Over the last two years, Class B Central has shed the tag of the Shore Conference’s weakest division and has become home to three top-10 teams in the Shore Conference, two of the best teams in the state, and one team that will be on the national radar over the next two seasons. The arrival of Ranney’s star-studded 2019 Class and the hiring of Ben Gamble at Mater Dei Prep have transformed this division, while Point Pleasant Beach and St. Rose remain competitive as well.

Despite Mater Dei and Ranney taking over the Shore during the last two seasons, the two teams have met once in the postseason and it was in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals two years ago. Mater Dei has won two SCT titles in two years under Gamble, so Ranney is the team that is still looking to fulfill its promise as a dominant team in this area and beyond. With five junior returning starters and the addition of the impact transfer, the Ranney will be the favorite this year while Mater Dei assumes the role of a very dangerous underdog.

In predicted order of finish

Ranney

Head Coach: Tahj Holden, third season
2016-17 Record: 22-5 (13-1, tied first in B Central)
Key Returnees: Bryan Antoine (Jr., 6-5, Guard), Scottie Lewis (Jr., 6-5, Guard/Forward), Ahmadu Sarnor (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Chris Autino (Jr., 6-7, Forward/Center), Alex Klatsky (Jr., 6-4, Guard)
Key Losses: Joe Mahoney (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Sam Metzger (Sr., 6-2, Forward/Center)
Key Newcomers: Savior Akuwovo (Sr., 6-8, Forward/Center) – Transfer from St. Anthony

Ranney junior Bryan Antoine. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

A quick glance at Ranney’s schedule this year makes one thing is clear: the Panthers are going national. If it wasn’t enough that Ranney was ranked No. 24 in the MaxPreps Preseason Top 25 before getting bumped by teams that are already playing, the Panthers will play at least five games against teams ranked in either the MaxPreps or USA Today National Rankings, including guaranteed matchups against N.J. powers Patrick School and Roselle Catholic. Ranney will also play in the prestigious City of Palms Classic during the first full week of the season and with a first-round win over nationally-ranked McEachern of Georgia, the Panthers could meet Tournament of Champions favorite Hudson Catholic in the tournament quarterfinals.

While the Panthers look to make a mark on the national stage in December and January and finish No. 1 in the state in March, they are still hoping to reach the top of the mountain in the Shore Conference in February. They will be out to redeem themselves after a stunning loss to Marlboro in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals last year and with an entire starting lineup of juniors back plus the addition of former St. Anthony big man Savior Akuwovo, the odds of Ranney winning the conference are overwhelming as the season tips.

Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis have offers from just about every major college program and Antoine spent the summer cementing his reputation as one of the best offensive guards in the country. He already has more than 1,000 points with a chance to blow past 2,000 next year, while Lewis is in position to clear 1,000 by late December or, more likely, early January. Ahmadu Sarnor was a big addition last year to help Ranney become a Shore Conference favorite and top 10 team in the state, while Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino are both improved heading into their junior years. The regular rotation is only six players deep, so an injury could have a seriously negative affect on Ranney’s chances and foul trouble would be problematic against a good team. The top six players, however, make the Panthers a legitimate Tournament of Champions contender with most of the team still in place for 2018-19.

 

Mater Dei Prep

Head Coach: Ben Gamble, third season
2016-17 Record: 25-4 (13-1, tied first in B Central)
Key Returnees: Kenny Jones (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Kyle Cardaci (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Yasin Pretlow (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Adam Afifi (Sr., 6-9, Center), Kyle Devaney (Sr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Elijah Barnes (Sr., 6-6, Forward), Elijah Mitchell (Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Marvin Pierre (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Rajae Muhammed (Sr., 6-8, Center), Maleek McKnight (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Brandon Wilson (Sr., 6-2, Forward) – Transferred to Howell
Key Newcomers: Alexander Rice (Jr., 6-3, Guard) – Transfer from St. Anthony; Jamir Watkins (So., 6-5, Forward) – Transfer from Trenton Catholic; Jeremy Weinstein (Jr., 6-5, Forward/Center), Pete Gorman (So., 5-11, Guard), Sean Turner (So., 6-0, Guard), Jalen Jones (Fr., Guard), Myles Cystein (Jr., Forward), Tahaj Parland (So., Guard)

