Boys Basketball – Boardwalk Preview: Ranney Ready for its Closeup vs. St. Anthony
Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase
Saturday, Jan. 7
At Collins Arena at Brookdale Community College
Game 4: No. 2 Ranney vs. St. Anthony, 5 p.m.
For a group of 15 and 16 year-olds, the five sophomore starters on the Ranney boys basketball team have played in high-level tournaments against some of the best amateur talent in the country – a body of work that rivals that of most incoming college freshmen.
There is not much this group has not seen on the court and in that sense, the Panthers version of the Fab Five won’t be overwhelmed by the idea of playing against one of the state’s best programs in front of a weeknight crowd at Brookdale Community College’s Collins Arena Tuesday at 6 p.m.
On the other hand, they have never faced St. Anthony and its Hall-of-Fame coach Bob Hurley.
The Friars will make their annual trek to the Jersey Shore Tuesday to take on the area’s most up-and-coming team that has its eye on becoming the state’s most up-and-coming team. Win or lose, competing against and challenging the St. Anthony program is a rite of passage for any aspiring NJSIAA Tournament of Champions contender – which Ranney hopes to be at some point in the next three years.
“It’s going to be fun,” sophomore Scottie Lewis said. “Just to see what our three coaches do to counteract and rebuttal what coach Bob does and see what position they put us in. We’re going to see how we react to what coach Bob is going to do and his players on the court. I’m just looking forward to the game and taking on the challenge.”
Ranney has played some of the state’s best teams over the past year-and-a-half, won two out of three games in a competitive Holiday Tournament in Florida over the break and even won a game against an Oviedo High School team coached by Indian Basketball Hall of Fame coach Ed Kershner.
While Kershner has enjoyed a marvelous coaching career in Indiana and Florida that includes nearly 900 wins, Hurley’s program has been the standard in high school basketball, not only in the Northeast but throughout the country. He is a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame and has racked up more than 1,100 wins, 28 state championships and 13 Tournament of Champions titles.
“A team with a coach like that, they are never going to stop fighting,” sophomore guard Alex Klatsky said. “Against Oviedo, we had a nice lead and they came back to cut it to one with two minutes left. It almost feels like you can’t stop them and I think a lot of that is because they are well-prepared.”
The Friars are coming off a 32-0 season in 2015-16, but lack the experience that last year’s team had after being hit hard by graduation. The tradition, however, did not graduate and Hurley has his defending T of C champions poised to make another run at a title with a younger group this year. Senior guard R.J. Cole is off to a hot start this season, averaging 22 points per game as the only returning contributor from last year’s team.
The Friars also boast some size and strength in the front court with 6-foot-9 junior Ogheneyole Akuwovo and 6-for-4 Nigel Johnson. They also have what could be considered a local kid: sophomore Alexander Rice – the son of Monmouth University head coach King Rice – starts alongside Cole in the backcourt.
Tuesday is also a challenge for Holden, who will be facing Hurley’s team for the first time as a head coach. He played against St. Anthony twice as a player at Red Bank Regional in the late 1990’s and was also an assistant with Christian Brothers Academy when the Colts played St. Anthony at the showcase in 2015. Holden is hoping his collection of talented sophomores will yield him his first win against Hurley.
“It’s funny because we were talking the other night about how many wins he has and somebody had to correct me because I was selling him short,” said Holden, who played on Maryland’s NCAA championship team in 2001-02. “It’s like being tall. Once you’re six-seven, it doesn’t really matter how much taller you are. You’re just tall. He’s won so many games and so many championships, at this point you can just stop counting because he is so far ahead of everybody else.”
Holden also noted Tuesday could be even more special given St. Anthony’s financial issues that are threatening the survival of the school.
“It’ll be special to have an opportunity to play against a Hall-of-Fame coach and a well-coached team with some talent,” Holden said. “It could also be the last year that St. Anthony’s is around so to have the opportunity to get a win against a team that’s had so much success in the past is going to be fun. It will be a challenge, but you look forward to games like this.”
The showdown with St. Anthony on Tuesday one of the highlights of a crucial stretch of games for the Panthers and Ranney started that stretch Friday night with a thrilling 90-83 overtime win over Rutgers Prep. It took 34 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks from Lewis and 23 points apiece from Bryan Antoine and Ahmadu Sarnor to carry the Panthers over the finish line against an Argonauts team that shot 19-for-31 as a team from behind the three-point line.
Following Saturday’s litmus test against N.J. gold standard in high school basketball, Ranney will face Class B Central rival and defending Shore Conference Tournament champion Mater Dei Prep on Thursday, Montclair Immaculate on Jan. 14 at the Dan Finn Classic, followed by divisional games against St. Rose and Point Pleasant Beach the following week.
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, the game against the state’s premier program represents a drastic shift for the Ranney program and basketball at the Shore Conference. The 5 p.m. Boardwalk game has traditionally been the marquee game of the event and most commonly included CBA playing an out-of-area power or two highly-ranked Shore Conference teams squaring off. It has included NBA players like Kyrie Irving, Karl Anthony-Townes and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as well as some of Hurley’s best teams.
“In AAU, you might play against a top-three player from his class in the country and there will be ten people there,” Antoine said. “When you play St. Anthony, it’s going to fill up the gym. That’s the one thing that we’re probably not as used to but, we got a taste of it playing Mater Dei at Brookdale last year. On the court, it’s the same. Basketball is basketball.”
Now, that stage belongs to Ranney – the most junior member of the Shore Conference and a program that had not won a postseason game until last year’s freshman-packed roster reached the quarterfinals of both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A Tournaments.
“I was at CBA for two years before I came here and we were that game,” Holden said. “To be the team that’s matched up against St. Anthony’s – and obviously you have the Patrick School there as well on Saturday – is special because it has been CBA for so long and to be able to take the torch from a program like CBA, at least in this one instance, is a special opportunity.”
With a group of sophomores that still has two whole years together following the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, Tuesday’s game represents a chance for the Shore Conference’s unofficial “Team of the Future” to become the team of right now.
*The included photo gallery was provided by B51 Photography and shot during Ranney's visit to the University of Florida during its team trip to Florida over the holiday break.*