Boys Basketball – 2021 Season Preview: Holmdel
Holmdel enters the 2021 season with two headlines that are decidedly encouraging: Alex Baker is back and Manasquan is nowhere to be found on the schedule. The 6-foot-5 Baker was an SSN Second-Team All-Shore selection as a junior and was a standout on a team that didn’t seek to ride any one player to victory, but always seemed to turn to Baker in a big game.
On top of bringing back its top player, Holmdel will not have to face Manasquan this season and if that matchup does eventually happen, it will either be because the teams needed to add a game due to a COVID-related cancelation or because both made it to the end-of-season championship pod tournament. Last year, Manasquan handed Holmdel four of its five losses on the season – two of them in Class A Central divisional play, one in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal and the final blow in the Central Jersey Group II final.
Baker’s return and a new pod that does not include traditional A Central rivals Manasquan and Rumson-Fair Haven will make Holmdel’s transition to 2021 a little easier, but replacing four starters and six regular senior contributors from the No. 2 team in the final 2020 Shore Sports Network Top 10 will not be so easy. The only other player back with big-game experience from 2020 is 6-5 wing Ryan Bradley, who has the athleticism to defend any position and be a menace on the glass and going to the basket. He is not, however, a prototypical high-school guard and Holmdel coach Sean Devaney will be looking for a few of those to team up with the long, athletic Baker-Bradley duo.
Projected starter Nick Spada returns with a small dose of varsity experience from last year, while fellow senior Antony Pesce will provide some shooting when on the floor and classmate Connor Hinds brings plenty of defense and overall quickness to the lineup off the bench. Forward Kyle Polivka is another senior ready to make an impact and he will do his work closer to the basket with Baker. A trio of freshmen will be the wild card for Holmdel’s season, with James Vallillo looking to start on opening night and Ben Kipnis poised for big minutes off the bench.
Head Coach: Sean Devaney, 15th season
2019-20 Record: 23-5 (12-2, second in Class A Central)
2020 Postseason Performance: Reached Shore Conference Tournament semifinals (lost to Manasquan); reached NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final (lost to Manasquan)
Disclaimer: Projected lineups listed in the 2021 Shore Sports Network Preview are not necessarily directly from coaches. Some are, while others are projections from Shore Sports Network staff. In either case, the projected lineup is fluid and could change leading up to the start of the season and beyond. Check back for periodic updates to every team's projected starting lineup on shoresportsnetwork.com.
Nick Spada, Sr., 5-9, Guard (R)
James Vallillo, Fr., 6-0, Guard
Alex Baker, Sr., 6-5, Forward/Center (RS)
Ryan Bradley, Sr., 6-5, Forward (R)
Kyle Polivka, Sr., 6-3, Forward (R)
Doug Chan, 6-1, Guard
Derek Chan, 6-1, Guard
Jack Giamanco, 5-10, Guard
Eric Hinds, 5-11, Guard
Pete Cannizzo, 6-0, Guard/Forward
John Curreri, 6-2, Forward
Off the Bench
Anthony Pesce, Sr., 6-0, Guard
Ben Kipnis, Fr., 6-1, Guard/Forward
Connor Hinds, Sr., 6-0, Guard
Saverio Bodnar, Jr., 5-9, Guard
Nick Seeloch, Fr., 5-9, Guard
RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player
Player to Watch: Alex Baker
Holmdel’s memorable 2019-20 season was the ultimate team effort but if there was a standout, it was Baker. A Second Team SSN All-Shore selection as a junior, Baker was one of eight Shore Conference players to average a double-double last season (12.9 points, 10.8 rebounds) and he is one of just two returning for the 2021 season. With Holmdel graduating every guard who played meaningful minutes, Baker will be even more of a focal point this season.
Big Shoes to Fill: Nick Spada and Kyle Polivka
The graduates from last year’s Holmdel squad were almost exclusively guards, but Holmdel did lose a versatile wing in Pete Cannizzo who could play on the interior when the Hornets needed it. In that sense, Polivka will be a key addition to the starting lineup and will try to bring some of the all-around toughness and versatility that Cannizzo so often did.
Ultimately, however, Holmdel will need their guards – all of whom will be playing major varsity minutes for the first time – to acclimate quickly around Baker. Spada is the one guard who at least got a helping of varsity time and he will help set the tone for the inexperienced group by getting the Hornets into their offense and leading on the defensive end.
Impact Newcomer: James Vallillo
Devaney is optimistic the three freshmen who are slated to play with the varsity squad this season are all ready to contribute and Vallillo is a legitimate candidate to start on opening night. The six-foot guard has the athleticism and all-around game to make the biggest freshman impact at Holmdel since Kyle Cardaci was a go-to scorer as a freshman for the Hornets in 2014-15 and one of the Shore’s top scorers by his sophomore year.
X-Factor: Guard play
When a team graduates five of its first six players in the rotation, it leaves a void regardless of what kind of players they were. Fortunately for Holmdel, its one 2020 All-Shore selection is also its lone returnee and Bradley is a 6-5 athlete who made an impact in the 2020 rotation as well. With plenty of size and athleticism from those two, the Hornets just need the new backcourt rotation to hold its own early and develop into a competent unit over the course of the season. If the seniors can be solid and the freshmen learn quickly, Holmdel should again be in the championship mix in the last week of the season.
Jan. 27 vs. Colts Neck, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 29 at Colts Neck, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 2 at Middletown North, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 4 vs. Middletown North, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 at St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.
Feb. 10 vs. St. John Vianney, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 12 vs. Red Bank Catholic, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 16 at Matawan, 6:45 p.m.
Feb. 18 vs. Matawan, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 at Red Bank, 1 p.m.
Feb. 22 vs. Raritan, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 24 at Raritan, 3:45 p.m.