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Ever since the program-changing class arrived at Ranney in the fall of 2015, the Panthers have been trying to detach their boys basketball program from the Class B Central division of the Shore Conference, and the rest of the division likely wouldn’t miss them if they were successful. With Ranney emerging as a state power, Class B Central has had some impressive years, but even in B Central’s best years, there are still mismatches that feature teams like Ranney and Mater Dei – with their rosters of future college basketball players – taking on teams from Henry Hudson and Keansburg that just don’t have that kind of player pool from which to choose on a yearly basis.

Ranney and most of its B Central neighbors finally got their wish last year, when the Shore was realigned to meet the needs of a shortened 2021 season. The Panthers played in a pod with Manasquan, Wall and Neptune, although Ranney never did get to play Manasquan. It was a look into an alternate universe, where Keyport was contending for a division championship and Ranney had to scratch and claw to have any chance to win one.

This year, order, as it were, is restored to the universe and Ranney is back in its B Central stomping grounds as a heavy favorite again. The Panthers will be among the Shore Conference contenders again, so the drama in the division would seem to be at the next tier. Keyport has its best team in a long time while Mater Dei Prep is replacing some key players, setting up what could be a showdown for second place and, in turn, a public division championship for Keyport.

Factor in young teams on the rise at Point Beach and Henry Hudson, as well as an intriguing mix at Asbury Park and there will be plenty to watch up and down the B Central standings, even as Ranney remains dominant.

In predicted order of finish

Ranney

When it comes to transfers – a fact of life in New Jersey High School basketball – Ranney has had more coming in than going out since Tahj Holden took over prior to the 2015-16 season. Prior to this season, the Panthers in that span had lost just one player prior to his graduating year and that was when Phillip Wheeler decided to pursue a professional career in Italy after his junior year in 2018-19. Meanwhile, they have brought in seven established high-school players during the first six seasons under Holden, all of which came between years two and six of his tenure.

This year, however, the transfers went the other way. All-Shore guard Elijah Perkins and 6-foot-7 forward Ryan Zan departed for Camden and Rutgers Prep, respectively, and the roster that remains is comprised entirely of players who were in the program last year, save for any freshmen. Fortunately for Ranney, last year’s team was the deepest in the Shore Conference, so the Panthers will have no trouble running out a capable starting five as long as they remain healthy.

Junior guard Isaac Hester will lead the way after coming into the program as a sophomore in 2021 and putting together a First-Team All-Shore season. The 5-11 Ocean Township native will be joined by fellow returning starter Brandon Klatsky, who returns as one of the best three-point shooters in the conference. Senior Charles Anyichie also has some starting experience going back to his sophomore season and has fine-tuned his offensive game to go with his relentless energy on the defensive end. T.J. Braswell-Brown, meanwhile, moves into the starting lineup after showing flashes of major potential coming off the bench over the past two seasons.

The fifth starter lines up to be 6-5 junior forward Zack Davis, who will help Anyichie on the interior and allow Braswell-Brown to work more on the perimeter. Holden could also go to a smaller lineup with sophomore Drew Buck at one of the guards, with Sahill Patla also figuring into the rotation as a senior. The 11-man rotation of the last two seasons is no longer there, but the starting five should be as balanced as any in the Shore Conference and with a player like Hester in the fold, Ranney has to be among the short list of Shore Conference Tournament contenders.