Mater Dei senior Kenny Jones. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

The two-time defending Shore Conference Tournament champions enter the season as a team that will likely be ranked in the state’s top 20, but the Seraphs are also going to be an underdog in the B Central race going into the season. Mater Dei shared the regular-season title with Ranney last year and separated themselves in the Shore Conference Tournament to finish the season No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Final Top 10. This year, however, Ranney returns five starters and two five-star recruits, while Mater Dei must replace two All-Shore players from a year ago.

While Mater Dei has some minor questions heading into the season, guard play will not be one of them. In addition to bringing back All-Shore guard and Loyola commit Kenny Jones, along with lights-out shooters Kyle Cardaci and Yasin Pretlow, the Seraphs also welcome St. Anthony junior transfer Alexander Rice. The son of Monmouth University head coach King Rice, Mater Dei’s newest 6-3 guard has already proven to be a Ranney-killer when he hit a game-winner three in the final seconds of St. Anthony’s win over the Panthers at Brookdale last year.

Mater Dei’s more uncertain areas will be its front court and depth. Adam Afifi started during most of his junior season last year and at 6-9, he can be a major factor during the SCT. Sophomore Jamir Watkins is a 6-5 transfer who played at Trenton Catholic last year and will likely be the sixth man to open the season, while 6-5 junior Jeremy Weinstein and senior guard Kyle Devaney will also provide coach Ben Gamble some options off the bench. Gamble has had a deep bench at his disposal each of the past two seasons, but that might not be as much of a strength for Mater Dei this year. Still, the guard play will be top-notch and if Afifi and Watkins can break out as well, the Seraphs will be a threat to three-peat and make noise in the NJSIAA Tournament.

 

Point Pleasant Beach

Head Coach: Nick Catania, 14th season
2016-17 Record: 18-10 (10-4, third in B Central)
Key Returnees: Danny Frauenheim (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Trevor Covey (Sr., 6-5, Guard/Forward), Chris Pina (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Josh Yates (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Hunter Clark (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Johnny Langeveld (Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Phil Antoniotti (So., 5-10, Guard/Forward)
Key Losses: Steve Flanders (6-4, Forward), Jake Lorenzo (7-0, Center), Luke Frauenheim (5-11, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Jake Clark (So., 6-1, Guard), Jean Verrier (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Liam Hennessy (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Mohamed Traore (Sr., 6-2, Guard) – Transfer from Boston, Mass.

Point Beach senior Danny Fraeunheim. (Photo by Matt Manley)

With Ranney and Mater Dei becoming powerhouses in Class B Central and the Shore Conference, Point Beach’s season has become all about the Group I Tournament. The four games against the Panthers and the Seraphs are a great way to prepare for the early rounds of the Shore Conference Tournament and an even better way to get ready for the state tournament, but winning the division went from the easy goal to check off for Point Beach in years past to a nearly-impossible challenge.

This year, Point Beach will have even more reason to set its sights on February, as returning forward and top athlete Chris Pina will not be eligible until Feb. 3. His absence will hurt the Garnet Gulls on defense as Pina is an adept shot-blocker and rebounder, in addition to a solid all-around offensive player. On the plus side, Point Beach returns the senior duo of Danny Frauenheim and Trevor Covey, both of whom have played at the varsity level since they were freshmen and started since they were sophomores. Frauenheim was an All-Shore player as a junior, logging 16.2 points and a Shore-best 7.4 assists per game. Covey, meanwhile, has grown to 6-5 and with Point Beach losing 6-4 forward Steve Flanders and seven-footer Jake Lorenzo from last year, the Garnet Gulls will need Covey to clean up down low and be a presence on defense on top of his perimeter game.

