Historically speaking, the Class B Central division has been the weakest of the Shore Conference divisions and that is mostly by design. It is reserved for the smallest schools in the conference and there is a somewhat reliable correlation between school size and the quality of a program, at least with regard to public schools.

Last year, however, B Central might have been the Shore’s best division. Ranney and Mater Dei Prep were the top two teams in the conference, Point Pleasant Beach was the No. 7 team and the Central Jersey Group I champion, and both St. Rose and Asbury Park were solid teams. Even Keansburg had one of its better teams and fell victim to a brutal division schedule.

A lot has happened in a year. Mater Dei lost nearly its whole roster and its head coach, Point Beach graduated five of its top six players and St. Rose moved to Class A Central in the latest Shore Conference realignment. One team that has not dropped off is Ranney, which enters the year as the No. 1 team in N.J. and with aspirations to finish it that way. There is a massive delta between the Panthers and the rest of the division, so if there is any drama in the B Central race, it will be for second place and the public division championship.

What the division will lack in drama, though, it will make up for in highlights.

 

In predicted order of finish

Ranney

Head Coach: Tahj Holden, fourth season
2017-18 Record: 28-5 (14-0, first in B Central)
Key Returners: Bryan Antoine (Sr., 6-5, Guard), Scottie Lewis (Sr., 6-5, Guard/Forward), Alex Klatsky (Sr., 6-4, Guard), Chris Autino (Sr., 6-7, Center), Ahmadu Sarnor (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Mike Dettro (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Savior Akuwovo (6-8, Center)
Newcomers: Phillip Wheeler (Jr., 6-7, Forward) – transfer from Rumson-Fair Haven; Elijah Perkins (Fr., 6-3, Guard)

Ranney senior Bryan Antoine. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

In the 30-year history of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, no Shore Conference team has ever won the title of No. 1 team in N.J. and only one team from the Shore (Neptune in 2002) has ever made it to the T of C final. Make no mistake about it: ending both of those droughts is the ultimate for this year’s Ranney team, which already might have had the most talented squad in the history of the conference last year. Ultimately, though, it did not end in a state championship, as the Panthers fell to eventual T of C champion Roselle Catholic, 63-61, in what was the unofficial “Game of the Year” in New Jersey High School Basketball.

Not only are the Ranney players expecting to finish the job this year – most people outside the program will as well. The Panthers enter the season as the prohibitive favorite to finish No. 1 in N.J. and one look at the roster will explain why. Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis head into the final year of their spectacular high-school careers after announcing their college commitments earlier in the school year – Antoine to Villanova and Lewis to Florida. They are the two highest-rated prospects from the Shore Conference on record and the two of the three highest-rated from the Class of 2019 in N.J. by all accounts – the top two by some.

Scottie Lewis takes off for one of his seven dunks and two of his 24 points vs. CBA in the SCT semifinals. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Antoine will likely have a date with history some time this year as he enters the season 492 points away from becoming the Shore’s all-time leading scorer. The 6-5 guard has averaged better than 20 points per game in each of his first three seasons at Ranney and has eclipsed the 500-point mark all three years as well, so as long as Antoine stays healthy, it appears he will be a lock to set the record and make a run at 2,500.

Even without Lewis and Antoine on the roster, Ranney would still be a contender for the No. 1 spot in the Shore Conference, which speaks to the improved depth of the Panthers’ roster. Seniors Alex Klatsky and Ahmadu Sarnor are returning starters and 6-7 senior forward Chris Autino is entering his fourth varsity season at Ranney. Sarnor will not be available for the first 16 games of the season because he played 16 games as an eighth-grader in Pennsylvania and, by NJSIAA rule, must sit the same amount of games. Sarnor will be eligible to rejoin the lineup in late January if the schedule holds true to form.

Ranney senior Ahmadu Sarnor. (Ray Richardson)

Ranney’s two noteworthy newcomers are junior Phillip Wheeler and freshman Elijah Perkins. Wheeler was a walking, talking highlight reel with Rumson-Fair Haven last season and will give Ranney some extra length, athleticism and shooting. Perkins is a promising, physically gifted freshman who will cover for Sarnor during the first part of the season and serve as a legitimate lineup option for coach Tahj Holden come the postseason. Senior Mike Dettro also held his own last year and can give Holden solid minutes off the bench, giving Ranney eight reliable options for their lineup after playing with only six for the majority of the last three years.

