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Two years ago, Class B Central was the toast of the Shore Conference, boasting the two Shore Conference Tournament finalists – both of which were top-15 teams in the state – as well as the Central Jersey Group I champion. Heading into this year, it looks more like the small-school division it is set up to be, with Ranney and Mater Dei Prep each coming back toward the pack over the last two seasons.

Note that Ranney and Mater Dei have come back toward the pack and not all the way to the pack. Mater Dei’s only divisional losses last year were against Ranney, while Ranney itself remains one of the favorites to challenge Manasquan for the SCT. The Panthers are also the favorite to run the table again in Class B Central and with three players ineligible on opening night, they will need those division wins to cushion their record.

The race for the top spot among the public school teams should be a competitive one, with Asbury Park earning that distinction a year ago and all the other contestants bringing back plenty of depth and production from a year ago. This division remains Ranney and Mater Dei, then everyone else but the gap has undoubtedly closed over the past two seasons.

In predicted order of finish

Ranney

Head Coach: Tahj Holden, fifth season
2018-19 Record: 31-3 (12-0, first in B Central)
Returners: Elijah Perkins (So., 6-4, Guard)
Key Losses: Bryan Antoine (6-5, Guard), Scottie Lewis (6-5, Guard/Forward), Ahmadu Sarnor (6-2, Guard), Alex Klatsky (6-4, Guard), Chris Autino (6-7, Center), Mike Dettro (6-2, Forward), Phillip Wheeler (Sr., 6-8, Forward) – transferred to Italy
Newcomers: Charles Anyichie (So., 6-6, Forward), Kyle Rhoden (Jr., 6-9, Forward) – transferred from Central, Ryan Zan (So., 6-7, Center) – transferred from Hunterdon Central, Nick Troccoli (So., 6-0, Guard), Brandon Klatsky (So., 6-0, Guard), Brian Day (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Zack Davis (Fr., 6-5, Forward), A.J. Gracia (Fr., 6-1, Guard), Saahil Patla (So., 6-1, Guard), Taheen Brasswell (So., 6-3, Forward), Jett Pacifico (So., 6-0, Guard) – transfer from CBA

Ranney freshman Elijah Perkins. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Over the course of the past four years, Ranney transformed from a virtual unknown as an athletic program to the No. 1 basketball program in the state thanks to the most decorated class of players in the history of the Shore Conference. Now that Ranney is the first Shore Conference program to win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, the new starters and players on the team are tasked with carrying on the program’s new legacy – if not winning the most loaded state bracket in New Jersey than at least remaining among the contenders for the Shore Conference Tournament championship.

By the end of January, Ranney should begin to look like a team that can win a third straight SCT title, despite the fact that it has no seniors on the roster. Three players – including two starters – will not be eligible to play on opening night and two will have to sit a full 30 days. Junior Brian Day and sophomore Charles Anyichie transferred during last season and still have time remaining on their 30-day clock before becoming eligible. Anyichie will start at forward and will supply plenty of rebounding and rim protection at 6-6. Day slots in as a key bench piece after transferring from St. John Vianney in the middle of last season. Day will be eligible during the Buc Holiday Classic and Anyichie in the first week of January.

Transfers Kyle Rhoden (Central) and Ryan Zan (Hunterdon Central) are two more key addistions, with the 6-7 Zan eligible right away after an appeal to the NJSIAA was upheld, according to coach Tahj Holden. Rhoden will be eligible on Jan. 20 vs. Mater Dei Prep and give the Panthers another one of the Shore's top talents. Sophomore Elijah Perkins will hold down the fort in the meantime as the lone returning member of last year’s rotation while sophomores Brandon Klatsky, Nick Troccoli and Taheen Brasswell and freshmen Zack Davis and A.J. Gracia provide support. The regular season will be a process, there will be some high-level challenges (Hudson Catholic and Roselle Catholic), but the defending No. 1 team in the state should round into form in time to make a run at the No. 1 spot at the Shore.

Correction: This portion of the preview was corrected to update the status of sophomore Ryan Zan. He was considered ineligible for 30 days before winning an appeal to the NJSIAA on Dec. 11. He is eligible for Ranney's opener at Lawrence Woodmere Academy on Saturday.