Senior guards Josh Yates and Hunter Clark return with experience off the bench last year, while sophomore Josh Clark will join the starting lineup after missing last season with a hip injury. Point Beach has benefitted from transfers as much as any program in the Shore over the last decade and the Garnet Gulls have another impact transfer this year in senior Mohamed Traore – a quick 6-2 guard from Boston who will make the Garnet Gulls a more athletic lineup than they were a year ago once Pina is back in the fold. There will probably be some rough patches early in the year, but come conference tournament time, Point Beach will be a dangerous team in a win-or-go-home setting, especially with Frauenheim leading the way.

 

St. Rose

Head Coach: Matt Gathman, first season
2016-17 Record: 15-12 (8-6, fourth in B Central)
Key Returnees: Dave Calloway (Sr., 6-1, Guard), John Crowley (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Ethan Tombs (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Sean Culley (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Bobby Mahon (Sr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Brendan Hueth (6-1, Guard/Forward), Billy Frost (6-1, FGuard), Nick Paterno (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Jared Scheininger (5-9, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Matt Forlenza (Jr., 6-0, Guard), John Beattie (So., 6-3, Guard), Brady Shea (Jr., 5-10, Guard)

St. Rose’s offseason ended with the sudden resignation of longtime coach Dennis Devaney, who stepped down for personal reasons after 31 seasons at the Belmar school. Assistant and former Purple Roses standout Matt Gathman stepped in as head coach and will lead a team that returns two starters from a year ago. Like with Point Beach, challenging for a division title is a daunting task for St. Rose and the games against the two powerhouse teams are best used to toughen up for tournament time. The problem St. Rose has that Point Beach does not is the Purple Roses have to play in the same NJSIAA bracket as Ranney and Mater Dei as well, so a successful St. Rose season involves beating Point Beach and winning a game or two in both the Shore and South Non-Public B Tournaments.

In his first season, Gathman will rely heavily on returnees Dave Calloway and John Crowley, both of whom are back in the starting back court after averaging just under 10 points per game as juniors. With the loss of guards Brendan Hueth and Billy Frost, the two returning seniors will likely see significant increases in scoring. According to Devaney, the Purple Roses were working on a new offense over the summer to speed up with tempo with its smaller and faster lineup, and Gathman helped with the installation of said offense.

Seniors Sean Culley and Ethan Tombs will join the starting lineup, with Culley coming off a junior season in which he scored seven points per game. Senior Bobby Mahon will also give St. Rose a chance to start an all-senior five, while sophomore John Beattie and juniors Matt Forlenza and Brady Shea also figure into the mix to play and potentially start at some point. The Purple Roses will get plenty of good guard play and will have some shooting to keep teams honest, and if they can capitalize on chance to win games outside the division and beat Point Beach at least once, it will have been a successful first run for Gathman.

 

Keansburg

Head Coach: James McCarthy, 10th season
2016-17 Record: 7-15 (4-10, tied fifth in B Central)
Key Returnees: Vaughn Fitzgerald (Sr., 6-5, Center), Danny Vital (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Justin Alessi (Sr., 5-6 Guard), Paul Eckleberry (Sr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Losses: Quentin Godfrey (5-7, Guard), Nick Rizzi (5-10, Guard)
Key Newcomers: George Windgender (Sr., Forward), JaShawn Martin (Sr., Guard)

In most years, Keansburg’s players and coaches would be excited about what they have coming back and in more ways than not, that’s probably exactly how the Titans feel anyway. They return four seniors with starting experience who offer balance on both ends of the floor and enough scoring to compete against a team like St. Rose. Of course, four of Keansburg’s games will be against two of the top teams in the state and a Point Beach team that could make a run at a Group I championship once complete.