Ranney sophomore Isaac Hester drives on Marlboro senior Nick Malucelli. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Ranney junior Isaac Hester drives on Marlboro senior Nick Malucelli. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
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Head Coach: Tahj Holden, seventh season
2021 Record: 9-1 (5-0 in Pod H)

Projected Lineup

Isaac Hester, Jr., 5-11, Guard (RS)

Brandon Klatsky, Sr., 6-3, Guard (RS)

Charles Anyichie, Sr., 6-7, Center (R)

T.J. Braswell-Brown, Sr., 6-4, Forward (R)

Zack Davis, Jr., 6-5, Forward (R)

Key Losses

Elijah Perkins, Sr., 6-3, Guard (Transferred to Camden)

Ryan Zan, Sr., 6-7, Forward (Transferred to Rutgers Prep)

Kyle Rhoden, 6-10, Forward

Brian Day, 5-11, Guard

Nick Troccoli, 5-11, Guard

Off the Bench

Drew Buck, So., 6-2 (R)

Sahill Patla, Sr., 6-0 (R)

J.T. Cook, So., 6-0

MeSean Williams, Fr., 5-5

Josh Engel, So., 5-11

Justin Buck, Fr., 5-11

 

Keyport

Someone could convene 400-plus writers to write a book for every high school basketball team in New Jersey, detailing the struggles of navigating through the 2021 season and what each team lost as a result of the pandemic-shortened year. In that way, Keyport is not unique compared to a lot of other teams, but as a Group I program with a group of players the caliber of which don’t often pass through the program, losing a bite at the apple in 2021 was a major disappointment. Even with its best roster in at least a decade, Keyport is a longshot to compete against the best teams in the Shore Conference, but contending in the NJSIAA Group I Tournament is a different story. That tournament did not exist last year, so now that Keyport’s top talent is in the senior class, the 2022 state playoffs will be the make-or-break moment of the last four years.

Keyport’s standout trio of returning starters begins with 6-4 swingman D.J. Thomson, who has averaged 20-plus points per game in each of the past two seasons and was named an All-Shore Third Team Player by both the Shore coaches and Shore Sports Network as a junior in 2021. He will be one of the top players in the conference again and one of the toughest individual matchups in the state tournament, but for Keyport to make some real noise in March, he will need help. Two players Thomson knows he can count on are classmates George Mitchell and Anthony Longo, with Mitchell giving the Red Raiders some skill and versatility at 6-5 and Longo running the show at point guard.

The Red Raiders will go as far as the senior trio can take them, but will need contributions from the group of role players that is ascending the ranks of the program. Senior Trevor Ahmed and junior Nyaire Treadwell will share the backcourt duties alongside Longo and Thomson, while junior Max Judson, junior Kevin Fitzgerald and freshman Nahssir Hart bolster the front court with some legitimate size and athleticism. Veteran Keyport coach Phil Recco knows where most of the offensive production will come from and if that group of newcomers can embrace their roles and pitch in as scorers on occasion, the Red Raiders could make a bid for a Top 10 spot in the Shore Conference and be a real threat come tournament time.

Keyport junior DJ Thomson (Photo by tspsportsimages.com)
Keyport jsenior D.J. Thomson. (Photo by tspsportsimages.com)
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Head Coach: Phil Recco, 17th season
2021 Record: 9-3 (5-2 in Pod D)

Projected Lineup

Anthony Longo, Sr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

Trevor Ahmed, Sr., 6-0, Guard

D.J. Thomson, Sr., 6-4, Guard (RS)

George Mitchell, Sr., 6-5, Forward (RS)

Max Judson, Jr., 6-4, Forward

Key Losses

Troy Alvarez, 6-0, Forward

Damon Jones, 6-2, Forward

Jake Mitchell, 5-8, Guard

Off the Bench

Zyaire Treadwell, Jr., 5-9

Kevin Fitzgerald, Jr., 6-3 (Transfer from Mater Dei Prep)

Nahsirr Hart, Fr., 6-6

Nazir Treadwell, So., 6-0

Mike Ford, So., 5-10

Christian Watson, Sr., 5-8

 

Mater Dei Prep

In his first two seasons at the helm as head coach, Rich Buckheit has guided Mater Dei Prep back into the conversation as a Top 10 team in the Shore Conference after the Seraphs suffered a big drop-off between 2017-18 and 2018-19. A lot of that improvement has been with the help of a transfer pipeline from Buckheit’s native Staten Island, with last year’s wave of players crossing the bridge into New Jersey simply because New York did not have a high school basketball season.