Barring something catastrophic, the B Central title is a lock and the Shore Conference Tournament is almost a foregone conclusion. The goal for Ranney this year is to bring a Tournament of Champions title to the Shore for the first time and for Antoine and Lewis to leave a legacy as two of the all-time greats in N.J. basketball history before going on to bigger and better things.

Phillip Wheeler skies for a dunk during his sophomore season at Rumson-Fair Haven. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

 

Asbury Park

Head Coach: Larry Marshall, second season
2017-18 Record: 10-13 (7-7, tied fourth in B Central)
Key Returners: Alexx Harbour (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Eryck Brown (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Wenderlens Garius (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Jay-son Freeman (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Ja’King Agostini (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Javon Higgs (Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Xavier Banks (Sr., 6-5, Forward)
Newcomers: LaDonn Fitzpatrick-Brown (Sr., 6-7, Center) – transfer from Brick Memorial

It has been seven seasons since Asbury Park was a legitimate Group I contender, with the Blue Bishops dropping off significantly from 2011-12 – when they won the second of two consecutive Group I titles – to 2012-13. The last six years have been an uphill climb back to a winning record and while Asbury Park came up short at 10-13 last year, the 2017-18 season was the most competitive we have seen the Blue Bishops since their championship run. On top of getting to 10 wins, Asbury Park went 7-7 in a difficult B Central division, beat rival St. Rose and qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time since 2012 – all under the direction of first-year head coach Larry Marshall.

With some key players back and B Central down outside of Ranney, the conditions are ripe for Asbury Park to be even better this year, which means finishing the season with a winning record, getting back to the SCT and contending for the B Central public title and Central Jersey Group I championship. Senior guard Alexx Harbour was Asbury Park’s top scorer last year and he is, perhaps, the best returning player in B Central not playing for Ranney. Harbour will share the back court with junior Eryck Brown, who will be looking to progress as the team’s point guard and allow Harbour to play off the ball more often. Seniors Wenderlens Garius and Jay-son Freeman will occupy the two forward spots, with both possessing the ability to play either on the wing on down low.

Asbury Park adds some upside this year in the form of 6-7 senior transfer LaDonn Fitzgerald-Brown, who spent last year at Brick Memorial but did not play for the basketball team. Fitzgerald-Brown will be an imposing post presence in B Central and could give teams match-up problems once Asbury Park makes it to tournament time. The Bishops have stepped up their non-division schedule significantly this year with games against Lakewood, St. Mary’s of Elizabeth (No. 14 in the state), Atlantic City, Sayreville and defending Central Jersey Group IV champion Trenton. That should be a signal that the expectations have changed and that Asbury Park is expecting big things once again in 2019.

 

Point Pleasant Beach

Head Coach: Nick Catania, 15th season
2017-18 Record: 21-10 (10-4, third in B Central)
Key Returners: Jake Clark (Jr., 6-1, Guard)
Key Losses: Danny Frauenheim (5-10, Guard), Trevor Covey (6-5, Guard/Forward), Mohamed Traore (6-2, Guard), Chris Pina (6-5, Forward), Josh Yates (6-1, Guard), Hunter Clark (5-10, Guard), Johnny Langeveld (6-1, Guard/Forward)
Newcomers: Liam Hennessey (Jr., Guard), David Teranova (So., Guard), Luke Valencia (So., Guard), Will Baranello (Jr., Guard), Jack Akins (Jr., Guard), Luke Testa (So., Forward), Joe Coakley (So., Forward), Anthony Longo (Fr., Guard), Owen West (Fr., Forward), Andrew Seaman (Fr., Guard), Dak Gregory (Fr., Guard), Christian Flores (Fr., Guard)

For the last decade, Point Beach has had at least borderline Division I talent on its roster just about every season and the result was sectional championships in 2013, 2014 and 2018, a Shore Conference Tournament title in 2014 and an overall Group I championship in 2013. Last year’s team brought home some more hardware by winning the program’s third Central Jersey Group I championship in a span of six years, led by a core of five seniors and then-sophomore Jake Clark.

With the graduations of standouts Danny Frauenheim, Trevor Covey and Mohamed Traore, as well as quality role players in Josh Yates and Chris Pina, the weight will be on Clark to help carry the Garnet Gulls this season and help them transition toward the next team competing for championships in the Shore Conference and Group I. There will be little-to-no senior influence on this year’s Point Beach team and a pretty substantial reliance on the freshman class, so if the Garnet Gulls can get an All-Shore caliber season out of Clark and win the B Central public division title, coach Nick Catania will feel very good about the program’s prospects going forward.