Regardless of who the opponent is on a given night, Keansburg can take solace in the fact that it can put its best foot forward with this team. Senior Danny Vital finished in the top 25 in the Shore last year with 15.2 points per game, while senior center Vaughn Fitzgerald and senior forward Paul Eckleberry chipped in with scoring, rebounding and rim protection throughout the year. Justin Alessi is a hard-working senior guard and seniors George Windgender and JaShawn Martin join the senior-laden rotation this year as well.

Keansburg will have a chance to win six games in the division if the Titans can handle their business against Asbury Park, Keyport and Henry Hudson – none of which are forgone conclusions. Add that to whatever the Titans can manage outside the division and there is definitely hope that they can be a Shore Conference Tournament team on top of a squad capable of advancing in the NJSIAA Group I Tournament.

 

Asbury Park

Head Coach: Larry Marshall, first season
2016-17 Record: 6-16 (4-10, tied fifth in B Central)
Key Returnees: Ja’King Agostini (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Javon Higgs (Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Alexx Harbour (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Xavier Banks (Sr., 6-5, Forward)
Key Losses: Josmere Taylor (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Christian Bragg (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Xavier Hundley (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Kaysaun Rice (Jr., 6-6, Center)
Key Newcomers: Eryck Brown (So., 5-10), Anthony Fraser (Jr., 6-2), Basean Fraser (Fr., 6-1), Jay-son Freeman (Jr., 6-3), Wenderlens Garius (Jr., 6-3), Mika Jones (Fr., 6-2), DeAnte Love (Sr., 6-4), Najier Massie (Fr., 5-10)

It has now been six seasons since Asbury Park was a perennial Group I contender and a regular at Brookdale in the Shore Conference quarterfinals and getting back to that being a contender in Class B Central has never been more difficult. After two years under former Neptune assistant Keith Coleman, Asbury Park will now play under the guidance of Larry Marshall, who takes over a team with some promising pieces in place, but with the daunting task of having to play a brutal divisional schedule for a Group I team.

The blueprint  for Asbury Park is similar to that of Keansburg: win the games that can be won, compete outside of B Central and hit March playing good basketball in hopes of making some noise in the Central Jersey Group I Tournament. For that to happen, the Blue Bishops will need strong seasons from returnees Ja’King Agostini, Javon Higgs and Alexx Harbour. The Bishops lost top scorer Josmere Taylor and some interior toughness with Christian Bragg and Xavier Hundley from last year, but Harbour showed his scoring ability at the end of last year, while Higgs and Agostini are experienced varsity guards who will lead on both ends of the floor.

This Asbury Park lineup won’t be able to matchup with Ranney or Mater Dei Prep and is probably not quite at the level of Point Beach or St. Rose, but the Bishops will contend for that fifth spot in the division and might have enough back to make a run at St. Rose or give Point Beach trouble early in the season.

 

Keyport

Head Coach: Phil Recco, 13th season
2016-17 Record: 7-15 (3-11, seventh in B Central)
Key Returnees: Noah Geraghty (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Colin Fernandez (Sr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Chris Hogrefe (5-8, Guard), Brendan O’Brien (6-0, Forward), Christian Smith (5-7, Guard), Cody Young (5-9, Guard), Kyle Johnson (Center)
Key Newcomers: J.J. Young (Jr., Guard), Julian Castell (Sr., Guard, 5-6), Jacob Attia (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Lucas Dant (So., 5-7, Guard), Anthony Gonzalez (So., 5-10, Forward), C.J. Johnson (So., 5-7, Guard), Kaushal Kallam (So., 5-10, Guard), Troy Alvarez (Fr., 5-10, Forward), D.J. Jones (Fr., 5-9, Guard), Ean Hospital (Fr., 5-8, Guard)

Keyport faces an uphill battle this year after winning only three divisional games in 2016-17 with a senior-heavy lineup. It is always possible that new blood will bring a higher level of talent and the Red Raiders will lay the foundation for future success, so returning seniors Noah Geraghty and Colin Fernandez will look to set a good example for the deep stable of sophomores and freshmen taking up spots on the varsity roster this year. Fernandez showed some scoring ability in averaging six points per game while Geraghty pitched in five per night last season.

