Boys Basketball – 2016-17 Preview: Class B South
For four out of the last six years, the Lakewood boys basketball program has gone just about unrivalled in the Shore Conference Class B South. During that time, the Piners have won every outright Shore Conference division titles and the only reason any other B South team got a chance to win one was because Lakewood moved out of the division for two seasons. Lakewood also won a share of the public division title in the two years prior, so it will be an eight-year run that the Piners will try to extend this year.
There is, however, hope for the rest of the field. Lakewood lost 34 points per game with the graduation of its top two scorers and will have one of the more challenging title defenses considering the relative inexperience on the roster. The problem for the rest of the field is, outside of Point Boro, every team in the division has either significant losses or significant youth to overcome. The division may actually be up for the taking this year, but the question will be, “Can anyone step up and take it from Lakewood?”
Head Coach: Randy Holmes, 11th season
2015-16 Record: 21-7 (13-1, first in B South)
Key Returners: Adi Palmer (Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Zyheir Jones (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Jyheir Jones (Jr., 6-2, Guard)
Key Losses: Amir Tyler (6-0, Guard), Sean Barksdale (6-5, Forward), Ryzson Barnes (6-6, Forward/Center), Kaseam Wilson (6-1, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Ahmir Burton (Jr., 6-6, Forward), Dorian Vaughn (Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Cameron Mader (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Julian Zingler (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Rizjoun Smillen (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Ryan Savoy (Fr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Omari Barksdale (Fr., 5-10, Guard), Kevin Dent (Jr., 5-10, Guard) – Transfer from Delaware; Khari Jenkins (Jr., 5-9, Guard) – Transfer from Manchester
Any program that churns out a six-year run as division champs has already demonstrated that it can reload its roster year after year and contend, and Lakewood has been particularly adept in that department. This year has a chance to be coach Randy Holmes’s greatest challenge and it would come on the heels of a tumultuous offseason for the former Lakewood star and 11th-year coach. He rescinded his resignation last spring after initially telling the administration he would be stepping down because of a disagreement over access to the school gym for his summer camp.
It’s a good thing Lakewood has its coach back, because the Piners already have to replace some heavy-duty talent. Four-year letter-winner Amir Tyler and All-Shore wing Sean Barksdale both graduated in June after carrying the offensive load for the Piners, as did a top rebounder in center Ryszon Barnes. That leaves the team in the hands of returnees Adi Palmer and twins Zyheir and Jyheir Jones, all of whom played significant minutes last year. Palmer was a year-long starter and the third leading scorer on the team behind Tyler and Barksdale, while the Jones brothers mostly came off the bench until an injury gave Zyheir a chance to start.
With some open spots to fill a number of bench and lower-level players will have to step in for Lakewood. Junior Ahmir Burton is ready for a larger role down low after getting a small helping of playing time last year and senior wing Dorian Vaughn should also be a factor after sitting out last year. Juniors Kevin Dent (Delaware) and Khari Jenkins (Manchester) transferred into the program and will help out in the back court, while senior guard Cameron Mader will also be a steady option in the back court. With more inexperience than usual, Lakewood will have to scrap in order to continue its postseason success this year, but the Piners still have enough to once again enter the season as the B South favorite.
Point Pleasant Boro
Head Coach: Kevin Hynes, 22nd season
2015-16 Record: 12-12 (7-7, fourth in B South)
Key Returners: John Venturi (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Jack Waddleton (Sr., 6-5, Center), John Duda (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Pat Feehan (Sr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Matt Van Nostrand (5-9, Guard), Mike Licchio (5-11, Forward), Devin Dragon (6-1, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Connor Strickland (Jr., 5-9, Guard) – Transfer from CBA; Alex Lembo (Sr., 6-4, Center), John Chipak (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Connor Costigan (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Caleb Casper (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Ryan Henn (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Ben Hermann (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Brian Hawthorne (So., 5-11, Guard), Sam Young (Fr., 6-4, Forward), Cole Young (Fr., 6-3, Forward)
It’s been a few years since Point Boro has had a team made up of a lot of seniors and juniors like the collection the Panthers have this year, so needless to say, the expectations have moved from competing with everyone in the division to competing for the division. While it probably did not cost Point Boro a division title, John Venturi suffered a torn ACL last year that knocked the Panthers’ best player out of action and all but squashed any postseason aspirations the team might have had. Venturi is rounding into form as the season approaches and he will rejoin a team that has a handful of experienced varsity contributors and some significant newcomers.
Senior center Jack Waddleton is back in the middle and at 6-foot-5, he gives the Panthers some legitimate size down low. Junior John Duda is a 6-foot-4 forward with perimeter skill who has already been an important piece as a freshman and sophomore and will be even more so this year. Senior guard Pat Feehan is also back after getting some varsity experience last year, giving Point Boro four solid veterans to anchor the team.
