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Coming off winning the first division championship in program history, Jackson Liberty knew it was in for a much more challenging year in 2019-20 and that turned out to be the case. With all-time leading scorer Daniel Sofield graduating in 2019, the Lions had to overhaul their identity and never quite found it during a three-win campaign. “Identity” is a word first-year head coach Don Connor evoked when running through his team’s goals for the year and with the roster coming back, the Lions have a chance to establish one, particularly on the defensive end.

While it remains to be seen whether Jackson Liberty can score enough to keep up with the top teams on its schedule, the Lions have some athleticism and length that should translate on the defensive end. Junior Phanique Dupree – a 6-foot-5 shot-blocker who turned back 1.8 per game as a sophomore in 2019-20 – is at the center of that defense and he has enough rim-protection prowess for Jackson Liberty to be aggressive and rely on Dupree to clean up. Dubem Emunuga and Dahkario Pritchett are two more promising athletes who played big minutes last year and seniors Jayden Ramirez and Ryan Fatovic round out the opening-night starting five.

Jackson Liberty will get a boost to its lineup when junior Dalla Weisse becomes eligible on Feb. 8 after he transferred from Donovan Catholic. Weisse will provide some shooting while lengthening the rotation, which also includes senior returnees Jake Hickman and Tyler Cunningham. The Lions also have some junior and freshman talent on the bench that should beef up their roster in 2022, when Dupree and Weisse will be seniors and the Lions will be looking to make a big move up the standings off of what they hope will be a productive and enjoyable 2021.

Head Coach: Don Connor, first season
2019-20 Record: 3-22 (1-13, eighth in Class B South)
2020 Postseason Performance: Did not reach postseason

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.

Projected Lineup

Jayden Ramirez, Sr., 5-9, Guard (R)

Dahkario Pritchett, Jr., 6-0, Guard (R)

Ryan Fatovic, Sr., 5-10, Guard (R)

Dubem Emunuga, Sr., 6-1, Forward (RS)

Phanique Dupree, Jr., 6-5, Forward/Center (RS)

Key Losses

Manny Clay, 5-8, Guard

Tim Gjonballa, 6-7, Forward/Center

Bryce Bailey, 6-1, Guard

Jimmy Celentano, 6-1, Forward

Carl Barth, 6-0, Guard/Forward

Jake Bosco, 5-7, Guard

Off the Bench

Dallas Weisse, Jr., 6-0, Guard (Transfer from Donovan Catholic)

Jake Hickman, Sr., 6-0, Forward (R)

Tyler Cunningham, Sr., 5-10, Guard (R)

Connor Gallagher, Jr., 6-0, Forward

Justin Bailey, Jr., 6-0, Forward

Lucas Latvys, Fr., 5-11, Guard

Charlie Callahan, Fr., 5-10, Guard

RS – Returning Starter

R – Returning Varsity Player

 

Player to Watch: Phanique Dupree

Dupree is already a defensive building block for the Lions heading into his junior year and on top of anchoring the Jackson Liberty defense, he hopes to add to his offensive game in 2021. His shot-blocking and rebounding will make the Lions competitive vs. the rest of the pod when it comes to the paint, especially if the scoring starts to come for Dupree this season.

Big Shoes to Fill: Dahkario Pritchett

Pritchett showed potential as a sophomore on the varsity squad last season and after spelling lead guard Manny Clay and playing alongside him some, Pritchett will try to replace the 2020 graduate. Jackson Liberty will also need Pritchett to help out with the scoring responsibilities until Weisse is eligible and even after he is, it certainly couldn’t hurt to have multiple perimeter threats on offense.

Impact Newcomer: Dallas Weisse

Weisse saw his fair share of time playing for Donovan Catholic last season, including a number of starts as a sophomore for the Griffins. He averaged 4.3 points in 22 games for a team that had only one player average double-figure scoring per game and that was at 12 points per night. Weisse showed he can hit the three-point shot, hitting seven more threes than two-point shots and hitting on 35 percent of his attempts.

X-Factor: Defensive Identity

If finding an identity is the key to Jackson Liberty taking the next step, then it appears that this roster is best-suited to embrace its potential on the defensive end. The Lions have a standout shot-blocker in Dupree and some athleticism on the perimeter to complement him, which seems like a recipe for a team that can create turnovers for easy baskets and frustrate opposing teams when they get in the paint. If they can establish that, the Lions have some offensive help on the way, particularly if Dupree is poised for a breakout on that end of the floor.

Schedule

Jan. 26 vs. Manchester, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 28 at Manchester, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 1 at Point Boro - PPD, TBA

Feb. 3 vs. Point Boro - PPD, TBA

Feb. 5 at Jackson Memorial, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 11 vs. Colts Neck, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 13 at Toms River East, 11:30 a.m.

Feb. 15 vs. Pinelands, Noon

Feb. 17 at Pinelands, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 20 vs. Long Branch, 11:45 a.m.

Feb. 23 at Barnegat, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 25 vs. Barnegat, 6:30 p.m.