Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase

Saturday, Jan. 7

At Collins Arena, Brookdale Community College

Game 1: No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven vs. Marlboro, Noon

At the beginning of last year, the current members of the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team got an early glimpse of what life would be like without Brendan Barry and the results might have made head coach Chris Champeau drop his figurative crystal ball in horror.

With the program’s all-time leading scorer on the bench for the team’s first two games in the 2015-16 season, the then-defending Shore Conference Tournament champions lost by margins of more than 20 points in each one.

So when the Barry Era officially came to an end in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II semifinals last March, it was time for the returning and new wave of Bulldog talent to go to work lest they endure what they did at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.

Not only has Rumson shook off the label of one-man band to open the 2016-17 season with six straight wins, but it has done so without two key pieces from last year’s roster that were actually supposed to be on this year’s team. The Bulldogs may head into Saturday’s Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase game against a similarly-injury-plagued Marlboro team shorthanded, but they indeed head to Brookdale Community College a dangerous team.

“All anyone said about us was, ‘Oh, you guys don’t have (Barry). You’re screwed,” senior forward Tyler Pierson said. “You’re going to be a bottom team and no one is going to think you’re any good.’ We love playing together and I think we welcomed the challenge. Over the summer, we played together almost every day and the fun thing is we play well with each other.”

Junior Elijah McAllister – the Shore’s leading shot-blocker last year as a sophomore – is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in April and senior Mike O’Connor is still battling turf toe that he sustained at the tail end of the football season.

Despite losing Barry to graduation and the two other returning starters to injury, Rumson has hit the ground running in 2017 behind a 6-0 start in which five of the six wins have come by double-digit margins. Rumson ran its streak to six games with a 51-35 win over Ridge Road rival Red Bank on Thursday night – a game in which Rumson’s defense held the host Bucs to nine points in the entire first half.

“It’s all a testament to coach (Chris Champeau) and the program he’s built here,” said junior Teddy Sourlis, who scored a game-high 17 points on five three-pointers in the win over Red Bank on Thursday. “There’s a next-man-up mentality here that I think we started developing with Barry leaving. So, when Elijah went down, we were all bummed out, but the first thing coach said was, ‘E, I’m so sorry about the injury, but who’s the next person who’s going to step up?’”

Thus far this season, Sourlis, Pierson, junior Jack Solano and sophomore Ian O’Connor have all lead the Bulldogs in scoring in one game or another. With a player who averages 25 points per game like Barry did last year now out of the picture, the Bulldogs have relied on a balanced roster of capable scorers and three-point shooters – including a front court of Pierson and O’Connor who are reliable three-point threats.

“We have a thing called ‘H.O.S’ that I stole from Chuck Daly – it stands for Hierarchy of Shooting,” Champeau said. “These kids lived for three years where if they took a shot and (Barry) was open, everyone would yell, ‘Hos!’ like ‘what are you doing?’ Now, that’s gone and they all have equal ability to shoot and I’m actually telling to go ahead and shoot.”

Of the four standouts in the early going, O’Connor is the one who has made the biggest leap from last year to this season. After a call-up and sparse meaningful varsity minutes late in his freshman year, O’Connor has been one of the breakout players in the Shore Conference thus far. He led a shorthanded Rumson team to a 57-46 win over Barnegat on Dec. 29 and erupted for a career-high 35 points in a win over Middletown South on Tuesday.

“We came to a decision towards the end of last year that we thought Ian should come up to varsity because he could help us,” Sourlis said. “We saw that he was really as special player and he could really contribute in the coming years, which he’s already proving so far.”

Barry was the star of the Boardwalk Showcase in each of the past two seasons, setting a single game scoring record for the event two years ago and leading Rumson to an eye-opening 17-point win over Gill St. Bernard’s last year. Although he won’t be leading the Bulldogs into Brookdale this season, the team returns to one of the defining events of the Shore Conference basketball team with an opportunity to show that they have moved on without their star and life isn’t all that bad.

“I think that the guys have earned it and we’re fired up at another shot at it,” Champeau said. “We really appreciate Hoop Group giving us another chance to come into it because we lost the marquee guys. I think the fact that our program’s worked hard, we’re fired up to be in it. It’s a big thing with all of the other teams and the college coaches that are there.”

Mustangs Seek Statement Win

Unlike Rumson, Marlboro expected to have a complete roster heading into the season as the Mustangs geared up for what they hoped would be the best season in the history of the program. It hasn’t worked out that way, however, and the team heads to Brookdale with two key players sidelined.

Senior P.J. Ringel has been sidelined with a broken bone in his left hand since Dec. 5 – ironically enough, a very similar injury to the one that sidelined Barry for the first two games of last year for Rumson. He is just entering the four-to-six week recovery time window and could be due for a return next week, but the Mustangs will have to continue to survive without their spark plug.

Marlboro sophomore Dylan Kaufman. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Senior Emir Anda was due to give Marlboro a huge boost to its lineup as a versatile 6-foot-5 presence on the court, but awful misfortune ended his season for a second straight year. After missing all of last year with a torn ACL in his left knee, Anda tore the ACL in his right knee in Marlboro’s second game of the season on Dec. 18.

While the injury news has been hard on Ringel and Anda, the Mustangs have fared about as well as one could have expected in their absence. Marlboro is off to a 6-1 start with wins over Colts Neck, Neptune and Point Pleasant Borough, among others. The Mustangs’ lone loss was to St. Rose in the WOBM Christmas Classic quarterfinals and they erased a 13-point deficit in the last 4 minutes of that game before a three with 15 seconds left won the game for St. Rose.

“Coming into the season, I was really excited about what we had,” Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas said. “We couldn’t have had any more (injuries) than we’ve had. We had P.J. go down. We had Dylan Kaufman miss a game with the flu. Emir went down again, which you just feel terrible about. We haven’t played a game with our projected five guys and it doesn’t look like we’re going to. The great thing about it is how hard we’re playing and how the guys haven’t put their heads down. They still have the same goals and same expectations of themselves. The other good news is we’re going to get P.J. back soon, and that’s going to help.”

Marlboro won’t take the floor at Brookdale under the most ideal circumstances, but the Mustangs will have an opportunity to show the Shore Conference what they can do when they, along with Rumson, tip off Saturday’s festivities at noon.

“It’s been tough,” senior Dan Weiss said. “We’ve had to stay together. We really try to be a family on and off the court and I think that’s really helped us get through some of the adversity and it’s kept us close. You never know when somebody’s going to go down and we’ve been pretty unlucky with that, but as long as we persevere, pick each other up and buy into the plan, we should be good.”

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