Although Jackson Memorial failed to make it three straight division titles last season, the Jaguars continued a great run by pushing a loaded Toms River North team to the end in the division race. The Jaguars have enjoined unprecedented sustained success under coach Joe Fagan, and they are now looking to make the leap into the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and finish off a Central Jersey Group IV championship.

Class A South has improved greatly over the last few years and Toms River North’s appearance in the SCT semifinals was the first by a Class A South team in quite some time. A few other A South teams have some potential to make some noise, but Jackson Memorial enters as the team to beat.

Jackson Memorial center Eric Carter. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

Jackson Memorial

Head Coach: Joe Fagan, sixth season
Record Last Year: 22-6 (12-2)
Returning Players: Eric Carter (Sr., 6-8, Center), Marcus Ademilola (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Gino Palummo (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Zach Nelson (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Losses: Nick Specht (Guard), Mike Specht (Guard), Salam Simon (Guard), Aaron Burroughs (Center), Pete Hetzel (Guard)
Newcomers: Jimmy Marcum (Jr., 6-1, Guard), C.J. Blue (Jr., 6-0, Guard) – Transfer from Monsignor Donovan, Jesse Hill (Jr., 6-7, Forward) – Transfer from Monsignor Donovan

The Jaguars have established themselves as perennial contenders in Class A South with top-two finishes in each of the last three years and division titles in two of those. Jackson Memorial enters the season as the favorite to capture a third Class A South championship in four years behind 6-foot-8 center and University of Delaware recruit Eric Carter. While Carter can play a true center, he also brings the ball up, and steps out and passes as well as any player on the team, so his skills are not just limited to grabbing rebounds and scoring on putbacks.

If Jackson has any question marks, they stem from the backcourt, which is almost entirely new. Junior Gino Palummo got some time last year after transferring from Howell while Zach Nelson, C.J. Blue and Jimmy Marcum will step up and play big minutes. Marcus Ademilola and Monsignor Donovan transfer Jesse Hill give Carter plenty of experienced front court help, so if the guards come around, Jackson will be a good bet to reach its first Shore Conference Tournament semifinal.

Southern

Head Coach: Eric Fierro, fourth season
Record Last Year: 17-10 (9-5)
Returning Players: Mike Gesicki (Sr., 6-6, Forward), Jake Logue (Jr., 6-6, Forward), Zach Halliday (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Robert Yaiser (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Logan Sheehan (Sr., 5-10, Guard), David Hunter (Sr., 6-2, Forward), John Furlong (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Eric Ray (Jr., 6-6, Forward), Dylan Clark (Jr., 6-1, Guard)
Key Losses: Zach Policastro (Guard/Forward), Anthony Speziale (Center)
Newcomers: Julian Leone (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Mike Adragna  (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Ethan Dubois (So., 5-9, Guard)

The Rams have been a hard team to read over the last several years because when they click, they are as tough as any team in the area. Atlantic City fans wondered how in the world Southern wasn’t the best team in the Shore Conference after the Rams took the eventual Group IV champion down to the wire in the South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals, a game in which Mike Gesicki went off and played like the best player on the court.

Now a senior, Gesicki has already left his mark as an athlete at Southern by earning a scholarship to Penn State on the football field, but could go out by leading Southern to a Class A South title that has eluded the Rams in recent years. With another 6-6 forward in the fold in junior Jake Logue, as well as an experienced junior point guard in Zac Halliday, Southern has some pieces that could cause Jackson Memorial and any other team problems.

Toms River South

Head Coach: John MacIntosh, ninth season
Record Last Year: 10-11 (7-7)
Returning Players: Marquis Davis (Sr., Guard), Darrius Hart (Sr., Forward), Tymere Berry (Jr., Guard), Khaleel Green (Jr., Guard)
Key Losses: Dylan DePolvere (Forward), Vinny Ignatowicz (Guard)
Newcomers: Francis Hearne (Jr., 6-0, Forward), John Timmes (Jr., Forward), Tyler Fall (Forward, 6-2, Forward), Kevin Morrison (Sr., Forward)

Toms River South could very well have the best backcourt in Class A South with Tymere Berry and Marquis Davis leading the way. In a full-court game, the Indians could run with most teams in the conference, especially some of the more size-oriented teams of Class A South. Where Toms River South runs into trouble is against the athletic players with size, which describe several players on both Jackson Memorial and Southern. Senior Darrius Hart is a superior athlete himself, but he does not quite have the size of players like Eric Carter, Mike Gesicki or Marcus Ademilola. If size is going to be a factor, Toms River South will have trouble winning Class A South, but if the Indians can outclass teams in the back court, they will make some noise.

