Boys Basketball – 2015-16 Preview: Class B Central
Long the punching bag of the other Shore Conference divisions with larger-enrollment schools and more prestigious athletic non-public institutions, Class B Central has quickly become the center of the Shore Conference basketball universe. While Point Beach, Asbury Park, St. Rose and even Keyport helped establish some significant credibility for the Shore’s “small-school” division over the last 10 or so years, the arrival of Ben Gamble at Mater Dei Prep and one of the most heralded freshman classes in recent memory at Ranney have taken the game to a whole new level.
Point Beach and St. Rose should remain in the hunt, but the emergence of two middling programs will make life in B Central much hard for programs like Keyport, Henry Hudson and Keansburg. Once the postseason starts though, B Central will have a chance to be well-represented, as a number of its teams have a chance to do damage in the Shore Conference Tournament, while Point Beach remains one of the annual favorites in Group I. It will be interesting to see if either Gamble or Tahj Holden at Ranney can help turn their respective programs into major factors in the loaded NJSIAA Non-Public B tournament that includes the likes of St. Anthony and Roselle Catholic, but that story will likely be for another year.
In Predicted Order of Finish
Mater Dei Prep
Head Coach: Ben Gamble, first season
2014-15 Record: 10-15 (9-5, tied third in B Central)
Returning: Sky Cherry (So., 6-0, Guard), Sean Krueger (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Thomas Hannafin (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Eddie Lewis (Jr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Tysaun White (5-9, Guard), Patric Donohue (5-10, Guard), Jason Mandile (6-0, Forward), Reese Entwhistle (6-7, Forward), Jamian Lawson (6-1, Forward), Matt LaPorte (5-9, Guard), Vincenzo Mezzacappa (5-7, Guard), Ruben Rodriguez (5-7, Guard), Shane Mastro (Jr., 6-3, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Elijah Barnes (Jr., 6-7, Forward; transfer from Central), NyQuan McCombs (Sr., 5-10, Guard; transfer from Cardinal McCarrick), Elijah Mitchell (Jr., 6-3, Forward; transfer from Cardinal McCarrick), Josh Green (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward; transfer from Cardinal McCarrick), Bryan Harris (Sr., 6-2; transfer from Cardinal McCarrick), Kenny Jones (So., 6-0, Guard; transfer from Marist), Kyle Elliot (Sr., 6-1, Guard; transfer from Marist), Maleek McKnight (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward; transfer from Marist), Marvin Pierre (Sr.; transfer from Rahway)
What a difference a year makes. In February, Mater Dei was due to close its doors and the non-senior athletes at the school were playing their games wondering if there would be a team for them to join next year when Mater Dei was closed for good. Then, the “Save Our Seraphs” movement raised more than $1 million to keep the school open for another year. What followed was a change in direction for the athletic program that led to the ousting of coach Bob Klatt and the hiring of Ben Gamble, a former assistant under legendary coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony and the head coach of Cardinal McCarrick prior to his hire at Mater Dei. Cardinal McCarrick also fell victim to financial woes and closed following 2014-15, prompting Gamble to take an offer from Mater Dei and bring a number of his players with him.
The core of the new-look Seraphs will be players who followed Gamble from his previous stop and there are actually as many Cardinal McCarrick players on the varsity squad as there are players who were at Mater Dei Prep last year. One of those Mater Dei players is Eddie Lewis, the standout wide receiver who did not play basketball last year after starting as a freshman. Sky Cherry, meanwhile, was an impact freshman for Mater Dei last season, while contributors Sean Krueger and Thomas Hannafin both returned as well. With the influx of talent from McCarrick and three other schools, however, none of the returning Seraphs are slated to start once the full team is eligible, although Cherry has been getting important minutes off the bench in the preseason. Eddie Lewis is currently getting over a football injury, while Kroeger is seeing time and Hannafin is working to earn some bench minutes.