The player who could push the Panthers over the top is junior guard Connor Strickland. The 5-9 guard spent his first two years of high school at Christian Brothers Academy before transferring to Point Boro for his junior year this season. He will slide into the back court with Venturi and make the Panthers a tough team to defend on the perimeter. Sophomore Brian Hawthorne will also have a chance to work into the back court and freshmen Sam Young and Cole Young could see time in the front court.
Last year, Lakewood saw its 45-game divisional winning streak come to an end. This year, the Piners’ run of division titles could hang in the balance and Point Boro is the team best positioned to end it.
Head Coach: Ryan Ramsay, 12th season
2015-16 Record: 19-8 (11-3, second in B South)
Key Returners: L.J. Robinson (Sr., 6-6, Guard/Forward), Alex Lunn (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Jordan Torney (6-3, Guard), Shavar Reynolds (6-1, Guard), Israel Almestica (6-5, Center), Khari Jenkins (Jr., 5-9, Guard) – Transferred to Lakewood
Key Newcomers: Gavin Pabst (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Zion Mununga (Sr., Forward), Jerry Blackburn (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Markese Davis (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Zykeem Jenkins (So., 6-2, Guard), Chris Santiago (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Dan Garrabrants (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Anthony Carrea (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Jesse Devero (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Mike Richardson (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Josh Hayes (Fr., 5-11, Guard), Jakari Spence (Fr., 5-9, Guard)
Last year, Manchester had arguably its best team in a decade and that group ended Lakewood’s 45-game winning streak within Class B South with a thrilling win in front of its home crowd. Despite that seminal moment, the Hawks could not keep up with Lakewood in the race for the division title and finished two games out of the top spot by the end of the year. Had last year’s group been together for this upcoming season, Manchester would be the favorite to win the division given the losses Lakewood has to deal with, but instead, the Hawks are too looking to replace three key pieces of their own in Shavar Reynolds, Jordan Torney and Israel Almestica.
Unlike Lakewood and some of the teams to follow, the Hawks do return a top-20 scorer in the Shore Conference in senior L.J. Robinson. The 6-6 guard averaged 16 points per game, which came in just behind Reynolds for the team lead, while knocking down a team-high 34 three-pointers. As returning players go, Robinson is the top dog among the B South crowd and, assuming health, he will undoubtedly be the Hawks’ best player.
Senior Alex Lunn will lead the supporting cast around Robinson and is the only other returning starter or regular on last year’s team. With three scorers on the wing and a rebounding machine in Almestica down low, Lunn handled a lot of the dirty work last season and will likely see a stat spike this year. Senior Zion Mununga and junior Jerry Blackburn both played sparingly last year – Blackburn due to injury – and will move into the starting lineup, while junior Markese Davis fills the other open starting spot. If those new starters and Lunn can raise their games, the Hawks have the pieces to compete for the elusive division title.
Head Coach: Mike Kearney, 19th season
2015-16 Record: 14-11 (10-4, third in B South)
Key Returners: Jethro Moll (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Joe San Fillipo (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Matt Melon (So., 5-11, Guard), Jared Small (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Pete Schlendorf (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Garrett Carter (Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Anthony Silvestrone (Jr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Mike Boice (6-2, Guard), Riley Collins (6-0, Guard), Tyler McShea (6-5, Forward), Kevin Singleton (6-2, Guard), Erik Braaten (6-8, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Nik Ferraro (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Dan Pennell (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Chris Conroy (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Isaiah Ulep (So., 5-9, Guard), Glenn Swenson (So., 5-9, Guard), Billy Marra (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Connor Maguire (So., 6-3, Forward)
Count Donovan among the B South teams that have a lot to replace. A promising start and near-upset in the state tournament bookended a roller-coaster season for Donovan Catholic last season. The Griffins started 4-0 before suffering a three-game losing streak, won six in a row and went 3-7 over their final 10 games before the NJSIAA Tournament. After routing Gloucester Catholic, Donovan Catholic took CBA to the wire, ultimately losing on a tie-breaking basket in the final minute. That was a senior-loaded group that nearly took down the Colts on the road, so not many of the players on the returning roster experienced that atmosphere beyond watching it from the bench.
One exception is junior Jethro Moll, who earned his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore. Every other starter was a senior, so Moll is the lone player coming back with a heavy dose of playing time under his belt and will be a top option instead of the fifth scoring option he was last year. Junior Joe San Fillipo also returns with some experience, while sophomore Matt Melon, junior Anthony Silvestrone and seniors Pete Schlendorf, Jared Small and Garrett Carter each spent time with the varsity team. With a lot of newcomers, there is some uncertainty, but at some point this season, the Griffins should throw themselves into a B South race that looks to be more open than it has been in some time.
