The 2014-15 boys basketball season at the Shore featured some noteworthy postseason accomplishments by teams like Rumson-Fair Haven, CBA, Manasquan and Shore Regional, but when it came to dominant regular-season accomplishments, Lakewood led the field as the only Shore Conference team to post a perfect division record. By running the table in Class B South last season, Lakewood captured its fifth straight outright division crown and seventh straight division title of any kind – which is the longest active streak in the Shore Conference.

The Piners have every expectation of extending their streak to eight, but they will face some stiff competition this season, probably more than they had to endure a year ago. Manchester could have its best team in a decade, Pinelands might have its best team ever and perennial contenders Donovan Catholic and Point Pleasant Borough each look primed for better years than last year. It all amounts to what should be a more entertaining B South race that could very well come down to the last day of the regular season come February.

Amir Tyler has only known life as a division champion in his three prior years at Lakewood and the senior will shoot for his fourth B South crown and sixth straight outright title for the Piners. He will also look to win his second SCT and NJSIAA sectional title as a varsity player. (Photo by Bill Normile)

In Predicted Order of Finish

Lakewood

Head Coach: Randy Holmes, 10th season
2014-15 Record: 18-7 (14-0, first in B South)
Returning: Amir Tyler (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Sean Barksdale (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Ryzson Barnes (Sr., 6-6, Forward/Center)
Key Losses: Ryan Lawrence (6-2, Guard), Datrell Reed (6-4, Forward), Chapelle Cook (6-3, Forward), Victor Figueroa (5-9, Guard), Tyreek Grayson (6-3, Guard; transferred to Sheffield Prep, Conn.)
Key Newcomers: Adiam Palmer (Jr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Kaseam Wilson (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Drayton Bonaparte (So., 6-0, Guard), Ahmere Burton (So., 6-4, Forward), Zyheir Jones (So., 6-2, Guard), Jyheir Jones (So., 6-2, Guard), Michael Anderson (Fr., 5-10, Guard), Ahmir Burden (So., 6-5, Forward), Dorian Vaughn (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Cameron Mader (Jr., Guard)

No team in the Shore Conference – not CBA, Neptune, Point Beach nor Manasquan – can claim the divisional dominance that Lakewood has imposed upon its competition over the past five seasons, all of which have ended with the Piners capturing an outright division championship. Tack on two prior public division co-titles and Lakewood enters the 2015-16 season with a seven-year streak of winning at least a share of a division title, which is a run worth fighting to preserve. In order to do so, the Piners will have to put a sour ending to 2015 behind them and focus on surviving a B South division that looks to be improved. Lakewood ran the table in the division last year and went into the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group II Tournaments as a high seed, but lost at home in both tournaments – once as a No. 2 seed to No. 15 Point Beach in the SCT and again as a No. 1 seed to No. 8 Bordentown in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II bracket.

The Piners lose a well-rounded scorer and All-Shore guard in Ryan Lawrence and a couple of bruisers in Datrell Reed and Chapelle Cook to graduation, but return two starters and another key bench piece from a year ago. Senior Amir Tyler will be a three-year starter and classmate Sean Barksdale enters his second year starting for the Piners and third as a varsity contributor. Center Ryzson Barnes, meanwhile, moves into the starting lineup full time after serving as a front court weapon off the bench last year.

Lakewood usually has plenty of depth to fall back on, although coach Randy Holmes has typically been able to shorten his rotation to seven or eight reliable options by the time February hits. This year could be more of the same, but Holmes’s expectation for the early part of the year is to run out a deep bench of hard-working, versatile pieces. Junior swingman Adiam Palmer can work at multiple positions with his athletic 6-4 frame and improved all-around game, while junior Dorian Vaughn and sophomore Ahmir Burton will give Lakewood additional frontcourt depth. As usual, the Piners will have a deep stable of guards in addition to Tyler, with senior Kaseam Wilson serving as the elder statesman of the group. Sophomores Drayton Bonaparte, and Zyheir and Jyheir Jones will also figure into early-season rotation, as will speedy 5-10 freshman Michael Anderson. Lakewood will get a stiff test from the B South field and another perfect division record might be asking too much of the Piners, but there is little question which team enters the season as the B South favorite.