Senior NyQuan McCombs leads the group from Cardinal McCarrick after averaging 13 points per game as an All-Middlesex County performer. Junior Elijah Mitchell and seniors Bryan Harris and Josh Green also followed Gamble to Mater Dei Prep and will figure into the rotation, with Mitchell having an inside track to start. A three-man contingent from Marist High School also made the move to Mater Dei Prep, led by sophomore guard Kenny Jones and senior guard Kyle Elliot. Jones and fellow Marist transfer Maleek McKnight are among the Seraphs players who will have to sit for 30 days per the NJSIAA transfer rule.
Mater Dei’s most significant addition might be its lone transfer from another Shore Conference school. Junior Elijah Barnes enrolled at Mater Dei this season and will play for his third team in three years after beginning his career at Freehold Borough in 2013-14 and transferring to Central Regional last year. Barnes averaged 10.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks as a sophomore and gives Mater Dei a 6-7 low-post presence who can also play on the perimeter. With up to nine transfers looking to make an impact at some point this year, Mater Dei has undergone a complete facelift and the result is probably the deepest roster in the Shore Conference. There may be better starting fives at other Shore schools – particularly before Jan. 18 – but few teams boast as much talent from No. 1 to No. 13 as Mater Dei now does. Given the nature of the overhaul, it might not exactly be the feel-good story of a school rising from the ashes to have a championship season, but there is no question that Gamble’s arrival has turned the Seraphs into a force to be reckoned with in the Shore Conference.
Point Pleasant Beach
Head Coach: Nick Catania, 12th season
2014-15 Record: 20-10 (13-1, tied first in B Central)
Returning: Jimmy Panzini (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Mike Rice (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Danny Frauenheim (So., 5-10, Guard), Trevor Covey (So., 6-3, Guard), Stephen Flanders (Jr., Guard)
Key Losses: Mike Frauenheim (6-0, Guard), Chris Schifano (6-4, Forward), Jesse Hill (6-7, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Alex Mrusek (Sr., 6-6, Center; transfer from Middletown South), Chris Pina (So., 6-3, Forward; transfer from Spotswood), Hunter Clark (So., Guard), Connor Prima (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Matt Schatzman (Jr., Guard), Luke Frauenheim (So., Guard), Johnny Langeveld (So., Guard)
Just when Point Beach was becoming the bully on the B Central block, the makeover at Mater Dei has turned the Garnet Gulls back into the Little Engine that Could. That is probably a bit of an exaggeration, not only because Point Beach will not hurt for talent this year, but also because there was nothing easy about Point Beach’s 20-win season last year. The Garnet Gulls won 13 out of 14 Class B Central games last year, but the one they did not grabbed the most headlines because that loss to St. Rose on Feb. 7 marked the end of a 39-game winning streak within B Central. It also cost Point Beach an outright division title, because St. Rose also went 13-1 in the division to grab a share of the championship.
In addition to a well-coached, hard-working St. Rose team outplaying them on one night, one of the culprits for Point Beach’s slip-up was an ankle injury to guard Jimmy Panzini that kept him out of action. With Panzini back for the postseason, Point Beach went into Lakewood and knocked off the No. 2 seed Piners in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 and later advanced to the Central Jersey Group I championship game. Panzini returns this season to lead the Garnet Gulls after averaging 12.5 points, four rebounds, 3.6 assists and three steals in 22 games last year. With interest from a number of Division I programs, according to coach Nick Catania, Panzini is one of the top players in the conference and his return along should make Point Beach a contender for the division title and a solid top-10 candidate out of the gate.
The Garnet Gulls will have to replace massive production from Jesse Hill, who is off to a fast start as a freshman at Florida Atlantic University. While they won’t have as much depth as Mater Dei has, the Gulls have the makings of another strong rotation thanks to a pair of transfers and the maturation of some younger players from last year. Senior 6-foot-6 center Alex Mrusek joins Point Beach after transferring from Middletown South, where he averaged 8.9 points and 7.9 rebounds as a junior. The sophomore trio of Danny Frauenheim, Trevor Covey and Chris Pina also looks to make an impact. Frauenheim and Covey both played important minutes off the bench last year and Pina was a starter at Spotswood as a freshman last year. Senior guard Mike Rice also returns to the starting lineup as a ball-handler and three-point ace, and he recently committed to play at Franklin and Marshall.