 

Mater Dei Prep

Head Coach: Dennis Kazimir, first season
2017-18 Record: 23-6 (12-2, second in B Central)
Key Returners: Jeremy Weinstein (Sr., 6-5, Forward/Center), Pete Gorman (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Sean Turner (Jr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: 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), Alexander Rice (Sr., 6-3, Guard) – transferred to Patrick School; Jamir Watkins (Jr., 6-6, Forward) – transferred to Trenton Catholic; Isaiah Alston (Sr., 6-4, Forward); Jalen Jones (So., 6-3, Guard/Forward) – transferred to Bishop Ahr
Newcomers: Tahaj Parland (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Vernon Morris (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Malachi Treadwell (Jr., 6-6, Center), Matt Curti (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Phil Urban (So., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Jake Mitchell (So., 5-10, Guard), Gavin Reddington (So., 6-5, Forward), Kyree Drake (Fr., 5-6, Guard), Anthony Tancredi (Fr., 6-5, Forward/Center), Michael Sannelli (Fr., 5-8, Guard)

This past offseason was a tumultuous one for the Mater Dei basketball program, which graduated four senior starters, replaced a wildly-successful head coach and lost three most players via transfers. It started with word that standout junior Jamir Watkins would be transferring back to Trenton Catholic after spending one impressive season with the Seraphs. Then, in June, Ben Gamble stepped down as head coach after leading Mater Dei to a 74-12 record and two Shore Conference Tournament titles in three years. Not long after, starting guard Alex Rice transferred to the Patrick School for his senior year and freshman reserve Jalen Jones left for Bishop Ahr.

The roster turnover left a lot of open spots to fill for first-year coach Dennis Kazimir, a Brick native who has spent most of his coaching career in the college ranks. On top of losing all that talent to graduation and transfers, 6-5 senior Isaiah Alston – who came off the bench as a junior last year – decided not to play basketball after an All-Shore season as a wide receiver on the Seraphs football team. That leaves it up to a handful of letter-winners to step up and carry the program into the new era after playing sparsely last year.

Senior Jeremy Weinstein brings some size to the lineup at 6-5 and junior guards Peter Gorman and Sean Turner will be sources of scoring and perimeter defense. Junior guards Tahaj Parland and Vernon Morris also lettered last season and will help out in the back court. Malachi Treadwell was a defensive tackle on the football team and gives the Seraphs some more muscle in the middle at 6-6, 280 pounds. With so much volatility in the roster between last year and this year, 2018-19 will be an acclimation year for Kazimir and Mater Dei as they look to get the juniors up to speed and regroup with an eye on 2020 and beyond.

 

Henry Hudson

Head Coach: Drew Eldridge, second season
2017-18 Record: 7-19 (1-13, eighth in B Central)
Key Returners: Jay Anthony (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Grady Hendrickson (Jr., Guard), Mike Mohr (Jr., 6-0, Forward), Cody Fautz (Sr., Guard), Cainan Mason (Sr., Guard), Brian Bremekamp (Sr., Guard), Sean Haupt (Jr., Guard)
Key Losses: Austin Flesch (6-4, Center), Kyle Santiago (6-0, Guard)
Newcomers: James Crowley (So., 6-4, Forward), Mike Kalaaka (Fr., 6-3, Guard), Demitrious Harvey (Fr., 6-5, Center), Aiden Casey (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Justin Murphy (Jr., 6-0, Guard)

Last year ended with a last-place finish in Class B Central for Henry Hudson, but the Admirals remain optimistic that they put in the work necessary to take a major step forward this year. Most of the team is back after going 7-19 and they will expect to have a better showing within the division, especially with the hits Mater Dei and Point Beach rosters took and the migration to A Central by St. Rose.

Senior Jay Anthony is coming off a strong junior season in which he averaged 15 points, close to 10 rebounds and five assists, giving Henry Hudson one of the top returning non-Ranney players in the division. Juniors Grady Hendrickson and Mike Mohr also averaged close to double-figure scoring, with Mohr providing some rebounding and Hendrickson running the point. They are part of a strong junior class that should keep the Admirals competitive into 2020, while Anthony and fellow seniors Cody Fautz, Cainan Mason and Brian Bremekamp give Henry Hudson some hope to compete this year as well.