Mater Dei Prep

Head Coach: Rich Buckheit, first season
2018-19 Record: 13-10 (10-2, second in B Central)
Returners: Pete Gorman (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Sean Turner (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Tahaj Parland (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Malachi Treadwell (Sr., 6-5, Center), Phil Urban (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Anthony Tancredi (So., 6-5, Forward/Center), Vernon Morris (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Kyree Drake (So., 5-7, Guard)
Key Losses: Jeremy Weinstein (Sr., 6-5, Forward/Center)
Newcomers: Andreas Von Fricke (Jr., 6-5, Forward) – transfer from Monsigor Farrell (N.Y.), Daryen Cabrera (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Alex Brown (So., 6-3, Guard), Matt Curti (Sr., 5-10, Guard)

Last year, Mater Dei was in a somewhat similar position to the one Ranney is heading into this season although the Seraphs did not have four transfers waiting in the wings. The result was a mixed bag for Mater Dei – it could no longer compete with Ranney and could not beat the top teams on its schedule, but the Seraphs were competitive throughout most of the season and still went 10-2 in divisional play.

This year, the expectations are high under new head coach and athletic director Rich Buckheit, as Mater Dei has non-divisional games slated against Don Bosco, Hunterdon Central, CBA, Atlantic City and Middletown South, not to mention two divisional showdowns against Ranney. The cast of players is largely the same as last season with a handful of key additions. Senior guards Pete Gorman, Sean Turner and Tahaj Parland were the core of last year’s team and will attempt to lead the Seraphs back into the top tier of the Shore Conference. Junior Phil Urban and sophomore Anthony Tancredi are also back in the fold this season, as is 6-5 center Malachi Treadwell and guards Vernon Morris and Kyree Drake.

Juniors Andreas Von Fricke and Daryen Cabrera will be key additions for the Seraphs, with Von Fricke transferring in from Monsignor Farrell of Staten Island. At 6-5 with three-point range, Von Fricke gives Mater Dei some versatility in its lineup, while Cabrera is a steady guard with shooting and slashing ability to add to what the returning trio of Gorman, Turner and Parland provides. With some experience back and additional upside joining the rotation, Mater Dei should creep back toward the Top 10 conversation at some point this season.

Asbury Park

Head Coach: Maurice Hart, first season
2018-19 Record: 12-15 (8-4, third in B Central)
Returners: Eryck Brown (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Najier Massie (Jr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Alexx Harbour (5-11, Guard), Jay-son Freeman (6-3, Forward), Anthony Fraser (6-2, Forward), Wenderlens Garius (6-3, Forward), LaDonn Fitzgerald-Brown (6-7, Center), Makai Brown-Jones (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward)
Newcomers: Rosselete Etienne (Sr.)

The Blue Bishops could not quite climb over .500 to finish the season but still managed to win eight divisional games and qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament. This year presents more of a challenge in a new era with only two key rotation members returning and a new head coach in Maurice Hart.

Senior Eryck Brown was a steady scoring contributor as a junior and junior Najer Massie joins him as a leader after contributing last season. Senior Rosselete Etienne will also make an impact for as Asbury Park squad looking to keep up its upward trajectory with a mostly-new group.

Keyport

Head Coach: Phil Recco, 15th season
2018-19 Record: 7-16 (5-7, fourth in B Central)
Returners: D.J. Thomson (So., 6-0, Guard), Anthony Longo (So., 5-9, Guard), Troy Alvarez (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Chris Johnson (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Lucas Dant (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Damon Jones (Jr., 6-0, Guard), John Lachky (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Nick Siciliano (Sr., 6-2, Center),
Key Losses: J.J. Young (5-9, Guard), Greg Robinson (6-0, Forward)
Newcomers: George Mitchell (So., 6-3, Forward), Jake Mitchell (Jr., 5-8, Guard)

If Keyport was not the youngest team in the Shore Conference a year ago, it certainly relied on young players as much as any team in the area, save for one of its B Central rivals. Freshmen D.J. Thomson and Anthony Longo burst onto the scene as freshmen, with Thomson averaging 16.4 points per game and Luongo cracking double-figure scoring and five rebounds per game. That duo will be at the heart of Keyport’s program over the next three seasons and the two will try to make strides with their team after getting a taste of individual success at the varsity level.

Junior Troy Alvarez is another key player who has been contributing since his freshman year and will battle on the interior. Chris Johnson, Lucas Dant and Damon Jones bring more athleticism to the perimeter while John Lachky, Nick Siciliano and George Mitchell add front-court depth. Keyport is still a year away from making a serious run at the public division championship but the Red Raiders have a chance to set themselves up nicely by progressing into the top three in the division and a .500 mark in B Central.