The days of the Garnet Gulls steamrolling Class B Central appear to be over for the time being, but Point Beach is still every bit the contender in the SCT and Group I that they were last year, and perhaps more so. If anything, they should emerge from the B Central schedule and another impressive non-conference slate a battle-tested team.
Head Coach: Tahj Holden, first season
2014-15 Record: 5-16 (2-12, seventh in B Central)
Returning: Joe Mahoney (Jr., 6-0, Guard), James Geraghty (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Cory Natofsky (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Andy Chu (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Sam Metzger (Jr., 6-2, Forward/Center), Jerome Cohen (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Robert Johnson (Jr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: John Mejia (6-0, Guard), Ryan Wade (6-2, Forward), Prakahar Nair (6-0, Guard),
Key Newcomers: Scottie Lewis (Fr., 6-5, Forward), Bryan Antoine (Fr., 6-5, Guard), Alex Klatsky (Fr., 6-2, Guard), Chris Autino (Fr., 6-6, Center), Kyle Smith (So., 6-0, Guard)
Over the years, people have wondered if there could ever be a high school version of the “Fab Five” (for you younger, less historically-inclined readers, that was the freshman class at Michigan in 1991 that had five top-100 recruits, including Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and Jimmy King). It always seemed like a pipe dream because most high school freshmen still resemble children, but the upcoming season of Ranney basketball will essentially be the Fab Five experiment at the high school level. Under new coach and former Red Bank star and Maryland center Tahj Holden, the Panthers are set to trot out four freshman starters on opening night against St. Rose.
That’s not necessarily the noteworthy part, either. What makes Ranney such a compelling team to watch in the early part of the season is that not only will the Panthers start four freshmen but they will start four freshmen with the reasonable expectation of contending for a conference championship after the program went 5-16 while playing in a division of Group I programs. The reason the idea could work is because of the skill level of the incoming group. Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine are both already 6-foot-5 and considered by some to be in the top 25 players in the country for their class, with a number of online publications tabbing Lewis as a potential top-10 recruit for the Class of 2019 at this very early stage of his development. Antoine is a polished player for his age, while Lewis exhibits freakish athleticism and length and combined, they have a chance to run the Shore Conference if this group does indeed stay together for four years.
The other two freshmen – 6-2 guard Alex Klatsky and 6-6 center Chris Autino – go overlooked because of the presence of Lewis and Antoine, but both look advanced enough to play for most any program in the conference as freshmen and could be impact additions at most schools. Klatsky is just 11 months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL and could be limited during his freshman season, so Ranney’s depth will come into play this year, which could be an x-factor. Senior James Geraghty is also sidelined with an injury suffered during soccer season, and junior Joe Mahoney – the Panthers’ leading scorer last year – has held down a spot in the starting lineup with the freshmen. Andy Chu, Cory Natofsky, Jerome Cohen and Sam Metzger could also see some time off the bench, as will sophomore newcomer Kyle Smith. Klatsky’s recovery from knee surgery could delay Ranney’s arrival as an SCT contender and no one should expect the Panthers to make a dent in a loaded Non-Public B field for at least another year, but Lewis and Antoine should open some eyes this year, enough that Ranney should be ready to get everyone’s best game.