 

Keyport

Head Coach: Phil Recco, 14th season
2017-18 Record: 3-19 (2-12, seventh in B Central)
Key Returners: J.J. Young (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Troy Alvarez (So., 6-1, Forward), Kaushal Kallam (Jr., 5-10, Guard), C.J. Johnson (Jr., 5-8, Guard)
Key Losses: Noah Geraghty (6-1, Forward), Colin Fernandez (6-0, Guard), Julian Castell (Guard, 5-6)
Newcomers: Greg Robinson (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Lucas Dant (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Damon Jones (So., 6-0, Guard), John Lachky (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Nick Siciliano (Jr., 6-3, Center), Zack Connallon (So., 6-2, Forward), Anthony Longo (Fr., 5-8, Guard), D.J. Thomson (Fr., 5-10, Guard)

The Red Raiders managed to avoid the basement last year but still struggled during to a 3-19 record with a young team. The tide should begin to shift this season thanks to the return of senior guard and leading scorer J.J. Young to go with a wave of underclass talent that should provide a base for the next three years. Sophomore Troy Alvarez as a regular contributor as a freshman while juniors Kaushal Kallam and C.J. Johnson both return to the back court along with Young.

Keyport should have some more depth this season thanks to its incoming group of newcomers, which includes one freshman in forward Greg Robinson. Also among that group is freshman D.J. Thomson, the younger brother of former two-sport star Alex Thomson, who scored more than 1,000 points at Keyport and made three starts at quarterback for Marshall University this season. Thomson and fellow freshman Anthony Longo will be part of the formula this season and certainly going forward for a Keyport team that looks close to turning the corner.

 

Keansburg

Head Coach: James McCarthy, 11th season
2017-18 Record: 6-16 (3-11, sixth in B Central)
Key Returners: Nasir Williams (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Anthony Strydio (Jr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Vaughn Fitzgerald (6-5, Center), Danny Vital (5-10, Guard), Justin Alessi (5-6 Guard), Paul Eckleberry (6-4, Forward), George Windgender (Forward), JaShawn Martin (Guard)
Newcomers: Quintel Stephens (Sr., 5-10, Guard), James White (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Ronald Rotondella Jr. (Sr., 5-8, Forward), Devin Acker (So., 6-3, Forward), Davon Jackson (So., 5-8, Guard), Patrick Beltran (So., 5-7, Guard), Cahzmere Benefield (Sr., 5-7, Guard)

More than any team at the Shore this year, Keansburg is the victim of bad timing. The Titans had an experienced, senior-laden roster last year that would have had a great shot at finishing in the top-half of Class B Central in most seasons. With Ranney, Mater Dei and Point Beach all top-10 teams last year, however, Keansburg could not climb higher than sixth place in the division. Now, Mater Dei is not close to the same team it was for the last three years, Point Beach is taking a step back to reload and St. Rose has left the division, leaving the door open for teams at the bottom of the division last year to make a jump up the standings.

The Titans won’t have the experience that Asbury Park, Henry Hudson and Keyport do, so they will be relying on a handful of senior newcomers to contribute right away, as well as a trio of sophomores. Juniors Nasir Williams and Anthony Strydio both got significant minutes on last year’s senior-loaded team and will help to carry the scoring, while seniors Quintel Stephens, James White, Ron Rotondella Jr. and Cahzmere Benefield will step up and help. Sophomores Devi Acker, Davon Jackson and Patrick Beltran should all contribute as well and will likely get a long look for a Keansburg team that will have its eye on the future while trying to surprise this year.

 

Players to Watch

Bryan Antoine, Ranney – Antoine is likely to become the Shore’s all-time leading scorer later this year and somehow, that fact doesn’t do him and his career justice. The Villanova signee is likely to go down as the best player to ever come out of the Shore Conference, particularly if he can help lead Ranney to a Tournament of champions title.

Scottie Lewis, Ranney – If Antoine isn’t remembered as the best player to ever come out of the Shore, it will probably be because Lewis breaks out over the next several years. Lewis had a dominant all-around season as a junior (16.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks), committed to Florida in the fall and heads into his senior year primed to lead Ranney to uncharted territory for Shore Conference programs.

Phillip Wheeler, Ranney – After coming off the bench for a loaded Rumson team last year, Wheeler is likely to start for a loaded Ranney team. The 6-7 wing already has an offer from Seton Hall and he will look to build on that while playing with two of the country’s best players against a scheduled littered with state and national powers.

