Boys Basketball – Major Changes Alter Shore Conference, N.J. Landscape for 2024
Since the onset of the COVID pandemic abruptly ended the 2019-20 season in early March, Shore Conference basketball -- and high school basketball in New Jersey, as a whole -- has undergone a series a transformations from year-to-year. The result is landscape that looks much different from one year to the next and compared to what basketball at the Shore looked like five years ago, it is hard to even recognize.
With the 2023-24 season set to tip off on Thursday, here are some of the most noteworthy changes that have ramifications within the Shore Conference and throughout the rest of the state for this season and beyond.
While the NJSIAA's new transfer rule is not unique to basketball, the impact of the rule is unique to basketball because the origin of the rule is rooted in the last decade of high-school basketball. The proliferation of the AAU Basketball has prompted players to change high-school programs in order to play with their friends and travel teammates and as a response, the NJSIAA has made it easier to change schools one time, but more difficult to do it a second time.
In year's past, all transfers that occurred prior to the start of practice came with a requirement to sit out of the first 30 days of the new season with the new team, unless the transfer came with a legitimate change of address that met NJSIAA standards. Now, any student transferring schools will not have to sit for any period of time provided he or she has not transferred programs before and has transferred prior to the start of practice.
The exception to the rule are students who have already transferred and seniors. Students that have already transferred who are seeking to transfer again will be required to sit for the first 30 days of the season (or half of the new team's games; whichever length is less) and no waivers will be granted by the NJSIAA. Students transferring for their senior year will also be subject to an ineligibility period, which would cover the first 22 days of the new season (or a third of the new team's games; whichever is less).
In-season transfers are required to set 30 days and any player who transfers during the season is ineligible for the NJSIAA Tournament.
The NJSIAA's new transfer rule makes it much easier for players to change programs, but any player looking to change programs for a second time will not be able to avoid sitting out for 30 days. The result has been a significant amount of turnover this season and the same is likely to be true in subsequent seasons. Ocean, Jackson Liberty, Rumson-Fair Haven and Manasquan all lost their leader scorers from a year ago to transfers, including Ocean's top two scorers -- juniors Zayier Dean and Ron Richardson.
Christian Brothers Academy, Keyport and St. John Vianney each lost key pieces to transfers as well, although both CBA and St. John Vianney brought in new players via transfer to offset the losses. With penalties for one-time transfers by non-senior players eliminated, expect plenty of roster turnover from year-to-year. It is not likely to be as hectic as the NCAA's transfer portal, but it will likely be a lighter version of it.
The most prominent cosmetic change in the state this season is that home teams will now wear their dark or color uniforms, while road teams will wear white. This will be a state-wide change, not just limited to the Shore Conference.
Major Changes to Bonus Free-Throw Shooting
Off-the-court policy changes are common from year-to-year and every so often, there is a slight change to a rule or an emphasis on enforcing existing rules for a new season. The change that the National Federation of High Schools has made to bonuses for excessive fouls, however, will make for a noticeable difference.
Up until this season, teams were allowed teams fouls in each half and when a team committed a seventh, eighth or ninth team foul, the opposing team would be awarded a one-and-one opportunity from the free-throw line. One a team committed its 10th foul of a given half, the opposing team would be awarded two shots from the free throw line for each foul committed against it for the remainder of the half. This is how bonus free throws are awarded in NCAA basketball.
Under the new rule, each team is permitted four fouls per quarter and when a team commits a fifth team foul, the opponent will be awarded two free throws for the remainder of the quarter.
In short, the NFHS has switched from the NCAA model to the NBA model when it comes to awarding free throws once a team is in the bonus. The major changes are that the bonus resets after each quarter and there are no longer one-and-one foul shots. Every bonus opportunity from the free-throw line will be two shots.
Shore Conference Crossover Schedule
Outside of new names for several of the Shore Conference divisions, the teams within the divisions remain identical to last year, when the Shore Conference expanded from six divisions to eight. The Class A North, B North, A South and B South divisions remain unchanged, while Class B Central has been re-labeled Class A Central, Class A Central is now Class A Coastal, Class C North is now Class B Coastal, and Class C South is now Class B Central.
Beyond the name changes for the divisions, there is a critical change in scheduling that will affect how division champions are determined. For the first time, teams will play only one official divisional game against each other team in the division, instead of the home-and-home series of years past. To replace the four or five lost division games, each division was paired with another to play crossover games. Here are those pairings.
2023-24 Shore Conference Boys Basketball Crossover Pairings
|Class A North
|Class B North
|Red Bank Catholic
|Class A South
|Class B South
|Toms River East
|Toms River North
|Toms River South
|Class A Coastal
|Class B Coastal
|St. John Vianney
|Class A Central
|Class B Central
On top of a serving as a schedule build-in, the crossover games will be counted when determining division champions. A teams division record will include both results against other teams within the division, as well as the results of the crossover games.
The new schedule will create more unique matchups during the regular season and will give the Shore Conference Tournament committee more examples of teams facing one another, as well as common opponents. Without home-and-homes, however, that could also make it even harder to differentiate between teams that have mixed results, which figures to be most of them.
The College Achieve Charter Challenge
Dave Boff stunned the state when he resigned from his head coaching position at national power Roselle Catholic following the 2022-23 season to take over a start-up program at little-known College Achieve Charter School in Asbury Park. It is the kind of hire that is likely the change the landscape of basketball in New Jersey as charter schools become increasingly aggressive in their athletic pursuits.
College Achieve is not a member of the Shore Conference, although its principal, former longtime St. Rose boys soccer coach Tim McInerney, said the school's intention is to form the required10 varsity athletic programs in order to apply for Shore Conference membership in the future.
For now, though, College Achieve has already impacted the Shore Conference as an entity unto itself. A scour of the roster turns up several names that started at other Shore Conference schools. The aforementioned Ron Richardson played his first two seasons at Ocean and will be among Boff's noteworthy additions for the upcoming season. Andre Petry played his first two seasons as a varsity player at Neptune and freshman Anthony Mauro is the talented younger brother of St. Rose standout guard Peter Mauro.
The biggest fish that Boff reeled in is 6-foot-8 junior Nas Hart. A four-star recruit who holds offers from Seton Hall and Northern Illinois, Hart started as a freshman on Keyport's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I runner-up team and played for the Red Raiders again last year while fighting through a hip injury that cost him more than half his sophomore campaign.
Boff led Roselle Catholic to four NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles -- all in a 10-year stretch between 2013 and 2022 -- so he has a history of establishing a dominant program. With that kind of clout right in the middle of Shore Conference territory, how will the rest of the local schools maintain -- especially with St. Rose also emerging as a power player over the past two seasons under coach Brian Lynch?
College Achieve is NJSIAA Tournament eligible and will compete in the Central Group I section. Last season, another charter school -- Eagle Academy of Newark -- won that section by defeating Shore Regional in the sectional final. With small enrollments and the capacity to draw students from multiple municipalities, has the charter takeover of Group I begun?