Boys Basketball – 2021 Season Preview: Toms River North
For the past six seasons, Toms River North has owned the Shore Conference Class A South landscape and for the past five, no one in the division has even touched them. The Mariners enter the 2021 season with a 74-game unbeaten streak in divisional play and since there is no official divisional play, that record will still be at 74 when divisional play presumably returns in 2021.
If there were divisional play this season, however, Toms River North would be as vulnerable as it has been since 2011-12 – the season before the team won its first A South title under coach Rory Caswell. Since Manasquan routed them in the 2020 Shore Conference Tournament championship game, the Mariners suffered a stunning first-round loss to No. 16 seed Egg Harbor in the NJSIAA South Jersey IV Tournament, graduated four starters and three top scorers in the spring and lost two of their top three players set to return in 2021.
Despite the graduations and unexpectedly losing juniors Jaiden Fraser and Lamir Mitchell, Caswell is setting his expectations high for a group that will lack game experience but competed against last year’s SCT finalist rotation in practice and has some athleticism around which to build. Senior Jake Kazanowsky is the lone returning starter and he will have to go from a player who rebounds, defends, makes the right pass and finishes near the rim to a player who does all of those things, plus looks to score.
Zac Browne got some bench minutes as a junior last year and, like Kazanowsky, is a football player who adds some athleticism and toughness to the lineup. Point guard Wesley Dietch and Brandon Bowens also move into the lineup, Dietsch at point guard and Bowens as the 6-foot-6 center. Senior swingman Ethan Paul is the final starter and will have a pair of capable junior scorers and slashers in A.J. Emnace and Ryan Baker backing up him and the rest of the starters. It is an entirely different group from the one that accomplished so much over the past three seasons but those players were once new as well. Caswell is hoping that the bar is set and this group is ready to leap over it.
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.
Head Coach: Rory Caswell, 10th season
2019-20 Record: 24-5 (14-0, first in Class A South)
2020 Postseason Performance: Reached Shore Conference Tournament final (lost to Manasquan); lost in NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV first round (Egg Harbor)
Wesley Deitsch, Sr., 6-0, Guard
Zac Browne, Sr., 6-2, Guard (R)
Ethan Paul, Sr., 6-3, Guard
Jake Kazanowsky, Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward (RS)
Brandon Bowens, Sr., 6-6, Forward
Najae Hallenbeck, 6-7, Center
Jakari Spence, 6-0, Guard
Colin Baker, 6-2, Guard
Mike Vansprang, 6-5, Forward
Jaiden Fraser, Jr., 6-2, Guard (Left TR North)
Lamir Mitchell, Jr., 6-4, Forward (Opted Out)
Off the Bench
A.J. Emnace, Jr., 6-0, Guard
Ryan Baker, Jr., 6-2, Guard
Richard Riley, Sr., 6-5, Guard/Forward
Justin Moskowitz, Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward
RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player
Player to Watch: Jake Kazanowsky
A role player who started games for Toms River North last year, Kazanowsky will now have to be more involved in finishing plays in the paint and distributing the ball out of the high post, as opposed when he was tasked with working the glass, defending and finishing passes from Jakari Spence last year. Kazanowsky is a smart, physical player with a good motor and plenty of leadership ability.
Big Shoes to Fill: Wesley Deitch and Brandon Bowens
Spence and Najae Hallenbeck were no-doubt All-Shore players for Toms River North and few people saw that as close-up as Deitch and Bowens did. According to Caswell, Deitch spend most of last season going head-to-head with Spence in practice while Bowens did the same against the physically-dominant Hallenbeck. They won’t be ready to produce like those two All-Shore First-Teamers, but Deitch and Bowens have seen two of the best up close, which should prepare them for just about anybody.
Impact Newcomer: Ethan Paul
Losing a trio like Spence, Hallenbeck and Baker leaves an almost irreplaceable amount of production to address, so Toms River North will need a lot of helpers in covering it. Paul will get to do his part as a starter, bringing a style not unlike what Colin Baker brought to the table over the past three seasons and doing so as a senior with something to prove.
X-Factor: The Chip
It is fair to say this Toms River North group will be written off more than its predecessor from 2020. It is an entirely new lineup with very little experience and the rest of Ocean County is going to want its shot at the Mariners while they think they are down. With a group that was tested as much in their practices as Ocean County opponents were tested vs. Toms River North in the games, the six-time defending A South champs will be just that until some team dethrones them. We will see how much of a fight the Mariners have when teams like Southern, Lacey, Donovan Catholic and the other Toms River schools line up to take the crown.
Jan. 26 vs. Southern, 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Southern, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 vs. Toms River South, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 3 at Toms River South, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 5 vs. Manchester, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 11 vs. Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 15 vs. Toms River East, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 17 at Toms River East, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 19 at Central, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 23 at Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 25 vs. Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.