Head Coach: Dave Zwirz, second season
2015-16 Record: 4-15 (3-11, seventh in B South)
Key Returners: Daniel Sofield (So., 6-5, Guard/Forward), Anthony Kaminski (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Alonzo Aponte (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Nico Montano (Sr., Guard)
Key Losses: Lateef Foster (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Somto Emenuga (Sr., 6-1, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Takai Anderson (So., Guard) – Transfer from Lakewood; Steven Schuster (Sr., Forward), Ugonna Emanuga (Sr., Forward), Kyle White (Jr., Forward), Meshaun Williams-Jones (Sr., Guard)
Jackson Liberty took its lumps last year, but there was an obvious silver lining to the Lions’ 4-15 campaign. Daniel Sofield burst onto the scene with a standout freshman season in which he averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds to lead Jackson Liberty. With good size to go with his shooting touch and range, he has drawn some Division I interest, including an offer from Stony Brook. Now, he will try to help lead Jackson Liberty into B South contention, beginning with this season.
The Lions lost a significant player in Lateef Foster, but return some help around Sofield for the upcoming season. Seniors Nico Montano, Anthony Kaminski and Alonzo Aponte all return to this year and will be provide a solid senior group to go with the up-and-coming young talent. Three more seniors – Steven Schuster, Ugonna Emanuga and Meshaun Williams-Jones – will look to push into the rotation as well, while sophomore Takai Anderson and junior Kyle White will also provide a boost in their first varsity seasons. There is a long way to go from last year, but with a little bit of progress from the returnees around Sofield and some help from the newcomers, Jackson Liberty could be a B South sleeper.
Head Coach: Mike Puorro, third season
2015-16 Record: 8-19 (1-13, eighth in B South)
Key Returners: Mike Revello (Jr., Guard), Sean Morris (So., Forward), Alex Grogan (Jr., Forward), Carson Francisco (Jr., Guard), David Orozco (Sr., Guard)
Key Losses: DaShawn Anderson (6-5, Forward), Nick Camarato (6-0, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Parth Patel (So., Forward), Brian Finucan (So., Guard/Forward), Tommy Kray (Jr., Guard), Everett McNulty (Sr., Forward), Dexter Dambroski (So., Forward), Dave Ciani (So., Guard)
Barnegat never really got its full team on the floor together last year and while that might have kept the Bengals from reaching their full potential in 2015-16, it will give them a chance to be even better over the next two seasons. The Bengals lost two seniors who did not play a full season and not only do they return a team of experienced players, but only two of them are seniors. David Orozco and Everett McNulty are the only seniors suited up for the Bengals and Orozco will be the among the first off the bench.
The bulk of Barnegat’s team is its young core, led by junior guard Mike Revello and sophomore forward Sean Morris. Revello led the Bengals with 12.4 points and 2.6 assists per game as a sophomore last year, while Morris was the team’s leading rebounder and started all 27 games at the varsity level. Juniors Alex Grogan and Carson Francisco also return with plenty of playing experience, and Parth Patel, Brian Finucan, Dexter Dombroski and Dave Ciani are four more sophomores that will have a chance to make an impact. The Bengals will still be young, but if varsity experience means anything, Barnegat should be a little farther along in their development than most teams with this much youth.
Head Coach: Fred Johnson, first season
2015-16 Record: 12-15 (6-8, fifth in B South)
Key Returners: Chris Burke (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Steven Skeie (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Anthony Diaz (So., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: David Lunn (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Luke Stambaugh (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Will Jenkins (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Mike Suarez (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Cade Sundermann (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Gennaro Belleta (Sr., 5-10, Forward), D.J. Gonzalez (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Gage Carrozza (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Waqas Tariq (Sr., 5-10, Forward), John Garris (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Glenn Brown (Sr., 5-10, Forward), Chris Lewis (Jr., 5-10, Forward), Andrew Schultz (So., 5-10, Guard), Devin Kidd (So., 5-10, Guard), Garrett Brown (So., 5-10, Guard), Luke Wiatroski (So., 5-9, Guard)
Pinelands said goodbye to a quality senior class from a year ago and says hello to a standout group of sophomores, not to mention new head coach Fred Johnson. Pinelands reached the Shore Conference Tournament two years ago and came up a little short last year en route to a 12-15 finish. Now, a group of five sophomores will have a big say in how quickly things turn around for the Wildcats. The top returning scorer is senior Chris Burke, who hit the biggest shot of the season last year when he nailed a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Manchester on the road. Classmate and 6-5 forward Steve Skeie is also back this year and the Wildcats will have some senior influence joining the roster from the lower levels.