To the credit of Buckheit and his staff, they have also worked well with the players who were already in place, among them returning 6-6 senior center Anthony Tancredi, who has been at Mater Dei since his freshman season. Many of those entrenched players were also football players and with the retirement of Dino Mangiero as head football coach, some of the basketball team’s best potential returning players left for greener gridirons.

What is left around Tancredi is a mix of players who contributed last season, led by guards Derek Ragona and Gerard Novello – both of whom were among the group of players to come to N.J. from Staten Island during the COVID-impacted 2021 season. Jayden Cabrera and Cal Lugay will move into starting roles this season to round out an all-senior starting lineup, with classmate Billy Burnett backing them up. Mater Dei will also work in a core of sophomores off the bench, but it will be the seniors driving this group in an attempt to leave their mark in a Class B Central division that looks pretty solid at the top.

Mater Dei junior Gerard Novello. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Mater Dei senior Gerard Novello. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Head Coach: Rich Buckheit, third season
2021 Record: 6-6 (6-0 in Pod D)

Projected Lineup

Derek Ragona, Sr., 6-2, Guard (RS)

Gerard Novello, Sr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

Cal Lugay, Sr., 5-11, Guard (R)

Anthony Tancredi, Sr., 6-6, Forward (RS)

Jayden Cabrera, Sr., 6-3, Forward (R)

Key Losses

David Shkolniy, 6-3, Guard

Andreas Von Fricke, 6-7, Forward

Daryen Cabrera, 5-11, Guard

Lauwensky Astrel, 6-1, Guard

Kyree Drake, Sr., 5-7, Guard (Transferred to Donovan Catholic)

Alex Brown, Sr., 6-1 (Transferred to Red Bank Catholic)

Rakim Cooper, 6-4, Forward

Off the Bench

Billy Burnett, Sr., 6-5

Anthony Leger, So., 6-3

Zacai Manigo, So., 5-9

Nasirre Furman, So., 5-8

Gavin Sansone, So., 5-8

Alec Montana, So., 5-10 (Transfer from Middletown South)

 

Asbury Park

For the third year in a row, Asbury Park has a new head coach, this time with Kyle Weedon taking the reins for the Blue Bishops. Although there is once again turnover at the top of the program, there is a little more overall stability in place as Weedon takes over. The Blue Bishops return some key pieces from a solid 2021 squad and Ikie Calderon – a former All-Shore standout at Neptune – remains on staff as an assistant coach to help smooth over the transition.

One of the breakout players on Asbury Park’s roster in 2021 was Sha’Born Goodman, who is heading into his junior season as a point guard with some game experience now under his belt. Jai’Sun Brown is another talented junior who contributed significantly as a sophomore last year and can help out at with his size and athleticism, although he is current nursing a finger injury that is lingering from football season. Davon Foster, Tajier Burress and Lydell Brown are three more capable players for the lineup and 6-4 senior Salvador Berardesco has the size and athleticism to cause havoc in the paint on both ends of the court.

Although there might be some frustration with the coaching carousel, Asbury Park has some continuity in the program despite that and will be back in the middle of the Class B Central race this season. Keyport looks to be at the peak of its powers and Ranney remains Ranney, but the Blue Bishops should be able to stay competitive throughout the season with a chance to win on most nights.