Point Pleasant Beach

Head Coach: Nick Catania, 16th season
2018-19 Record: 1-21 (1-11, seventh in B Central)
Returners: Jake Clark (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Will Baranello (Sr., Guard), Liam Hennessey (Sr., Guard), Luke Valencia (Jr., Guard), Joe Coakley (Jr., Forward), Matt Cavanaugh (Jr., Forward), Anthony Longo (So., Guard), Andrew Seaman (So., Guard), Christian Martino (So., Guard), Dave Terranova (Jr., Guard)
Newcomers: Chris Venturoso (Fr.), Andrew Laumbach (So.), Kevin Byrnes (Fr.)

Given Point Beach’s success over the previous decade – a run that included three NJSIAA Central Group I championships, two more sectional final appearances and a Shore Conference Tournament title – last year’s 1-21 record was nothing short of staggering. Just one year earlier, the Garnet Gulls won their third Central Group I title in six years and although all but one member of the seven-man rotation graduated, it was still jarring to watch Point Beach go winless until late February.

A significant reason for the Garnet Gulls’ struggles was an injury to senior Jake Clark, the lone remaining starter from the 2017-18 sectional championship team. Clark is healthy heading into 2019-20 and with no seniors graduating off last year’s roster, Point Beach should be much sharper this season. Will Baranello, Liam Hennessy and Luke Valencia all stepped up over the course of last season and will provide some balance this season.

There is a long way to go from 1-21 to the top of a division with Ranney at the top of it but the Garnett Gulls should at least return to being among the contenders to the top spot among the B Central public schools following a forgettable 2018-19 season.

Henry Hudson

Head Coach: Drew Eldridge, third season
2018-19 Record: 6-17 (4-8, fifth in B Central)
Returners: Grady Hendrickson (Sr., Guard), Mike Mohr (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Sean Haupt (Sr., Guard), James Crowley (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Mike Kalaaka (So., 6-3, Guard), Aiden Casey (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Justin Murphy (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Casey Haupt (Sr., Guard), Trevor Hendrickson (Jr., Guard), Jack Crowley (Sr., Center)
Key Losses: Jay Anthony (6-2, Forward), Cody Fautz (Guard), Cainan Mason (Guard), Brian Bremekamp (Guard)
Newcomers: Dimitrious Harvey (So., 6-5, Forward), Theo Quirko (Sr.), Ralph DiAntonio (Sr.), Jax Ross (Fr.), Jude Bowbliss (Fr.), Quinn Casey (So.)

Last year was another season of progression for the Admirals and this upcoming campaign will present a new challenge to Henry Hudson under third-year coach Drew Eldridge. The Admirals boast a deep, experienced senior class that has the potential to build on last season, but will have to do so without top scorer and rebounder Jay Anthony, who was the lone starter to graduate from last year’s squad.

Senior Grady Hendrickson leads the group of returnees after serving as a second scorer to Anthony, with Hendrickson pouring in 15 points per game. Sean Haupt also chipped in 10 points per game last season and Mike Mohr pitched in nine points while playing mostly down low.

Junior James Crowley and sophomore Mike Kalaaka will be key contributors after getting time last year, as will junior Trevor Hendrickson and seniors Aiden Casey, Justin Murphy, Casey Haupt and Jack Crowley. Dimitrious Harvey is an up-and-coming sophomore to watch at 6-5 and freshman Jax Ross and Jude Bowbliss will look to make an early impact as well for an Admirals team that try to keep pushing forward in B Central.

Keansburg

Head Coach: James McCarthy, 12th season
2018-19 Record: 3-17 (2-10, sixth in B Central)
Returners: Davon Jackson (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Nasir Williams (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Anthony Strydio (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Devin Acker (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Patrick Beltran (Jr., 5-8, Guard)
Key Losses: Quintel Stephens (5-10, Guard), James White (6-0, Guard)
Newcomers: Hassan Champion (Jr., Forward)

Keansburg is yet another team that brings back a young core that was thrown into the fire last season. Junior Davon Jackson showed he can be the top scoring option as a sophomore, which he put on display in an 18-point performance against Ranney. Seniors Nasir Williams and Anthony Strydio will be leaders on the floor and complementary guards for the Titans, while juniors Quintel Stephens, Patrick Beltran and Hassan Champion fill out the rotation.

With Point Beach trying to prove last year was a fluke and Henry Hudson replacing its top player, there is an avenue for Keansburg to improve on its sixth-place finish a year ago and with a junior-dominated group, there is reason for optimism.

