a sophomore. At 6-foot-5, Dewysockie brings size to the front court after averaging 6.8 points and six rebounds as a junior. Tynion is a 6-3 forward who can step out and shoot, finishing second in three-pointers made with 23, behind Strand’s 31.

The Rockets will turn to a host of juniors to step up and fill in different roles around the top three returnees. Jordan Smith saw some time as a forward last season, while Jon Rodriguez, John Guccione, Danny Lehan and Mason Sheehan all join the varsity ranks. Senior forward Kevin Rodriguez transferred in from St. John Vianney and will add depth to the front court, while fellow seniors Chris Nicholl, Jep Tonuzi and Mike Kelleher will all have a chance to contribute. Raritan could also lean heavily on freshman guard Zach Mojica, who will have a chance to crack the regular rotation for a Raritan team looking to begin a march toward the top of the standings once again. Manasquan, Shore and Rumson are all well ahead of Raritan on the development curve, but this season marks an opportunity for a team filled with potential returnees in 2016 to get a jump on competing for a division title.

 

St. John Vianney

Head Coach: Matt Conklin, fourth season
2013-14 Record: 8-16 (4-10, sixth in A Central)
Returning Players: John-Michael Broderick (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Zach Howarth (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Grant Goode (Jr., 6-5, Forward)
Key Losses: Vinny Facchino, Ray Gabeau, Julanee Prince, Matt Grenger
Newcomers: Kevin Callari (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Matt DeBrizzi (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Mike Facchino (So., 5-11, Guard), Ryan Simmonds (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Aaron Baron (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Dan Saker (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Jake Guempel (Jr., 6-4, Forward)

Among the A Central teams listed thus far, St. John Vianney has the largest percent of its offensive production to replace. The Lancers relied on Vinny Facchino, Ray Gabeau, Matt Grenger and Julanee Prince for a considerable amount of scoring, so there will have to be a collective effort in filling in those gaps this year. A silver lining to some key injuries to those players last year was that the talented junior duo of Zach Howarth and Grant Goode got a chance to carry more of the load as sophomores than initially planned. Howarth and Goode return this season after combining to average 18 points per game last year, with Howarth scoring more than 10 per game. The Lancers had a balanced attack last year, and while senior John-Michael Broderick and a number of Lancers newcomers will have a hand in making Vianney balanced again, the two junior scorers will likely take on most of the scoring load.

St. John Vianney will turn to three key newcomers to support Howarth, Goode and Broderick, most notably juniors Kevin Callari down low and Matt DeBrizzi on the perimeter. Sophomore Mike Facchino will also have a chance to contribute off the bench as Vianney searches for some depth around its two standout scorers. With Raritan still trying to rebuild to its prior level of success, Holmdel dealing with a significant injury and Monmouth coming off a one-win season, the opportunity is there for St. John Vianney to play its way into the top four of the Class A Central and get back into Shore Conference Tournament contention.

 

Holmdel

Head Coach: Sean Devaney, ninth season
2013-14 Record: 12-14 (8-6, fourth in A Central)
Returning Players: Luke Mayell (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Matt McDonnell (Sr., 6-2, Forward/Center), Ray LaForte (Sr., 5-10, Guard), John Miller (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Kyle Rooney (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Jeff Harris (Sr., 6-1, Guard)
Key Losses: Gerard Nocera, Jack Flanagan
Newcomers: Kevin Ziznewski (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Kyle Cardace (Fr., 6-0, Guard), Jeff Zhou (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Brian Wischerath (Jr., 6-0, Guard)

The Hornets already had a difficult challenge in front of them this year with the graduation of leading scorer Gerard Nocera (18.3 points per game last year), and that task got a whole lot harder when senior Jeff Harris tore his ACL during the football season. Harris averaged 14.8 points per game as a junior and was one of the top three-point shooters at the Shore while playing off Nocera. Harris has not had surgery to repair the tear and has actually been playing on a limited basis during the scrimmage season. Head coach Sean Devaney said he is still not confident that Harris will be able to play, but he has allowed the senior to take things day by day while playing in short spurts as a three-point threat off the bench.

With Harris limited and perhaps ultimately out this season, the Hornets will need even more of a collective effort to replace more than 32 points per game from a year ago. Senior point guard Luke Mayell has been a key contributor since his sophomore season and seniors Matt McDonnell and Ray LaForte also have three years of quality high school experience. Six-foot-5 senior forward Kyle Rooney will serve as a complement to McDonnell – who is a physical high-post player who sets hard screens – and the rest of Holmdel’s guard-heavy rotation.

Junior guard John Miller will be a key cog in replacing the lost point production and is a candidate to lead the Hornets in scoring as a junior this season. The injury to Harris also will allow Devaney to get a look at freshman Kyle Cardace, who might have been more of a role player if Harris were healthy but now could see significant playing time. Juniors Jeff Zhou and Kevin Ziznewski will also have a chance to contribute, with Zhou spelling the starting guards and the 6-4 Ziznewski giving the Hornets some more size off the bench. Devaney’s teams have had a recent history of exceeding expectations, but the circumstances to open the season have never been quite this dire. Holmdel should continue to be a tough opponent, but the top teams in A Central have too much firepower for the Hornets to hang with this year.