Head Coach: Kyle Weedon, first season
2021 Record: 6-7 (5-3 in Pod D)

Projected Lineup

Sha’Born Goodman, Jr., 5-8, Guard (R)

Davon Foster, Jr., 5-9, Guard (RS)

Salvador Berardesco, Sr., 6-4, Center (RS)

Tajier Burrus, Sr., 6-0, Forward (RS)

Lydell Brown, Sr., 5-10, Forward (R)

Key Losses

Najier Massie, 5-10, Guard

Mikai Brown-Jones, 6-1, Guard

Off the Bench

Jai’Sun Brown, Jr., 6-5 (R)

Zy’Mier Jones, Fr., 6-4

Ralee Stephens, So., 5-9 (R)

Isaiah Johnson, Sr., 5-9 (R)

 

Point Pleasant Beach

As mentioned above, Keyport likely lost out on the greatest opportunity of any team in Class B Central, but you would be hard-pressed to find a team – in the division or anywhere else in the Shore – that lost as many days of basketball due to COVID than Point Beach. By second-year head coach Ed Goodman’s account, Point Beach was only permitted to participate on 26 of the 54 days of the 2021 season due to two full two-week shutouts because of encounters with the virus.

That left a lot of development on the table for a young Garnet Gulls squad with a new head coach, so Goodman and Co. have been trying to make up for lost time during the offseason and will continue to do so throughout 2021-22. On the bright side, graduation losses were relatively light for Point Beach and most of the Gulls’ impact players from last season are back in the fold, with six players back who started at one point or another last year. Anthony Longo and Kevin Burns are a capable backcourt duo after both averaged double-figure scoring last year, while Andrew Laumbach remains entrenched in the front court.

Andrew and Stephen Seaman both got a taste of starting last year and will get a larger dose of it this season, although sophomore John Coakley is pushing for time and, potentially, a starting job as well. At 6-3, Coakley would give Point Beach a chance to play with a bigger lineup instead of the four-guard look with which Point Beach is likely to start off games. It is a more senior-heavy group than in either of the past two years, but with so much lost developmental time last season, Point Beach still has some catching up to do in order to get back to the front of the ranks of B Central public school programs.

Head Coach: Ed Goodman, second season
2021 Record: 3-6 (2-5 in Pod D)

Projected Lineup

Anthony Longo, Sr., 6-0, Guard (RS)

Kevin Burns, Jr., 6-0, Guard (RS)

Andrew Laumbach, Sr., 6-2, Forward (RS)

Stephen Seaman, Jr., 6-0, Guard (RS)

Andrew Seaman, Sr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

Key Losses

Joe Coakley, 6-3, Forward

Matt Cavanaugh, 6-3, Forward

Dave Terranova, 6-0, Guard

Off the Bench

John Coakley, So., 6-3 (R)

Kyle Simpson, Sr.

Shae Gada, Sr.

Phil Trebour, Sr.

David Nase, Sr.

 

Henry Hudson

For those of you who took the time to read the full Point Beach preview, it took all of maybe three minutes to find a team that lost more basketball in 2021 than Point Beach did. Henry Hudson endured multiple stoppages to its program and wound up playing only seven of the allowed 15 games, which was the lowest number of games played by any Shore Conference team in 2021. The Admirals also had a first-year coach, with Brian Kelly getting only a precious few days of practice with his young team and even fewer days to test them with live competition.

The rebuilding effort at Henry Hudson will continue into 2022 and the Admirals have several building blocks still in place. Demitrius Harvey showed promise in the seven 2021 games by averaging 12 points and six rebounds, while junior Jax Ross continues to improve at point guard as he makes a big for an all-division spot before his time at Henry Hudson is up. Brandon Hendrickson and Quinn Casey are also back after playing heavy minutes a year ago, with Hendrickson doing so as a freshman.

Mason Eldridge will slide into the starting five after transferring from Red Bank Catholic, which will add some size and physicality to the lineup to help out Harvey. Henry Hudson also has a 6-4 junior in Luke Jaccodine coming off the bench, along with junior Jesse Jacobs and freshman Jack Fitzpatrick. Keyport remains the standard among Class B Central public schools and Point Beach and Asbury Park are farther along, but Henry Hudson has some talent to compete if the Admirals can make up for the lost time.