 

B Central Players to Watch

Elijah Perkins, Ranney – As a role player on the state’s best team, Perkins played in high-level games and made some memorable plays, including in wins over Bergen Catholic and Wildwood Catholic. Now he will assume the reins at point guard and keeper of the program as the last link to that championship team.

Kyle Rhoden, Ranney – Rhoden is a stat-sheet stuffer, which he proved as a sophomore at Central last year when he averaged 9.6 points, 12.3 boards, 2.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.2 blocks per game. He is still harnessing his ability and athleticism at 6-9 and if he unlocks the next level of his game, the sky is the limit.

Jake Clark, Point Beach – After losing most of his junior season to injury, Clark – a sophomore starter on Point Beach’s 2018 Central Group I championship team – is on a mission for himself and for his Garnet Gulls team, which struggled through injuries throughout the year on the way to 21-loss season.

D.J. Thomson, Keyport – A 16.4 points-per-game average as a freshman is nothing to scoff at and Thomson will look to build on that for a young Red Raiders team that appears to have a bright immediate future.

Pete Gorman, Mater Dei Prep – Gorman led the Seraphs in scoring last season at a little better than 12 points per game while serving as part of a three-headed monster at guard with Sean Turner and Tahaj Parland. That trio is back and has the Seraphs primed to get back into the mix for a Top 10 spot.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Charles Anyichie, Ranney – At 6-6 with eye-catching athleticism, Anyichie will provide Ranney with plenty of energy, particularly in the paint. The offense will be a bonus and he should get 10 points per game on hustle alone.

Andreas Van Fricke, Mater Dei Prep – The Seraphs have the experience in the back court and in Van Fricke – a transfer from Monsignor Farrell on Staten Island – they have a 6-5 wing player who can add to the perimeter threat or take his game down low on both sides of the floor.

Davon Jackson, Keansburg – Jackson led the Titans in scoring as a sophomore and is ready to break onto the Shore leaderboard as one of the conference’s top scorers.

Ryan Zan, Ranney – The 6-7 Hunterdon Central transfer is poised to make an immediate impact after being ruled eligible from the opening tip of the season. Zan gives Ranney a third player at 6-6 or taller once Rhoden and Anyichie are both active.

Mike Kalaaka, Henry Hudson – With Grady Hendrickson sliding into the No. 1 scoring option, watch for Kalaaka to become a regular perimeter threat in his second year on the varsity job.

 

Burning Questions

What is the ceiling for revamped Ranney?

The defending Tournament of Champions winner and two-time defending Shore Conference Tournament champions aren’t slated to have their full team together until late January so whatever Ranney can become with its all-new starting lineup, we won’t see it until close to February. The Panthers will have no seniors and only two juniors on the roster, so in addition to being one of the more talented teams in the conference, Ranney will also likely be the youngest. That means games against Hudson Catholic and Roselle Catholic late in the season could be overly ambitious and winning another championship beyond B Central might be the same, but over the next two-to-three years, the Panthers should, at the very least, remain contenders for the top spot at the Shore.

Is Elijah Perkins poised to go from reserve to star this year?

Perkins is one of the state’s better sophomores and he came up with some huge plays last year when Ranney needed them. That suggests he will be ready to help the Panthers usher in this post-Lewis-and-Antoine phase, but keeping Ranney among the pack of SCT contenders and at least competitive in South Jersey Non-Public B is a heavy load to shoulder for a sophomore who was the second player off the bench once Ranney had its full team. Perkins will have to be especially good early in the season while Ranney waits for four key players to become eligible.

Is Mater Dei on its way back?

All things considered, last year was a fair one for the Seraphs, which had to replace a head coach and an entire team from 2017-18, when Mater Dei reached the SCT championship game for the third straight year. Keeping with the positive spin, Mater Dei returns all of its key pieces from last year and will add a couple more in Andreas Van Fricke and Daryen Cabrera, so even if a Shore Conference championship game appearance remains an exceedingly high bar, the Seraphs should at least get back to challenging for a spot in the Top 10.

Which young squad from 2018-19 will make the jump into the top three?

Keyport, Henry Hudson, Keansburg and Point Beach all boasted young teams to varying degrees and will hope to reap the benefits going forward. Keyport might have the best set-up after D.J. Thomson and Anthony Longo led its scoring effort as freshmen, but Henry Hudson has a deep class of current seniors while Point Beach played last season with no seniors and decimated by injuries. If proven performance matters, Keyport is the pick. If you like depth, Henry Hudson might be your choice. Want to roll with a traditionally-strong program that is due for some better luck? Point Beach fits the description.