Brick Memorial

Head Coach: Ed Sarluca, eighth season
Record Last Year: 12-12 (7-7)
Returning Players: Sean O’Brien (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Mike Basile (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Aaron Scheiderman (Jr., 6-0, Guard), R.J. Hernandez (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Dave Pifko (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Joe Hans (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Scott White (Jr., 6-4, Guard)
Key Losses: Mike Golden (Guard), Ryan Cieplinski (Guard), Ken Covolus (Guard), Matt Golden (Guard)
Newcomers: Darnell Alston (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Brian Sullivan (Sr., 6-6, Forward), Carl Genz (Sr., Guard), Pat Smith (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Mike Manso (Jr., 5-10, Guard)

The Mustangs have not quite had the talent to contend with Jackson Memorial, Southern and Toms River North for the division title over the past few years, but Brick Memorial has held its own against the division’s best teams recently, even without the blue-chip talent. That have done it with a lot of solid players who fill roles, and this year’s Brick Memorial team should be similar. Seniors Mike Basile and Sean O’Brien were regular contributors last season, while junior Aaron Scheiderman came on strong as a scorer in January. With more overall size and depth than Toms River South, the Mustangs could crack the top three in the division and push Southern and Jackson for the top spot.

Toms River North

Head Coach: Rory Caswell, third season
Record Last Year: 25-4 (13-1)
Returning Players: Evan Martin (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Jordan Craig (Jr., 6-6, Forward), Mark Fitzpatrick (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Kevin Blum (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Brian Brannagan (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Valdez Santiago (Jr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Losses: Solly Stansbury (Forward), Damian Singleton (Guard), Karl Blum (Guard), Ron Marinaccio (Guard), Tyler Bernath (Forward), Jarrod Rankins (Forward), Julian Williams (Guard), Kyle Carrington (Sr., 6-1, Guard) – Transferred to Monsignor Donovan
Newcomers: Ted Thelemaque (Jr., 6-5, Guard) – Transfer from Monsignor Donovan, Zack Thayer (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Joe Wainwright (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Pat Marinaccio (So., 6-2, Guard), Hunter Patrick (So., 6-2, Guard), Darrion Carrington (Fr., 5-10, Guard), Mike Nyisztor (Fr., 6-1, Guard), Kevin Chiaravalotti (Sr., 5-10, Guard)

Last season was one of the best in the history of the Toms River North program and the previous two seasons under coach Rory Caswell have changed the culture of the boys basketball team. The downside is that many of the players who helped turn the tide on the varsity level are gone, which means the step forward by the entire program will be put to the test this year. The Mariners have only two seniors on the roster and will look to compete for another division title by playing mostly juniors and sophomores. Junior guard Evan Martin was a spark plug off the bench last year and will be look to for leadership after playing in a number of big games last year. It may take some time, but the Mariners should develop into a dangerous team by the end of the year and certainly going into next season.

Lacey

Head Coach: Ryan O’Rourke, sixth season
Record Last Year: 10-13 (7-7)
Returning Players: Chris Iapicco (Jr., 6-4, Center), Jordan Acre (Sr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Losses: Trevor Matthews (Forward), Steve Dalrympl (Forward), Kevin Leahy (Guard), Dyllan Ramos (Guard)
Newcomers: Cody Mayer (Sr., 6-4, Forward),Anthony Talarico (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Connor Davies (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Pat Moore (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Kevin Huebler (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Mark Sheppard (So., 5-11, Guard), Robert Biele (So., 5-11, Guard), Kip Hopper (Jr., 6-4, Forward)

Despite losing five starters from a sectional finalist, the Lions fielded a competitive squad by bumping bench players into the starting lineup and getting a big season out of its sophomore center, Chris Iapicco. Now a junior, Iapicco returns as the top center in the division outside of Eric Carter and he does it at a modest 6-foot-2. Lacey will look to build around the junior pivot man with mostly new varsity players, which could make this season more of a transition year for the Lions. If some underclassmen emerge around Iapicco, the Lions could be a sleeper entering next season and a spoiler down the stretch.

Brick

Head Coach: Mike Gawronski, second season
Record Last Year: 2-23 (0-14)
Returning Players: Tom Leech (Jr., Guard), Brian Gallagher (Sr., Guard), Rich Mitukiewicz (Sr., Forward), Brian Oehme (Jr., Forward), Greg Buono (Jr., Guard)
Key Losses: Jesse McMahon (Guard), D.J. Kerrigan (Guard), Brian Henry (Guard), John Sullivan (Guard), Tyler Wicker (Guard)
Newcomers: Dan Berg (Jr., Guard), Alex Pena (Sr., Forward), Brandon Williams (Fr., Guard), Dan Finelli (So., Guard), Colin Henry (Sr., Guard), Vinny Palmieri (Sr., Guard), Simon Bingelis (Jr., Forward)

Last season came with lots of growing pains for Brick and that was not unexpected for first-year coach Mike Gawronski or anyone else in the program. The Green Dragons program has struggled in recent years but there may be some improvement on the way this season. Juniors Brian Oehme and Tom Leech began to develop into a potential one-two punch last season and behind the two classmates, Brick will try to build a team that can compete on a nightly basis in an improving division.