 

Manchester

Head Coach: Ryan Ramsay, 11th season
2014-15 Record: 16-8 (11-3, second in B South)
Returning: Jordan Torney (Sr., 6-3, Guard), Shavar Reynolds (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Israel Almestica (Sr., 6-5, Center), L.J. Robinson (Jr., 6-4, Guard), Alex Lunn (Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward)
Key Losses: Robert Planter (6-3, Forward), Nikim Stokes (5-11, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Khari Jenkins (So., 5-9, Guard), Ryan Hartnett (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Gavin Pabst (Sr., 6-4 Forward), Zion Mununga (Jr., Forward; transfer from Pa.), Jerry Blackburn (So., 6-0, Guard), Chris Santiago (So., 6-2, Guard/Forward)

Manchester junior Shavar Reynolds scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to help lead the Hawks to a win over Donovan Catholic. (Photo by Larry Murphy)

Of all the challengers to Lakewood over the last five years, this version of Manchester looks like it could be the most formidable. With two four-year returning starters, a third-year starter and another talented junior moving from sixth man to starter, Manchester is on a mission in 2016 as the Hawks try to dethrone Lakewood and win their first division title since 2004. While last season was a solid one by most any measure, the Hawks saw how far they still had to go in two lopsided losses to the Piners and another rout at the hands of Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament opening round. On the brighter side, Manchester’s season ended at Rumson-Fair Haven with the Hawks giving the SCT champions a battle in the Central Jersey Group II quarterfinals.

The senior backcourt tandem of Jordan Torney and Shavar Reynolds is the strength of the Hawks team after both filled up the stat sheet as juniors. Torney – who is a high-Division I recruit as a track and field jumper – averaged 14.5 points, 7.7 boards, 3.5 assists and four steals last year, while Reynolds put up 15.1 points, eight rebounds, five assists and 3.8 steals per game. The steal numbers show the Hawks were at their best when their defense flew around and forced turnovers and the challenge has always been making that style work against a Lakewood team that also specializes in succeeding in the same kind of chaos.

Senior center Israel Almestica also returns as a four-year starter to give Manchester some frontcourt size, and junior L.J. Robinson is a legitimate threat on the wing even if he is a third option on this particular roster. Sophomore Khari Jenkins takes over the starting point guard duties, although Reynolds typically initiates the halfcourt offense and can break the press if need be. Junior Alex Lunn also gives coach Ryan Ramsey some toughness and athleticism off the bench as a player who can guard multiple positions. Lakewood will likely have the edge in depth and the rest of the division is good enough to knock Manchester down a peg if the Hawks look too far ahead to that first meeting against Lakewood on Jan. 19, but the dynamic duo of Reynolds and Torney as well as a promising up-and-comer in Robinson give Manchester its best chance – and perhaps last chance for the foreseeable future – to reclaim the B South title for the first time in more than a decade.

 

Donovan Catholic

Head Coach: Mike Kearney, 17th season
2014-15 Record: 13-10 (7-7, tied fourth in B South)
Returning: Mike Boice (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Riley Collins (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Tyler McShea (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Erik Braaten (Sr., 6-8, Forward), Kevin Singleton (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Nico Rispoli (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Caleb Kearney (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Dan Wilson (Sr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Losses: James Fata (5-11, Guard), Alex Morte (5-9, Guard), Joe Law (5-11, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Jetthro Moll (So., 6-1, Guard), Joe San Fillipo (So., 6-2, Forward), Marcus Rosario (Sr., 6-0, Guard)

Mike Boice and Donovan Catholic will try to get past Sean Barksdale (right) and defending division champion Lakewood. (Photo by Larry Murphy, Sports Pix NJ)

It was not so long ago that the Griffins were the standard in Class B South and a perennial Shore Conference Tournament contender, and while they are flying under the radar heading into the season to a certain degree, there are elements about this Donovan Catholic team that suggest this could be a resurgent season for Ocean County’s premier non-public program. After a somewhat disappointing .500 performance in Class B South last year, the Griffins return a good mix of perimeter play and interior size that could give veteran head coach Mike Kearney some lineup flexibility to counter the top two teams in the division from a year ago.

While the Manchester and Lakewood backcourts return with longer track records, the returning Donovan Catholic backcourt quietly had a strong 2014-15 campaign and is set up to be even better this year. Senior Mike Boice was a breakout player for the Griffins as a junior, averaging better than 12 points, five rebounds, a block and a steal in his first year as a starter. Fellow senior Riley Collins, meanwhile, put up just under 11 points per game to go with 5.3 boards in his first year at Donovan Catholic after transferring from Central. Senior Kevin Singleton and Caleb Kearney will also provide some depth in the backcourt for a Griffins team that has a recent history of competing with the top teams on its schedule when it’s not beating them.