Head Coach: Dennis Devaney, 30th season
2014-15 Record: 15-10 (13-1, tied first in B Central)
Returning: J.P. Krotulis (Sr., 6-6, Center), Brendan Hueth (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Mike Gowen (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Billy Frost (Jr., Forward)
Key Losses: Nolan Slattery (6-0, Guard), Craig Suchecki (Guard), Joe Forlenza (Guard), Matt Frost (Guard), Bob Sun (6-5, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Dave Calloway (So., Guard), John Crowley (So., Guard), Jared Scheininger (So., Guard), Nick Paterno (Jr., Forward)
Although Class B Central has seen four different programs – Asbury Park, Point Beach and now Ranney and Mater Dei Prep – rise to prominence over the last decade, the team that has remained the constant before and since has been St. Rose. Before those programs took off, the Purple Roses were head and shoulders above the competition and now that Point Beach is in the thick of a run at the top and the other two are just getting started, the Roses are still a team that can contend. They proved as much last year when they ended Point Beach’s 39-game winning streak in B Central, which essentially clinched a tie for the division championship since no other team in B Central beat either champion, with few even coming close.
There will be far less margin for error for St. Rose this season, not only because contending for a division title just got that much harder, but now the non-division slate could potentially be a factor in whether or not the Purple Roses qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament. Beating Point Beach on the road last year, however, should give St. Rose some confidence that they can beat the other three contenders in the division, especially considering one of them starts four freshmen.
The Purple Roses will counter with some youth of their own when they open against Ranney on Friday, with sophomores Dave Calloway, John Crowley and Jared Scheininger all ready to see minutes as first-year players. They join a rotation that returns 6-6 senior center J.P. Krotulis, juniors Brendan Hueth and Billy Frost and senior guard Mike Gowen. Junior Nick Paterno will also get some minutes in the St. Rose rotation, which will be tasked with replacing the 17.1 points per game that Nolan Slattery averaged last year before graduating. It will certainly be a challenge, but if St. Rose can survive this schedule, pick up a couple of key non-division wins and qualify for the SCT, the Roses will be a very tough, very tested opponent.
Head Coach: Keith Coleman, first season
2014-15 Record: 9-12 (9-5, tied third in B Central)
Returning: Josmere Taylor (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Davon Thompson (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Xavier Hundley (Jr., Forward), Donte Abrams (So., Guard), Ja’King Agostini (So., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Nyzaire Jones (Sr., Forward), Damion Gill (Sr., G), Salvador Swain (Sr., Guard), Carl Cazeau (Sr., Guard), Imani Stephenson (Sr., 6-4, Center), Shaleek Davis (6-0, Guard), Mikal Fearon (Sr., 6-6, Forward; transferred to Academy Charter)
Key Newcomers: Najir Ridout (Jr., Guard), TyQuere Davis (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Christian Braggs (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Cishiume Simmons (Jr., 6-2, Center), Joey Johnson (Jr., Forward), Jermiah Calhoun (Jr., Guard/Forward), Kaysaun Rice (Fr., 6-5, Center)
There was a sizable drop-off between St. Rose and the third-place team in Class B Central, which happened to be Asbury Park last year. St. Rose beat Asbury Park by an average of 35 points in the two meetings while Point Beach won the two head-to-head games by an average of 31.5. Despite Asbury Park looking to improve this season with a good group of guards returning, the gap the Blue Bishops have to close just got wider and two teams that were either with them or below them (Mater Dei and Ranney) just jumped the line.
To make things harder, 6-6 senior and three-year starter Mikal Fearon transferred to Academy Charter, which takes some size, athleticism and scoring ability away from the Blue Bishops starting lineup. New head coach Keith Coleman was a longtime assistant at Neptune, where he starred as a player in the late 1970’s before graduating in 1980, so he will be looking to bring some of Neptune’s winning ways back to Asbury Park. The Blue Bishops have been struggling to recapture the winning formula that led them to back-to-back Tournament of Champions appearances as the Group I champion in 2011 and 2012.