Toms River East

Head Coach: Jim Dempsey, first season
Record Last Year: 4-16 (2-12)
Returning Players: C.J. Hirschy (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Nat Amadeo (Jr., 6-1, Forward)
Key Losses: Dave Lewis (Forward), Nick Diem (Guard), Tom Kushner (Guard), Tim Kushner (Guard), Mike Ford (Forward), Connor Sampson (Forward), Kyle Schnering (Forward)
Newcomers: Jerry Caporale (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Nick Lorenca (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Justin Nicol (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Jon Meola (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Evan Turner (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Justin Gant (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Vito Gearity (Jr., 5-3, Guard), Carlos Lingat (So., 5-7, Guard), Pat Saunders (So., 6-1, Guard), Bailey Engelhard (So., 6-4, Forward), Ryan West (So., 6-2, Forward), Chad Leonard (So., Forward), Phil Lingat (Fr., 5-11, Guard/Forward)

This season will represent a bit of an overhaul to the Toms River East program and first-year head coach Jim Dempsey, who has been in the program as an assistant for 13 years. Only two players return from last season – senior C.J. Hirschy and junior Nat Amadeo – while the rest of the team will be comprised of mostly varsity newcomers. With an overall lack of size and experience, the Raiders will look to defend full court and run while learning the varsity ropes and in time, Toms River East hopes to be back in Class A South contention.

 

Players to Watch

Eric Carter, Jackson Memorial – University of Delaware recruit is a serious Player of the Year candidate heading into the season considering how much he has improved with each year.

Mike Gesicki, Southern – With a football scholarship to Penn State in hand, we’ll see if the Shore’s best pure athlete goes out guns blazing as Southern looks to overcome Jackson.

Tymere Berry, Toms River South – The talented multi-sport star is coming off a high-ankle sprain in the Indians’ NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV football playoff defeat, but is scheduled to be ready for Friday’s opener, which means the Indians will be in the A South mix from the opening tip.

Chris Iapicco, Lacey – The sophomore had a breakout season last year, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds. Although he’s list at a modest 6-foot-2, he can serve as a true pivot while also stepping out.

Marquis Davis, Toms River South – The Indians have one of the more dynamic backcourts in the conference, with Davis playing the point with Berry on the floor.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Evan Martin, Toms River North – An energy player off the bench last year, Martin is the lone returnee from last year’s landmark Mariner team. That means he’ll be one of the on-floor leaders, even though he is only a junior.

Gino Palummo, Jackson Memorial – A transfer from Howell during the middle of last season, Palummo cracked the rotation by postseason time and should be a solid regular at the very least this season.

Mike Basile, Brick Memorial – Came on strong at the end of last season and should enjoy a full season of success during his junior year. Committed to Monmouth University for football.

 

Burning Questions

Is this Jackson Memorial team the one to reach the SCT Final?

The Jaguars have been knocking on the door to the SCT final four in each of the last two seasons, but have run into roadblocks each time. This year’s Jackson Memorial team enters as the Class A South favorite and while there are a few other clear favorites in the other five Shore Conference divisions that will vie for one of those four spots, the Jaguars look like a strong bet to at least be one of the top five teams heading into the season. That would give Jackson Memorial a strong shot to play for a spot in the final.

Are Toms River South’s dynamic guards enough to push for a division title?

Toms River South could very well be the most athletic team in Class A South, but none of that athleticism comes with much size. If the Indians are to make a run at a division title, it will be on the backs of their guards, along with versatile forward Darrius Hart, who will have to serve as a the team’s top interior threat. Jackson Memorial and Southern have the size to give Toms River South trouble, but the Indians guards will have a chance to control any game in the division.

Does Toms River North have enough left over to finish in the top four?

With all the talent in the program last season, the Mariners had a chance to develop at the lower levels and will hope to reap the benefits of good junior varsity and freshman teams. That will be easier said than done, considering that junior Evan Martin is the only returning member of the regular rotation from last year. On the bright side for Toms River North, Brick Memorial, Lacey and Toms River East all have some rebuilding to do in their lineups as well, so the race for a top-half finish should be a competitive one that includes the defending A South champion.