While the backcourt is the stable force of the returning crop of the players, the frontcourt has plenty of potential as well. Senior Tyler McShea averaged close to eight points and better than eight rebounds last year and also blocked 2.4 shots per night. The Griffins also return 6-8 center Erik Braaten to protect the rim and help McShea clean up the glass, while 6-4 senior Dan Wilson and 6-2 senior Nico Rispoli will also figure into the frontcourt mix. Kearney will also look to integrate sophomores Jetthro Moll and Joe San Fillipo, as well as senior Marcus Rosario. While Lakewood looks to protect its long streak of division titles and Manchester hopes to finally break through with arguably its most talented starting five in a decade, an accomplished Donovan Catholic program is waiting in the wings as a potential sleeper to win B South and get back in the hunt for a spot in the SCT quarterfinals.

 

Pinelands

Head Coach: John Tierney, 11th season
2014-15 Record: 14-11 (7-7, tied fourth in B South)
Returning: David Lunn (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Luke Stambaugh (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Will Jenkins (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Mike Suarez (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Chris Burke (Jr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Milanj Coursey (6-2, Forward), Zach Wiatrowski (5-10, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Ryan Ross (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Steven Skeie (Jr., 6-4, Center), Tyler Colmyer (Sr., 6-1, Center), Cade Sundermann (So., 5-10, Guard), Gennaro Belleta (Jr., 6-2, Center), Chris McGrotty (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Anthony Diaz (Fr., 5-11, Guard)

For Donovan Catholic, a 7-7 division record and a final overall mark three games above .500 is minor disappointment, but the same résumé was enough for a historic season at Pinelands last year. The Wildcats qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time in program history and pushed into the top half of the B South standings, or at least into a tie with Donovan Catholic for the fourth spot in the division. Their season included a win at Donovan Catholic and a home win over Manchester in February, and combined with two competitive losses against Lakewood, those results should only foster more confidence for a Pinelands team that returns several key pieces from a year ago.

Athletic senior guard Dave Lunn was an all-division performer as a junior and led the team in scoring with 14.6 points per game. The Wildcats also return second-leading scorer Luke Stambaugh, who poured in 10.6 per game and knocked down 53 three-pointers – second only to Lakewood’s Sean Barksdale (55) among Class B South players. Senior forward Mike Suarez also cracked the starting lineup last season and will add some toughness on the interior that should complement the guard play of Lunn and Stambaugh. Senior Will Jenkins should do the same once he overcomes a foot injury that has sidelined him during the preseason.

Junior Chris Burke also returns and offers some more shooting ability and floor-spacing for a Wildcats team that has opened up its offense over the previous three seasons. Senior Ryan Ross and Cade Sundermann will also help out in the backcourt, while freshman Anthony Diaz has also earned a look. Six-foot-4 junior Steve Skeie will be a key addition to the varsity roster when the Wildcats need some size, but the strength of the team since the arrival of Stambaugh and Lunn as freshmen has been the guard play and it will remain that way. Last year was a big step forward for the program and with some real senior leadership and offensive talent back, the Wildcats should remain a factor in B South, along with the usual suspects.

 

Point Pleasant Boro

Head Coach: Kevin Hynes, 21st season
2014-15 Record: 5-14 (3-11, seventh in B South)
Returning: Matt Van Nostrand (Sr., 5-9, Guard), John Venturi (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Brian Peters (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Anthony Trainor (Sr., 5-10, Forward), Jack Waddleton (Jr., 6-5, Forward), John Duda (So., 6-3, Forward)
Key Losses: Jack Fitzsimmons (Guard), Mike Larson (Forward), Bobby Trippanera (Guard/Forward), Kyle Ryan (Center), Mike Canning (Guard), Brendan Brczycki (Guard)
Key Newcomers: J.J. Maves (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Mike Licchio (Sr., 5-11, Forward; transfer from Donovan Catholic), Devin Dragon (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Pat Feehan (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Alex Lembo (Jr., 6-2, Forward), John Chipak (Jr., 6-0, Guard)

The 2014-15 season marked a rare losing campaign for the Panthers under 21-year head coach Kevin Hynes and the culprit could very well have been youth. With that being said, Hynes has had young teams before that have held their own in the division, but what made last year’s group unique compared to previous years is the lack of size and strength relative to a typical Point Boro team. The Panthers have developed a reputation as a physical, defensive-minded program and while they did have some talent last year, it was not talent that necessarily fit that style.

