Basketball – Lewis, Antoine Sharpen Skills and Put On Show at JSBL
BELMAR - Scottie Lewis grew up hearing about the history of the Jersey Shore basketball League, which in its day routinely welcomed the occasional active or former NBA player to Belmar for a summer run.
With a league featuring mostly local college talent and some post college players looking to spark some additional interest, instead of waiting on established college or pro talent, Tuesday was a night for local fans to catch a team of up-and-comers.
Lewis, Ranney School teammate Bryan Antoine and the rest of the Team Rio National AAU team coached by former Rutgers coach Mike Rice made a one-time only cameo at St. Rose High School for a JSBL regular-season game vs. a Team Doughboys roster that boasted some noteworthy names from recent Shore Conference history as well. The Doughboys, led by former Shore standouts Brendan Barry (Rumson-Fair Haven), Louie Pillari (Christian Brothers Academy), Devin Jensen (Manasquan) and Jason Dunne (Matawan), started fast, weathered a Rio storm, and won, 130-123.
“I have been hearing about the JSBL since I moved to Jersey,” said Lewis, who has lived in Hazlet since the sixth grade. “About how a lot of the area players get together and it’s just a great competition and a fun thing to be a part of. So when we got invited, we jumped at the opportunity.”
Prior to Tuesday night, the Doughboys were 0-6 in JSBL play this summer, which underscores the difference three years makes, even when the younger teams is loaded with players who will be playing high-major Division I basketball.
“All five guys are strong,” Antoine said. “On the AAU circuit, you can usually find one guard who is weak and attack him but on a team of college players who have experience, trying to attack them is kind of tricky. Some of them are 6-8, some of them are very crafty with and without the ball, they can shoot and you put all of them on the same team is great.”
Although the Rio roster could not come up with a win, it still delivered a show for the capacity crowd at St. Roses McCann Activities and Athletic Center. The crowd gave it right back as well, exalting during a mid-game Rio run that turned a 13-point deficit into an 11-point lead.
“Crazy,” Lewis said of the atmosphere. “I’ve played at Dyckman (Park), I’ve played at Rucker Park, I’ve played at the Gauchos (Gym). For this to be as packed and as live as it was in the Jersey and the Shore area was pretty big for us.”
Shore basketball fans know all about Lewis and Antoine and their respective performances were nothing out of the ordinary in that they were impressive. Antoine canned five three-pointers and finished with 31 points while Lewis poured in 28 – each throwing in a few highlight-worthy dunks over the course of the night.
Tuesday was a tune-up between stretches of the AAU summer grind for both Ranney School stars. The summer included a run at Team USA U18 trials and will concluded over the next two weeks with stops at Albright College for a Hoop Group Elite Camp and a trip to Southern California before heading to Vegas to compete with Rio in the Fab 48 National Tournament with the top AAU squads in the country.
“We needed some reps going into the AAU finals in Las Vegas,” Lewis said. “Having that physical body pressing up against you and getting our confidence up in a game like this is very beneficial to us.”
The backdrop of the summer for Antoine and Lewis has been their college decisions, which both expect to make close to the start of the high school basketball season. Antoine has narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Kansas and Florida while Lewis is still considering Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Florida, St. John’s, Stanford and Harvard.
“This summer has been a roller-coaster, to be honest,” Lewis said. “I had a bad spring. I was putting so much pressure on myself thinking this was my last year to prove myself and show out every game. Once I talked to my coaches and my parents, they sat me down and told me I don’t have too much to worry about. I just need to have fun and it’s all about winning at this point.”
“It’s kind of sad that it’s our last summer playing with these guys,” Antoine said. “We’ve been playing together since seventh grade, so of them since third or fourth grade. Now, to only see them until February or March when high school season ends and them to go our separate ways after that, I don’t really have words for that.”
The crowd at St. Rose also got a look at two out-of-state Division I locks in Aidan Igiehon and Jalen Gaffney. Igiehon is a 6-foot-9 power forward who came to the U.S. from Ireland and has shot up the major recruiting lists over the past years. The Lawrence Woodmere (Brooklyn) star is ranked as high as No. 21 in the Class of 2019, by ESPN, and has more than a dozen Division I offers, mostly from high major programs. In an interview with ZagsBlog.com, Igiehon said Oregon, Louisville, Stanford and Southern California are pursuing him the hardest.
Gaffney also has a host of Division I offers as he gears up for his senior season at Westtown High School in West Chester, Pa. Ranney defeated Gaffney, Duke signee Cam Reddish and Westtown during the 2017-18 high school season.
A host of former Shore Conference stars carried the Doughboys past Rio on Tuesday, sparked by a familiar shooting barrage from Barry and scoring spree by Pillari. Rumson-Fair Haven’s all-time leading scorer and incoming junior at Dartmouth scored 25 points while knocking down seven three-pointers, while Pillari – a former CBA standout and current Monmouth University guard – erupted for all of his game-high 33 points after the first quarter.
“Playing against Brendan Barry, that’s a player I wished to play against,” Antoine said. “Me and him both score the ball at will and just the fact that he’s the all-time leading scorer at RFH, that means when I guard him I have to try to stop one of the best scorers in the Shore.”
Neither Barry nor Pillari faced the Ranney duo head-to-head in high school but Barry was a senior at Rumson when Lewis, Antoine and Rio teammates Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino were freshmen for the Panthers.
“Players like Brendan Barry and those guys from CBA are guys I grew up watching in eighth grade,” Lewis said. “They were teaching me some things while we were playing and I was trying to show them some stuff too. That was a great experience and it was good to see Brendan. I hadn’t seen him in a while so it was good to get to talk to him.”
Jensen graduated from Manasquan in 2017 but also never faced Ranney head-to-head during a high school regular season before heading to Merrimack. Jensen sot 5-for-7 from three-point range Tuesday and finished with 17 points.
Coming off a Third-Team All-Conference selection in the America East, Dunne is heading into his senior year at Hartford. The former Matawan star scored all 14 of his points on Tuesday in the second half.
While all of those former Shore Conference stars all missed out on playing Lewis and Antoine during their high school careers, Elijah Mitchell was back in his element guarding Lewis on Tuesday. During his two seasons at Mater Dei Prep, Mitchell and his team went 4-1 against Ranney and on Tuesday night, the Monroe College sophomore-to-be came up big down the stretch during a 13-point night.
“Seeing Elijah again after playing him three times every year, playing against Jason Dunne, whose little brother (Mike) and I have been friends since third grade – seeing those guys and getting to play against them was great,” Antoine said.
The Doughboys also have CBA all-time leading scoring Pat Andree and for Mater Dei star Elijah Barnes listed on their JSBL roster but neither was in attendance on Tuesday.
Rio also had to contend with Monmouth University guard Ray Salnave and 6-9 Princeton forward Richmond Aririguzoh. It was a physical test for the Rio squad, but nothing new for a pair of highly-sought-after recruits.
“My brothers and I grew up in New York,” Lewis said. “We grew up with that mindset (of playing against bigger, older players). We did that every day. That was the norm for me, personally.”
“Ever since eighth grade, we’ve always played up,” Antoine said. “Coming out here playing against college players wasn’t that new to us. We’re always scheduling scrimmage games and street games against older players, so it’s kind of just go out there and play.”