Despite the loss of Fearon, Asbury Park will have a good amount of production back with the return of junior guard Josmere Taylor, who led the team in scoring as a sophomore. Senior Davon Thompson, junior Xavier Hundley and sophomores Donte Abrams and Ja’King Agostini all return to the lineup as well, and will get some help from a promising collection of newcomers. Juniors Christian Braggs and Cishiume Simmons both bring some size to the lineup, as does 6-5 freshman center Kaysaun Rice. Senior TyQuere Davis and junior Nyjir Ridout are also in line to contribute for the Blue Bishops as they try to battle to stay competitive in B Central amid all of the changes at the top of the division.
Head Coach: Phil Recco, 11th season
2014-15 Record: 8-11 (6-8, fifth in B Central)
Returning: Travis Alvarez (Sr., 6-6, Center), Zach Ochs (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Chris Hogrefe (Jr., 5-7, Guard), Jay Hansen (So., 5-10, Forward)
Key Losses: Joe Froncek (5-9, Guard), Anthony Fernandez (5-9, Guard), Dylan Bartlett (5-7, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Casey Davis (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Zack Smith (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Brendan O’Brien (Jr., 6-0, Forward), Christian Smith (Jr., 5-7, Guard), Cody Young (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Noah Geraghty (So., 6-0, Forward)
While St. Rose and Asbury Park both face a challenge in dealing with the new powers in B Central, the teams that really get hurt by the uptick in competition – at least in the short term – are Keyport, Keansburg and Henry Hudson. The current incarnation of Asbury Park fits into this category to some degree as well, but at least the Blue Bishops have a recent run of division and Group I supremacy to their credit. The other three teams will now have to compete with three non-publics operating at high levels and a Point Beach program that continues to reload with talent year after year.
In most B Central seasons, this Keyport team would have the look of a squa that had a good chance to finish in the top half of the standings. There is still a chance Keyport can do that, but the margin for error is more like that of a team trying to win the division that one trying to finish fourth. With St. Rose losing its top scorer and Asbury Park looking to fill some holes, the Red Raiders do have a chance to climb into the fourth spot in the standings this season, which would likely give Keyport a shot to return to the Shore Conference Tournament.
Despite the loss of a number of contributors from a year ago, the Red Raiders return four starters, led by 6-6 center Travis Alvarez. The third-year starter averaged 14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his first year as the top offensive weapon. Senior Zach Ochs also returns to the lineup after posting 10 points and five assists per game as a junior, and he will for a one-two scoring punch with Alvarez. Junior Chris Hogrefe and sophomore Jay Hansen also return to the starting lineup and will look to add to their contributions from a year ago. Seniors Casey Davis and Zack Smith will also join the varsity roster this year, while juniors Brendan O’Brien, Christian Smith and Cody Young, and sophomore Noah Geraghty all vie for time in their first varsity seasons.
After falling short of a Shore Conference Tournament berth this season, the Red Raiders should not be deterred by what has gone on at the other programs in the Shore, even though their margin for error just got a lot smaller. They were one of only two teams to play either St. Rose or Point Beach to a result with a single-digit margin of victory and with a lot of help back from a year ago, that is something to build on, even if the optimal outcome is a fourth-place finish.
Head Coach: Vinnie Whitehead, 20th season
2014-15 Record: 7-12 (4-10, sixth in B Central)
Returning: Tom DeFelippo (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Chris Coberg (Sr., 6-6, Forward), Tom Colantino (Jr., 5-7, Guard), Anthony LaRue (Sr., 6-1, Guard)
Key Losses: Kyle Rauen (6-0, Guard), Chris Dos Santos (5-8, Guard), Derek Lucas (5-9, Guard), Joe Vamvakidis (5-11, Guard), Kyle Vamvakadis (6-1, Guard/Forward)
Key Newcomers: Matt Going (Jr., 6-4, Forward/Center), Brendan Carlstrom (Jr., 5-10, Guard/Forward), Ryan Doelger (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Amarjit Singh (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Tom Fennell (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Zach Walker (So., 5-8, Guard)
Like Keyport, Henry Hudson managed to give one of the division co-champions a game, coming within six points of Point Beach in the first meeting between the teams. Also like Keyport, the Admirals face an uphill climb this season, even with a team that could be the best Henry Hudson has had in more than a decade. Although Hudson appears seventh on this list of Class B Central teams, the Admirals have a lineup that would look like a team that could finish in the top-half most years and maybe qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament. They could still do that, but Hudson will now have to step up and beat the likes of Asbury Park, Keyport and perhaps even St. Rose in order to take a run at the SCT and ensure a spot in the NJSIAA Tournament.