With an offseason to mature both physically and mentally, Point Boro aims to return to the race for a B South title behind a strong starting backcourt and a frontcourt that is coming into its own. Matt Van Nostrand battled injuries in his first season with the Panthers after spending two years for Point Beach while the Garnet Gulls were among the top teams in the Shore Conference.  Van Nostrand brings range and scoring ability to the lineup to compliment the skills of junior point guard John Venturi, who has started since his freshman year. Point Boro also returns 6-5 forward Jack Wattleton and 6-3 sophomore John Duda, who led the Panthers in scoring in a handful of games as a freshman last season.

Brian Peters and Anthony Trainor are a pair of seniors with varsity time who are looking at increased roles this season. Seniors J.J. Maves, Devin Dragon and Donovan Catholic transfer Mike Licchio will offer the Panthers some depth and a wave of upcoming juniors that includes guards Pat Feehan and John Chipak, as well as 6-2 forward Alex Lembo, could be key as well. With Van Nostrand, Venturi and Duda, the Panthers have some scoring potential, but the real key for Point Boro will be getting back to playing its physical style of basketball in a division that has plenty of talented guards that will demand defensive attention.

 

Barnegat

Head Coach: Mike Puorro, second season
2014-15 Record: 13-13 (4-10, sixth in B South)
Returning: Nick Camarato (Sr., 6-0, Guard), DaShawn Anderson (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Steve Gansereit (Sr., Guard), David Orozco (Jr., Guard), Mike Revello (So., Guard)
Key Losses: Kyle Morris (6-4, Forward), Xavier Young (6-3, Forward), Ricky Gerena (Guard)
Key Newcomers: Marc Frazier (Jr., Guard), Alex Grogan (So., Forward), Carson Francisco (So., Guard), Sean Morris (Fr., 6-3, Forward)

In its first year under former Wall head coach Mike Puorro, Barnegat reached the .500 mark for the season one year after winning only three games in 2013-14. The Bengals will be looking to build on that accomplishment by improving on a 4-10 division record and replacing some of the frontcourt depth that they lost with the graduation of Kyle Morris and Xavier Young. Both Morris and Young contributed heavily in scoring and rebounding and a lot of that load will fall on 6-5 senior returnee DaShawn Anderson, who averaged better than eight points and eight rebounds per game a year ago. Barnegat also returns leading scorer Nick Camarato (12.6 points per game) and the inside-outside combo of Anderson and Camarato will be at the heart of Barnegat’s identity this season.

Outside of the senior duo and classmate Steve Gansereit, the Bengals will be relying on some younger talent to fill in the rest of the roles in the starting lineup and off the bench. Sophomore guard Mike Revello had a strong showing as a freshman, averaging a team-high 4.7 assists per game. Junior guard David Orozco also returns to the varsity squad and fellow junior Marc Frazier will join him in the backcourt mix. Sophomores Alex Grogan and Carson Francisco will also make the move to varsity this season, with Grogan joining the rotation of forwards and Francisco vying for time at guard.

The Bengals hope to inject the program with talent in the years to come and that injection will continue with 6-3 freshman Sean Morris, whose older brothers Kyle and Ryan were both effective varsity scorers and rebounders for the Bengals. While that process of program building continues in Puorro’s second year, the Bengals will have a chance to add some division wins this year thanks to the return of Camarato, Anderson and Revello, as well as the addition of another potential impact freshman in Morris.

 

Central

Head Coach: Mike Clemente Jr., first season
2014-15 Record: 12-11 (9-5, third in B South)
Returning: Maks Gruszecki (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Nyheem Overton (Sr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Evan Lang (6-2, Guard), John Forrester (6-5, Forward/Center), Anthony Arneth (6-5, Forward), Schuyler Smith (6-6, Center), Elijah Barnes (Jr., 6-7, Forward; Transferred to Mater Dei Prep), Jaden Rhoden (Jr., 6-0, Guard; transferred to Toms River North)
Key Newcomers: Denis Corbin (Jr., 6-4, Center), Chris Downs (Sr., 6-3, Guard; transfer from Harrison), Anthony Holloway (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Andrew Kelly (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Xavier Jackson (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Zion Hardy (Jr., 5-9, Guard; transfer from Manchester), Reggie Singleton (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Maleek Womack (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Anthony Petit-Clair (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Mychael Henderson (Sr., 6-3, Guard)

Three years after his father, Mike Sr., stepped down after 31 years as head coach, Mike Clemente, Jr. takes over the Golden Eagles varsity team looking to carve out his own successful head coaching career at the high school level. Clemente was a highly-regarded assistant at Toms River North during the Mariners’ recent run, which included two 20-win seasons and two Class A North division titles in four years. Now, Clemente faces the challenge of leading a Central team that, despite a successful season a year ago, is facing a rebuild because of a combination of graduation and a couple of key transfers.