The players to watch for the Wildcats this year will be a group that last year helped the freshman team to a 17-3 season. Anthony Diaz played at the varsity level last year and Andrew Schultz, Devin Kidd, Garrett Brown and Luke Wiatroski will join their fellow sophomore this year. They may need a year to acclimate, but there is enough veteran leadership and promise to make Pinelands an uneasy game for the rest of the B South squads.
Head Coach: Ryan O’Rourke, ninth season
2015-16 Record: 3-17 (1-13, tied seventh in A South)
Key Returners: Geoff Fairclough (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Corey Gudzak (So., 6-0, Forward), Kevin O’Rourke (So., 6-1, Forward)
Key Losses: Vinnie DellaVola (6-2, Forward), Robert Biele (5-10, Guard), George Gartner (6-3, Forward), Mark Sheppard (6-0, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Cole Gudzak (So., 5-11, Guard), Kyle Priebe (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Chase Stephensen (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Tanner Miick (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Ryan Kilmurray (Jr., 6-3, Forward), D.J. Grissrd (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Jordan Cohen (Fr., 6-2, Center), Calvin Kuhn (Fr., 6-2, Forward)
Like Barnegat and Pinelands, Lacey will sport a young roster at some stage of a rebuild and the size of the jump the Lions make this year will depend on the play of plenty of sophomores and freshmen. Two of the team’s three returnees are sophomores, with Corey Gudzak and Kevin O’Rourke back after contributing as freshmen. The other returning player is senior forward Geoff Fairclough, whose emergence over the course of the season made Lacey a tough game by late January.
Cole Gudzak is another sophomore who will be a key player on the Lacey roster this year, as will a group of four juniors – Kyle Priebe, Tanner Miick, Ryan Kilmurray and D.J. Grissrd. Senior Chase Stephenson and freshmen Jordan Cohen and Calvin Kuhn are also in the mix for playing time for a Lions team that played much better than their record at the end of last year. With some continued maturation of the sophomores and the continued improvement of Fairclough, Lacey has a chance to push into the top four of a division that has some promise one-through-eight.
Players to Watch
L.J. Robinson, Manchester – At 16 points per game, Robinson was a top-20 scorer in the Shore Conference last year and is one of six returning for this season.
Daniel Sofield, Jackson Liberty – A budding D-I prospect coming off a 14-point average as a freshman, Sofield is now looking to lead his team to a winning record.
Adi Palmer, Lakewood – An unsung player on Lakewood’s 2015-16 team, Palmer will be a key cog inside on both ends for the Piners.
John Venturi, Point Boro – A strong start to the season was halted by an ACL tear, but Venturi is on the comeback trail and will look to lead a hungry Panthers team to a division title.
Mike Revello, Barnegat – A starter since his freshman year, Revello has emerged as a scoring point guard who will lead a young-but-promising Bengals team.
Breakout Players to Watch
Connor Strickland, Point Boro – The CBA transfer has a chance to impact the B South race with his handle and quickness while joining a Point Boro team that already has some size and a senior leader in Venturi.
Jethro Moll, Donovan Catholic – The lone returning starter a squad that nearly upset CBA in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals, Moll has the tools to lead a good Griffins team in scoring.
Geoff Fairclough, Lacey – Came on strong over the course of the season and his 11 points and five rebound are averages that should go up again this year.
Zyheir Jones, Lakewood – Now a lead guard, Jones’s game is likely to expand from defensive disruptor to all-around threat for Lakewood team looking to replace 34 points per game of back court scoring.
Is Point Boro a threat to Lakewood’s B South reign?
If the Panthers can get through the early part of the schedule in good shape, they might find themselves in position to take down the six-time defending champs by the end of the year. The only downside for Point Boro might be that it will open up at Lakewood, but even that could ultimately work in the Panthers favor given that Lakewood is working in so many new pieces.
Can Manchester rally around L.J. Robinson and remain a contender for B South?
Manchester set itself up to win a B South title last year by beating Lakewood, but a pair of slip-ups against other teams doomed the Hawks’ chances of grabbing at least a share of the title. Lakewood appears to be more vulnerable on paper this year, but in order for Manchester to pounce on the opportunity, it will need to develop a whole host of new roles players around the 6-6 Robinson.
In his sophomore year, can Daniel Sofield carry Jackson Liberty?
Sofield is another in a healthy-sized list of standout sophomores at the Shore, but his impressive rookie season probably flew under the radar more than it should have because Jackson Liberty won only four games. Now that he is established, the next step for Sofield and the program is to develop a winning habit and start the climb up the B South standings.
Which of the young upstarts will be the surprise team in B South?
In addition to Jackson Liberty, Barnegat, Pinelands and Lacey will all rely on multiple underclassmen this year. At some point over the next two-to-three seasons, all three of these teams should be serious contenders in a division race, and there’s a pretty good likelihood one of them makes the leap this season.