In addition to Geraghty in the front court and Fernandez at one of the guard spots, seniors Julian Castell and Jacob Attia will make an impact this season. Sophomores Lucas Dant, Kaushal Kallam, Anthony Gonzalez and C.J. Johnson will all gain experience this year, as will freshmen D.J. Jones, Troy Alvarez and Ean Hospital. The seven underclassmen could get a push into bigger roles by the end of the season as coach Phil Recco tries to lay the groundwork for a breakout season in 2019-20, but for the time being, Keyport will have to battle with Keansburg, Asbury Park and Henry Hudson for B Central wins this year.

 

Henry Hudson

Head Coach: Drew Eldridge, first season
2016-17 Record: 1-22 (1-13, eighth in B Central)
Key Returnees: Jay Anthony (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Austin Flesch (Sr., 6-4, Center), Kyle Santiago (Sr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Tom Colantino (5-6, Guard), Matt Going (6-4, Forward/Center), Tom Fennell (5-10, Guard), Brendan Carlstrom (5-10, Guard/Forward), Ryan Doelger (6-0, Guard), Amarjit Singh (6-1, Guard/Forward)
Key Newcomers: Jordan Gonzalez (So., Guard), Grady Hendricks (So., Guard), Michael Moore (So., Forward), Ryan Mattlaga (Sr.), Cody Fautz (Jr., Guard), Cainan Mason (Jr., Guard), Brian Brenankamp (Jr., Guard), Kevin Connelly (Jr., Center), Sean Haupt (So., Guard), Tim Farrel (Jr., Guard), James Crowley (Fr.)

After one year as head coach at Ranney and another as an assistant with Ben Gamble at Mater Dei Prep, Drew Eldridge takes over a Henry Hudson program that is coming off a rough one-win season, but is only two years removed from fielding a solid team that qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament and lost a heartbreaker at South River in the Central Jersey Group I quarterfinals. It is clear based on the discrepancy between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 results that the Admirals are locked into an all-out rebuild that will be spearheaded by a group of juniors and sophomores this season.

Junior Jay Anthony leads the returning group as the top scorer among the players back from last year. Seniors Kyle Santiago and Austin Flesch are also back from last year and will lead a team that still has to replace three senior starters from a year ago. Sophomores Jordan Gonzalez, Grady Hendricks and Michael Moore lead the group of newcomers who will being the process of pushing Henry Hudson back up the standings and toward postseason competition once again.

 

Players to Watch

Bryan Antoine, Ranney – In his first two high school seasons, Antoine already eclipsed the 1,000-point mark and has a chance to go down as arguably the best player to ever come out of the Shore Conference.

Scottie Lewis, Ranney – Lewis is set to join his teammate in the 1,000-point club this season, but his game covers the entire spectrum. Last year, he averaged 16.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and two blocks as a sophomore and, like Antoine, has a long list of major Division I offers.

Kenny Jones, Mater Dei Prep – Jones recently signed on to play at Loyola and will now turn his attention toward leading Mater Dei in its pursuit of a third consecutive SCT title on his watch. He averaged 11.1 points, 5.8 assists and 2.36 steals as a junior a year ago.

Ahmadu Sarnor, Ranney – He is not considered a five-star recruit like his teammates, but Sarnor was just as important to Ranney’s success last year, when the Sarnor averaged 15.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.37 steals in his first season at the Shore.

Danny Frauenheim, Point Beach – The Shore Conference assist leader at 7.4 per game, Frauenheim also poured in 16.2 points and swiped 2.9 steals while leading the Garnet Gulls on the floor and in the huddle.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Alexander Rice, Mater Dei Prep – Rice is already an established high school player, but the local crowd that has yet to see Rice play on a regular basis will get an up-close look at the son of Monmouth University coach King Rice now that he is playing in the area multiple times per week.