The Golden Eagles relied on a number of seniors last season, including 6-2 guard and 1,000-point scorer Evan Lang and forwards Anthony Arneth, John Forrester and Schuyler Smith – all of who stand at least 6-5. On top of losing four senior contributors, the Golden Eagles also lost talented 6-7 forward Elijah Barnes (10.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.4 blocks per game in 2013-14), who will be playing for his third school in three years as a junior at Mater Dei Prep. Promising junior guard Jaden Rhoden also transferred to Toms River North after averaging better than 10 points per game as a sophomore, leaving 5-10 junior Maks Gruszecki as the lone returning starter.

Gruszecki, who averaged 8.3 points per game as a sophomore, is a good starting point for Clemente as he tries to restock the program and implement his system. Senior Nyheem Overton also returns after getting time last year, but that is where the Golden Eagles’ varsity experience ends, at least in terms of significant minutes. Central does have some size to add to the lineup in junior forwards Denis Corbin (6-4), Andrew Kelly (6-3), Reggie Singleton (6-4) and Anthony Petit-Clair (6-3), as well as a pair of 6-3 senior guards in Mychael Henderson and Harrison transfer Chris Downs. Guards Anthony Holloway, Xavier Jackson, Maleek Womack and Manchester transfer Zion Hardy are all juniors as well, so the Class of 2017 holds the key to both this season and next for Central. Getting to the top of a division with senior-heavy teams at Lakewood, Manchester, Donovan Catholic and Pinelands will be a tall order for Clemente in his first season, but he will have a chance to lay some significant groundwork with a lot of potential returning pieces for 2016-17.

 

Jackson Liberty

Head Coach: Dave Zwirz, first season
2014-15 Record: 5-16 (1-13, eighth in B South)
Returning: Lateef Foster (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: J’Son Clark (5-8, Guard), Howard Taylor (6-3, Forward), Hassan Ranouf (5-6, Guard), Ryan Brennan-Pollina (6-1, Forward), Brian Smith (5-8, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Somto Emenuga (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Zach Amaty (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Julson Badushov (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Anthony Kaminski (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Joe Albero (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Alonzo Aponte (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Matt Baureko (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Ryan Downer (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Dan Sofield (Fr., 6-3, Forward), Miles Neal (Fr., 5-9, Guard)

Like Clemente at Central, Dave Zwirz takes over a team that will present him with some challenges for the upcoming season but has enough hope that he can be excited for what is to come. The Lions struggled last year despite playing with a good amount of senior experience. While replacing varsity contributors is always a challenge to some degree, Jackson Liberty will be replacing seniors from a five-win team with players who had much more success at the lower levels a year ago.

The lone returnee to the starting lineup is senior forward Lateef Foster, who averaged 7.3 points and 3.4 rebounds as a junior. Seniors Somto Emenuga, Zach Amaty and Julson Badushov could all see increased roles with the team, while guards Anthony Kaminski, Joe Albero, Matt Baureko and Ryan Downer, as well as forward Alonzo Aponte represent the junior influx to the varsity roster. Zwirz will also give a pair of freshmen a shot at significant minutes, including 6-3 forward Dan Sofield. Sofield’s older brother, James, is the all-time leading scorer in the young history of Jackson Liberty and the younger Sofield will get a chance to begin chasing his brother’s mark this season. Fellow freshman Miles Neal will also compete for time in the backcourt.

Zwirz will likely hope to accomplish something along the lines of what Puorro did at Barnegat last year, when the Bengals improved by 10 wins and reached the .500 mark. With some young talent both moving up in and entering the program, Jackson Liberty can look forward to the future as the Lions look to make life difficult for their B South competition in the season to come.

 

Players to Watch

Jordan Torney, Manchester – Torney’s big statistical season last year included a career-high 37-point outburst against Central. Rutgers and UConn, among others, are interested in him as a track and field jump specialist.

Shavar Reynolds, Manchester – A smooth guard who can handle, pass and catch fire from behind the arc, Reynolds is also a good one-on-one defender, which will be a key to Manchester’s season as the Hawks look to advance deeper into tournament play.