Ahmadu Sarnor, Ranney – Sarnor will miss the first 16 games of the season because of NJSIAA rule that requires players who played high school basketball as eighth grader in another state to sit as many games as they played in that eighth-grade year. That is a sizable hit to Ranney’s lineup, but as long as the schedule stays unchanged, the Panthers plan on welcoming their other All-Shore guard back for a showdown with Gill St. Berard in late January.

Alex Klatsky, Ranney – Klatsky sometimes gets overlooked with all the talent around him, or dismissed as simply a shooter. The senior has turned himself into a well-rounded player who is taking on more and more for the Panthers every year, in addition to his knockdown shooting. He is also headed to Florida with Lewis and will be a preferred walk-on there.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Elijah Perkins, Ranney – Chalk another one up for Ranney. The 6-3 freshman is regarded as one of the state’s top freshmen and he will be particularly important while the Panthers play without Sarnor early in the season.

Jake Clark, Point Beach – Clark was a key figure in Point Beach’s sectional championship run this year and he is set to emerge as its franchise player who could be in the All-Shore mix over his final two seasons.

Jay Anthony, Henry Hudson – Already a steady statistical producer for Henry Hudson last season, Anthony will have a chance to show he can lead a winner as the Admirals look to make a move up the standings this year.

LaDonn Fitzpatrick-Brown, Asbury Park – The 6-7 forward was at Brick Memorial prior to this year and winds up on the floor at Asbury Park, ready to make a major impact down low for an improving Blue Bishops team.

Sean Turner, Mater Dei Prep – The Seraphs have plenty of questions after losing most of its team and Turner should help to answer at least a few of them as a junior with some scoring and athletic ability.

 

Burning Questions

Can Ranney make history?

This year will be “T of C or bust” for Ranney after the Panthers came oh-so-close last season. Winning the No. 1 ranking in the state as juniors would have cemented the status of Antoine and Lewis as one of the great duos in N.J. history and that distinction is still very much on the table. The usual suspects have reloaded with transfers, but no team in the state has as much talent back from last year’s team than does Ranney. The Panthers will have to cope with the bulls-eye from day one through their final game of the season and the mental challenge of the scrutiny that comes with that, plus having two high-level Division I players, will be as big an obstacle as any in pursuing that Tournament of Champions title.

How will Phillip Wheeler fit in with Ranney’s returning core?

Wheeler is a specimen on the court: a 6-7 wing player whose head clears the rim when he is able to work up a head of steam and can also knock down 25-foot three-pointers when he gets going. Consistency is still something that Wheeler is striving to achieve and how he develops playing with two five-star prospects will be a compelling story to watch throughout the season. Ranney lost center Savior Akuwovo from last year’s team and there will be the temptation to use Wheeler in the paint, even if that isn’t his future at the next level. If the Rumson transfer can be a jack-of-all trades for Ranney – defending all five spots on the floor, working in the post, knocking down the occasional three – both the Panthers and Wheeler will likely be better for it.

Is this the end of Ranney’s reign or only the beginning?

It’s hard to know what the future holds for Ranney basketball beyond this year, especially considering how quickly things can change in high school basketball (see Mater Dei). Questions swirled following the freshman seasons of Lewis and Antoine about whether they would stay at Ranney and the questions are bound to come up again next year with respect to its returning players and even its coach. Tahj Holden said when he took the job four years ago that his goal was to build a sustainable program, but when a team bursts onto the scene overnight because of two transcendent talents like Antoine and Lewis, one can’t help but wonder if it will end as abruptly as it began.

Can Mater Dei rebuild?

It is unlikely that new coach Dennis Kazimir will be able to pull together a team anything like the last three seasons at Mater Dei this season. The question going forward will be can the Seraphs inch their way back toward the top 10 within the Shore Conference and lay the groundwork to, once again, be a program that can compete with almost any team in the state. It’s unlikely that question gets answered any time this season, although a winning campaign would be a great sign for a young Seraphs team.

Is Asbury Park back?

In some ways, the Blue Bishops got back to a good place for the program last year, when they finished .500 within a tough B Central division, qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament and won 10 games against a pretty tough schedule – certainly by Group I standards. But this Asbury Park, where the standard is state titles and .500 seasons are just meant to kill time between championships. With leading scorer Alexx Harbour back, plenty of varsity experience around him and some interesting newcomers in the fold, Asbury Park might be a sleeper team in Group I come March.

 

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