Head Coach: Brian Kelly, second season
2021 Record: 1-6 (0-3 in Pod D)

Projected Lineup

Jax Ross, Jr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

Brandon Hendrickson, So., 6-1, Guard (RS)

Quinn Casey, Sr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

Demitrius Harvey, Sr., 6-5, Forward/Center (RS)

Mason Eldridge, Jr., 6-2, Forward (Transfer from Red Bank Catholic)

Key Losses

Trevor Hendrickson, 6-1, Guard

James Crowley, 6-5, Forward/Center

Mike Kalaka, Sr., 6-4, Forward/Center

Off the Bench

Jack Fitzpatrick, Fr., 6-0

Luke Jaccodine, Jr., 6-4

Jesse Jacobs, Jr., 6-1

 

Keansburg

After graduating five starters from a team that managed to fit in 14 games during the 2021 season, Keansburg is about to undergo something resembling a rebuild, although the Titans will not just be running out a bunch of freshmen and sophomores and hoping for the best by 2024. While it will not be an especially experienced team, Keansburg will be a squad of mostly seniors and juniors who have every intention of competing with the two non-public teams and a field of quality Group I schools.

Senior Andrew Valle and junior Mike Alonzo return with some varsity experience and will be lynchpins in Keansburg’s starting lineup – Valle as a forward and Alonzo as part of a four-guard lineup. Juniors Na’Sun Lee and Jahiem Hill will get their first varsity taste as starters and senior Mikal Braithwaite – an All-Shore, two-way football player – will try his hand on the hardwood to help lead an inexperienced Titans team.

When Keansburg goes to the bench, it will be a trio of juniors helping spell the starters: Jordan Bey and Isaiah Goodman will help out a thin front court while JonPaul Debow adds another guard to the mix. With its tallest starter standing six-foot (Valle), Keansburg will have to find ways to deal with taller opponents – one of the many challenges facing an inexperienced-but-hungry team filled with upperclassmen.

Head Coach: James McCarthy, 14th season
2021 Record: 4-10 (1-8 in Pod D)

Projected Lineup

Andrew Valle, Sr., 6-0, Forward (R)

Michael Alonzo, Jr., 5-8, Guard (R)

Na’Sun Lee, Jr., 5-7, Guard

Jahiem Hill, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Mikal Braithwaite, Sr., 5-8 Guard

Key Losses

Davon Jackson, 5-8, Guard

Patrick Beltran, 5-7, Guard

Brendan Fanzbaum, 5-9, Guard

Devin Acker, 6-3, Forward

Hassan Champion, 6-2, Forward

Off the Bench

Jordan Bey, Jr., Forward

JonPaul DeBow, Jr., Guard

Isaiah Goodman, Jr., Forward

 

Division Starting Five

Isaiah Hester, Jr., Guard, Ranney (16.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.2 steals)

D.J. Thomson, Sr., Guard, Keyport (21.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.5 steals)

Derek Ragona, Sr., Guard, Mater Dei Prep (8.1 points, 4.1 rebounds)

Charles Anyichie, Sr., Forward, Ranney (2.9 points, 3.8 rebounds)

T.J. Braswell-Brown, Sr., Forward, Ranney (2.5 points)

In the Rotation

George Mitchell, Sr., Forward, Keyport (9.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists)

Demetrius Harvey, Sr., Forward, Henry Hudson (12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks)

Kevin Burns, Jr., Guard, Point Beach (11.9 points)

Anthony Longo, Sr., Point Beach (12.1 points)

Anthony Tancredi, Sr., Center, Mater Dei Prep (7 points, 5.1 rebounds)

Anthony Longo, Sr., Guard, Keyport (7.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Brandon Klatsky, Sr., Guard, Ranney

Zack Davis, Jr., Forward, Ranney

Salvador Berardesco, Sr., Forward, Asbury Park

Gerard Novello, Sr., Guard, Mater Dei Prep

John Coakley, So., Forward, Point Beach