 

Monmouth

Head Coach: John Rivera, first season (fourth overall)
2013-14 Record: 1-19 (0-14, eighth in A Central)
Returning Players: James Kelly (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Tim Reynolds (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Nick Cirlincione (So., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Matt Mooney (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Tyler Hawkins (So., 5-5, Guard), Matt Taylor (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Losses: Daniel Curtis, Dillon Brown, Kyle Bradshaw (Transferred to Manasquan)
Newcomers: A.J. Delutis (So., 6-1, Forward), Elijah Walker (So., 6-0, Guard/Forward)

For the second straight season, Monmouth Regional has a new head boys basketball coach and this time it is John Rivera, a nine-year assistant coach at Brookdale Community College and earlier a head coach at Red Bank Regional for both the boys and girls programs. Perhaps more than any other program in the Shore Conference, Monmouth simply needs a sense of stability within the program after the tidal wave of coaching changes and transfers that have bombarded the Falcons. A year after losing promising freshman NyRhique Smith – now in his first year at Manalapan – the Falcons must now replace 6-4 swingman Kyle Bradshaw, who transferred to Manasquan for his senior season.

On the bright side, Monmouth’s young players saw plenty of varsity time last year while the team was fully immersed in rebuilding mode, and that young core will get a chance to continue to grow together this year under a new head coach. Sophomores Nick Cirlincione and Tyler Hawkins both impressed as freshmen last year, with Cirlincione flashing some versatility out of a 6-3 frame and Hawkins running circles around defenders at 5-5. The two sophomores will get some help from seniors James Kelly, Tim Reynolds and Matt Taylor, as well as junior Matt Mooney down low. Sophomores A.J. Delutis and Elijah Walker also join the varsity rotation to give the Falcons a strong sophomore quartet that may hold the key to a turnaround for a Monmouth program that is looking toward brighter days after some dark moments over the last three seasons.

 

Players to Watch

Kevin Bloodgood, Shore – Averaged 15-plus points per game and might have been the Blue Devils’ best all-around player last year.

Brendan Barry, Rumson-Fair Haven – A quick point guard with deceptive length and reach, Barry is one of the better prospects to pass through the Rumson program in a while.

Ryan Jensen, Manasquan – A top-10 rebounder in the Shore Conference as a sophomore (9.3 per game), Jensen also continues to develop a scoring touch that netted him 13.9 points per game last year.

Jack Sheehan, Manasquan – After spending a season in the CBA program, Sheehan flourished with the Warriors, averaging 8.9 points and 3.6 assists as a sophomore.

Dan Largey, Shore – A 6-4 forward who can do a little bit of everything. Last year’s per-game line: 13.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, two blocks.

Jack Byrne, Shore – Byrne began to find the scoring touch last year to complement his defensive and rebounding prowess, which can be attributed to a considerable wingspan, even given his 6-4 height.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Nick Cirlincione, Monmouth – Thrown into the fire last year, Cirlincione has the makings of a program player who can help pull the Falcons out of said fire.

Elijah McAllister, Rumson-Fair Haven – A skilled 6-6 big man who can play down low and will be immediately asked to contribute for an experienced Rumson squad.

John Miller, Holmdel – Got some time off the bench last year and with the loss of both Nocera (graduation) and Harris (knee), Miller will be asked to pick up a lot of the scoring.

 

Burning Questions

After each reaching sectional finals in their respective NJSIAA brackets, can Rumson and Shore ride the momentum into this season and overtake Manasquan?

Both Shore and Rumson suffered difficult first-round losses in the Shore Conference Tournament, but both recovered in time to put together state tournament runs that nearly ended in a sectional championship. Now, both return strong cores that appear good enough on paper to challenge defending division champion Manasquan. If either makes that move to the top, however, it is probably not momentum considering each lost a leading scorer from last year’s team. Every season is a new one and while both rosters have proven they can win big games against quality opponents, the reset button was hit as soon as the final buzzer sounded in each of those sectional finals.

Armed with more size on the perimeter, can Manasquan be even better this season despite the loss of Fay and Toole?

If there is a reservation to answering this question “yes,” then it comes down to a question of cohesiveness. Fay and Toole were starters on a team that won and had some familiarity with the group of younger players. That could be more of an issue for this year’s team, but senior Luke O’Shaughnessy got a chance to acclimate himself to the team at the end of last year, which means the Warriors are only working in Monmouth transfer Kyle Bradshaw. With Bradshaw’s versatility and the size and athleticism Manasquan has with players like Ryan Jensen, Aidan McMenaman and Matt Paturzo, the Warriors have a chance to have a smothering defense with some scoring potential on the other end.

Which “other” A Central team is most prepared to crash the top three?

The above rankings suggest it will be Raritan, but there is a case to be made for all four. The Rockets have a good mix of returning and incoming talent that has been playing well leading into the season and it might finally be time for them to make a move in A Central after a few down years. St. John Vianney has the scoring duo to cause problems and if the supporting cast develops around Zach Howarth and Grant Goode, the Lancers could give the top three teams trouble. Holmdel has to overcome an injury to Jeff Harris, but the Hornets are perennial overachievers and nothing should surprise anyone when it comes Holmdel. Monmouth has a long way to go from a 1-19 season a year ago, but the Falcons should have a little more stability on the coaching staff, which will help develop a promising group of sophomores. It’s hard to go against Raritan or Vianney among this group, but Holmdel has a track record.