The senior guard-forward combination of Tom DeFillipo and Chris Coberg was the driving force for Henry Hudson last year and will again carry the Admirals to when they hope is uncharted waters. DeFellipo averaged 11.5 points and five assists as a junior point guard a year ago and the 6-6 Coberg was a double-double machine, finishing the season averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Henry Hudson lost shooter Kyle Rauen to graduation, but guards Tom Colantino and Anthony LaRue both return to the rotation with a chance to up their production.
A long list of juniors will also join the roster this year to add some depth, namely 6-4 forward Matt Going, guards Brendan Carlstrom and Tom Fennell and forwards Ryan Doegler and Amarjit Singh. Sophomore guard Zach Walker also has a chance to crack the rotation for a Hudson team looking to build around its two returning standouts. Once again, the focus is almost one of a second division team trying to win the bottom half of the league instead of the whole thing, but if Henry Hudson can finish fifth and get themselves into the SCT picture, that’s a pretty strong year given the strength at the top of B Central.
Head Coach: James McCarthy, eighth season
2014-15 Record: 0-19 (0-14, eighth in B Central)
Returning: Quentin Godfrey (Jr., 5-6, Guard), Vaughan Fitzgerald (So., 6-5, Center), Danny Vital (So., 5-9, Guard), Nick Rizzi (Jr., 5-10, Forward)
Key Losses: Shaquan Hutchings (6-3, Center), Dwane Butler (6-3, Center), Dylan Faler (5-10, Guard), Arkeyel Brown (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Julian Castell (So., 5-6, Guard), Mike Sellars (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Christian Santiago (Jr., 5-10, Forward), LeSean Finley (Sr., 5-6, Guard), Justin Alessi (So., 5-5 Guard), Paul Eckleberry (Jr., 6-1, Forward), JaMier Bland (Jr., 6-2, Forward)
With the exception of Ranney, Keansburg features the youngest rotation in Class B Central, but the Titans will probably get results more indicative of a young, rebuilding team coming off a winless season. Among Keansburg’s four returning players, two are juniors and the other two are sophomores, and only two seniors – 6-3 forward Mike Sellars and guard LeSean Finley – are joining the varsity team for the upcoming season.
Junior Quentin Godfrey leads the returning group after scoring a team-high eight points per game as a sophomore to go with 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals. Center Vaughan Fitzgerald and guard Danny Vital both return after starting as freshmen, with Fitzgerald measuring 6-5 with the potential to be a top rebounder and shot-blocker in the conference with some scoring to boot. Junior Nick Rizzi also returns after coming off the bench last year and can play wherever coach James McCarthy feels there is a need.
Sophomores Julian Castell and Justin Alessi will also get a chance to make an impression on the varsity squad, while juniors Christian Santiago, Paul Eckleberry and JaMier Bland all make the varsity jump and will vie for minutes on a young squad. With so much youth in the lineup, Keansburg can look to the future when Henry Hudson and Keyport take some hits to graduation, while also trying to pick up a few wins in the division against those teams the Titans are trying to chase down in years to come.
Players to Watch
Jimmy Panzini, Point Beach – One of the top players at the Shore, Panzini will look to build on his 12.5 points per game last year and lead Point Beach to a second Group I title in four years.