Amir Tyler, Lakewood – Coming off a huge senior season on the football field and a commitment to Temple University on Sunday, Tyler (12 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.5 steals last year) will now look to lead the Piners to their second SCT title during his four years as a varsity player.

Sean Barksdale, Lakewood – At 6-5, Barksdale can not only score, rebound and protect the rim (11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks last year), but he can also stretch the floor, evidenced by his division-leading 55 three-pointers last year.

Dave Lunn, Pinelands – A breakout player on Pinelands’ first SCT-qualifying team in program history, Lunn poured in a team-high 14.6 points per game for the Wildcats as a junior in 2015-16.

Mike Boice, Donovan Catholic – A tough guard on the defensive end and an all-around offensive player, Boice will also crash the glass (5.3 rebounds per game) as well as score the ball (12 points per game) for a Donovan Catholic team looking to get back to the top of Class B South.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

L.J. Robinson, Manchester – After serving as the sixth man as a sophomore, Robinson will slide into the starting lineup and give the Hawks a third scoring option alongside Torney and Reynolds that would be a pretty good first option for a lot of teams.

John Duda, Point Boro – Fresh off contributing quite a bit as a freshman, Duda will now look to raise his game as a sophomore and, more importantly, help the Panthers get back into contention in B South.

Maks Gruszecki, Central – The lone returning player from what was shaping up to be a special 2017 Class for the Golden Eagles, Gruszecki is likely to take on a bulk of the offensive production for the young Eagles, so expect to see his name among the conference leaders in scoring and assists.

 

Burning Questions

Is this the year someone dethrones Lakewood?

On one hand, there are two very capable challengers to Lakewood’s reign as the supreme team in Class B South. Manchester returns three experienced starters and has some high-upside talent complementing them, and if they can grow defensively and function a little more efficiently in their halfcourt offense, the Hawks are a sleeper team to reach the SCT final four and make noise in South Jersey Group II. Donovan Catholic also has a balanced, senior-laden group that should benefit from a little more experience in the starting lineup this year.

On the other hand, Lakewood returns two proven All-Shore caliber seniors in Amir Tyler and Sean Barksdale and another 6-6 senior big man with similar potential in Ryzson Barnes. The Piners are unproven elsewhere on the roster and next year could be more of a challenge to replace production and fill holes in the lineup, but this year’s team appears to have what it takes to keep the streak of seven straight division titles – including five straight outright – alive.

 

Can Pinelands build on its first ever SCT appearance?

While seeing Pinelands among the field of Shore Conference Tournament entrants was a first, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to those paying attention to the program over the last several years. Since players like Luke Stambaugh and Dave Lunn entered the program four years ago as freshmen, coach John Tierney was cautiously optimistic that the group could push the program into contention by the time their time was up. After good starts to their career as freshmen, Lunn and Stambaugh were instrumental in leading the Wildcats to a 14-win campaign last year.

Despite a couple of losses in the starting lineup, Pinelands has plenty of experience back with another offseason to build chemistry and prepare to knock off some of the division’s top teams. The Wildcats beat both Donovan Catholic and Manchester a year ago and lost its two games to Lakewood by a combined five points, so they have already proven they can be competitive. Now, the challenge will be to win enough of those games to put themselves in position to win their first ever division title, which after a successful 2014-15 campaign and some key pieces back in the fold, is not a completely far-fetched scenario.

 

Will Point Boro – one of the Shore’s more consistent programs over the past couple of decades – bounce back?

The Panthers have routinely finished in the top half of Class B South (and, for a couple of seasons, Class C Central) and have been division-championship material in good years. That is why it is so unusual to pull up the 2014-15 standings and see Point Boro in second-to-last place in Class B South with a 5-14 overall record. Like all programs, the Panthers had to deal with the realities of roster turnover last year, but that has been a challenge they have been able to meet most years.

With a roster that shapes up to be more capable of playing coach Kevin Hynes’s physical, defensive brand of basketball, Point Boro should be able to put its down year in the rearview mirror and jump back into the B South race this year. It also doesn’t hurt that the Panthers will feature a solid offensive backcourt off Matt Van Nostrand and John Venturi, with a couple of promising frontcourt players in John Duda and Jack Waddleton. They should be better in every phase, but a return to prominence will likely coincide with a restoration of the Panthers’ reputation as one of the Shore’s most physical teams.