Savior Akuwovo, Ranney – At 6-8 with a season of starting at St. Anthony under his belt, Akuwovo will make an undeniable impact on Ranney this season, giving the Panthers a second legitimate front-court player to pair with junior Chris Autino.

Mohamed Traore, Point Beach – Traore will pair with Frauenheim to give Point Beach one of the Shore’s quicker back courts and if he can fit in well with the Garnet Gulls in his first year with the team, Point Beach will be a faster, more explosive squad on both ends come tournament time.

Dave Calloway, St. Rose – Now in his second year as a starter and with three starters gone to graduation, Calloway will have the ball in his hands more now that he is a senior leader who can score from a lot of spots on the floor. Along with classmate John Crowley, Calloway could wind up carrying a lot of the load for St. Rose.

 

Burning Questions

How high can junior-heavy Ranney climb among the N.J. powers?

The talk among the Ranney players is less about how high they can finish in the state and more about how high they can climb in the national rankings. The Panthers were the No. 24 team in the nation heading into the season, according to MaxPreps, and will play the No. 9 team in those rankings, McEachern or Georgia, on Dec. 18. A win could mean a showdown with Tournament of Champions favorite Hudson Catholic, which would mean Ranney would play powerhouses Patrick School, Roselle Catholic and Hudson Catholic during the regular season. If the Panthers think they should be considered among the top teams in the state and in the county, they will have a chance to show it.

Now unquestioned underdogs, can Mater Dei pull off an upset and win B Central?

While Ben Gamble has brought with him a winning culture to Mater Dei during his first two years at the helm, his teams have looked different from year-to-year. Last year’s team was a little less athletic than its predecessor with more shooting, while this year’s team will be a more guard-oriented team like in 2015-16, albeit with more shooting and less depth. Mater Dei’s depth has been critical in winning two B Central and Shore Conference titles and with a little less of it this year, there will be less margin for error for the Seraphs. With that being said, they can’t be counted out.

How much has the gap between Mater Dei and Point Beach closed?

Point Beach returns three starters and five of their seven regular rotation members from a year ago while also adding a key transfer. The bad news is they have a lot of ground to make up, but with a standout point guard in Danny Fraeunheim, a versatile 6-5 wing in Trevor Covey and an interesting transfer in Mohamed Traore, the Gulls have some players that could cause problems against quality opponents. With Mater Dei a little lighter in its bench, Point Beach will have a better chance to hang around in the fourth quarter, which the Gulls did manage to do once last year while playing the Seraphs in Point Pleasant.

With a trio of shooters back and a new head coach, what will the finished product look like at St. Rose?

For the first time in more than three full decades, someone other than Dennis Devaney will be in the main chair on the St. Rose sideline. In his place, former Purple Roses standout and 1,000-point scorer Matt Gathman takes over for his former coach and will try to keep the Purple Roses competitive while playing in a division that is overwhelming talented at the top. St. Rose has tweaked its formula over the last several years under Devaney, who has traditionally taught a version of the Princeton offense but has opened up the floor for his players in recent years. That progression will likely continue under Gathman, although that half-court offense remains a weapon against top opponents.

Will this season be a tipping point with respect to re-alignment?

It’s hard to ever see the Shore Conference re-aligning to separate Mater Dei and Ranney from the small public school teams for a couple of reasons. No. 1, the scores were lopsided last year and the realignment for 2018-19 still had both schools in B Central. Second, with Mater Dei’s near-closing back in 2015 and Ranney’s reliance on one class of players, what’s to say this run of dominance will continue for both schools? Football is the sport that drives talk of realignment, but difference between the haves and have-nots in B Central has made it more of an issue in basketball. For now, though, teams like Asbury Park, Henry Hudson, Keyport and Keansburg will have to scratch and claw for everything they get while competing with some of the state’s elite talent while Mater Dei and Ranney will have to make the most of their respective non-conference slates.

 

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