Elijah Barnes, Mater Dei Prep – While the majority of Mater Dei’s team played in Middlesex or Hudson County last year, Barnes is the one newcomer with Shore roots after he began his career at Freehold Boro and played at Central last year. He is coming off a season in which he averaged a double-double and blocked better than three shots per game for the second straight year.
Scottie Lewis, Ranney – His athletic ability and the highlight reel dunks that he has been working on since the sixth grade make Lewis worthy of the term ‘phenom,’ even if his overall game is still very much a work in progress.
Bryan Antoine, Ranney – At this stage, Antoine is probably the most polished of the Ranney freshmen, with good handle and vision, as well as a functional shot that he can take beyond the three-point line.
NyQuan McCombs, Mater Dei Prep – One of the Seraphs’ new stars in the backcourt, McCombs averaged 13 points last year for coach Ben Gamble at Cardinal McCarrick and helped lead the Eagles to a win at CBA during the regular season.
Mike Rice, Point Beach – The Franklin and Marshall commit began the year mostly serving as a spot-up shooter who occasionally dribbled the ball up, but the injury to Panzini helped him develop into an all-around guard for the Gulls, which will only serve to make Point Beach’s backcourt even better this year.
Breakout Players to Watch
Kenny Jones, Mater Dei Prep – Jones will have to sit for 30 days, but upon his return, Mater Dei will add a promising sophomore who can score and defend.
Danny Frauenheim, Point Beach – Even as a freshman, Frauenheim had no problem doing a lot of the little things on the court and this year he should continue to develop at some of the bigger things.
Chris Autino, Ranney – Often the forgotten man of the Ranney freshmen, Autino will surprise some teams with his rebounding ability and low-post game at a young age.
Is Mater Dei the best team in the Shore Conference?
Once the Seraphs have their complete roster, which will not be until Jan. 18 at the earliest, they will be very tough for any Shore Conference team to match up with because of their vast depth. Not only will they be adding three players who become eligible, but the bench will get plenty of work while those players sit, which will make them a capable bench to go along with a deep bench.
The primary obstacles in their way, other than the teams in their division, are CBA, Rumson-Fair Haven, Manasquan, Lakewood and Colts Neck, none of whom will be as deep as Mater Dei but can probably rival the Seraphs starting five. Lakewood can at least compete in terms of depth, Manasquan has a very balanced, cohesive starting five, and both CBA and Rumson have a single player who could present a match-up problem for anybody. The fact that Mater Dei is in the discussion speaks to how much different the roster is, and given some time to get everyone acclimated, the Seraphs could enter the SCT as the favorite.
Are the Ranney freshmen ready for prime time in year one?
Not only will Ranney’s freshmen have to go through all of the learning experiences of being a freshman athlete, but they will have to do so while playing with a big bulls-eye on their collective back against teams comprised of 17 and 18-year-olds. This would not even be a fair question if it weren’t for the fact that the collective group is so talented and the four players already complement one another very well.
The key to Ranney’s season will be health, which starts with Alex Klatsky working through the rehabilitation process after ACL surgery in January and continues with the rest of its lineup remaining healthy. They will also need contributions from returning players like Joe Mahoney and James Geraghty, the latter of which is hurt to open the year as well. If Ranney is to make a deep postseason run with this freshmen-led group, the upperclassmen will probably have to have some key moments and play consistent roles along the way.
Now the old guard, will Point Beach thrive with a chip on its shoulder?
This is a hard question to answer because within the context of the B Central division, Point Beach has not played the underdog role in a while. To get a glimpse into the psyche of this group, it might be best to look at what they did during the postseason last year, beating a defending sectional champion in Matawan in the SCT first round before taking out Lakewood on the road in the round of 16.
More than anything, the Garnet Gulls just need to stay relatively healthy this year, even if it means taking some extra time to allow a player to get healthy for the postseason like the staff did with Jimmy Panzini last year. The deeper B Central schedule might not afford them that same luxury, so this could be another year in which Point Beach focuses its attention on getting to the postseason with all of its players ready to go rather than by winning a division title at all costs.