Boys Basketball – Metro Classic Preview: St. Rose Faces Ultimate Test; Manasquan and Adams Share Stage Again
Brothers Matt and Jayden Hodge came to the United States from Belgium because they weren’t afraid of a challenge and because their father, Odell, knew the right coach was there waiting for them.
Brian Lynch and Odell Hodge became fast friends playing professionally in Europe and when Lynch took the head-coaching position at St. Rose High School before the 2021-22 season, Odell and his sons made plans for them to head across the Atlantic Ocean and play a few blocks away from the shore of that same ocean at St. Rose in Belmar.
Now that Matt and Jayden have turned themselves into two of the best players in New Jersey and St. Rose has ascended to the No. 1 spot in the state rankings at 19-1 overall, Lynch is assigning his team – and his good friend’s two sons – their greatest challenge yet at the end of this week.
The Hodge brothers and their St. Rose teammates will put what could be a 21-game winning streak on the line Saturday night at Franklin High School, where the Purple Roses will stare down Montverde Academy – the Florida juggernaut that is routinely the top team in the country and currently boasts a 22-0 record to go with its No. 1 national ranking – in the Metro Classic.
“We did a great job over the last year building ourselves up here in Jersey,” Matt Hodge said. “This is a great opportunity to do the same thing in the country against a powerhouse like Montverde. To be able to play against seven or so D-1 kids, it’s going to be a great learning experience, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Montverde features three McDonald’s All-Americans, five seniors signed to play at Power Five programs, one other senior who will eventually sign with a Power 5 program and a group of juniors, sophomores and freshmen drawing Power Five interest.
Duke commit Cooper Flagg is the headliner for Montverde. Flagg reclassified from the Class of 2025 to 2024 and gave his verbal commitment to Duke shortly thereafter as the No. 1 player in the 2024 class, according to multiple publications. Indiana signee Liam McNeeley and uncommitted 6-foot-10 forward Derik Queen are the other two All-Americans, while senior guards Robert Wright (Baylor) and Curtis Givens (LSU) are both committed to major programs, as is 6-10 forward Asa Newell (Georgia).
Matt Hodge – who is signed to play at Villanova, where Lynch played his college career after starring at Christian Brothers Academy – has been up to just about every task put in front of him, but facing a team of players that can match his skill and size at multiple positions on the floor will present a unique challenge to St. Rose and Matt Hodge, in particular.
“For me, I just think it’s something to prove where I feel like I belong on the same stage as those guys,” Hodge said. “Only being here (in the U.S.) for a year-and-a-half now, not really being known that much, this is the perfect chance for me. Before the season, me and coach Lynch talked about wanting to get Montverde on the schedule just to prove we can be on that national stage.”
Leading up to this weekend’s challenge, Hodge has emerged as a legitimate candidate to win the state’s Player of the Year award and could even be considered the frontrunner after preseason favorite Dylan Harper – a Rutgers commit ranked near the top of the 2024 class nationally – missed time with a knee injury before returning to the floor for his Don Bosco team. Hodge has gone from a well-rounded forward a year ago who plays within the offense, to an even more well-rounded point forward who can also turn up his scoring a notch in a way that he did not do as often last season.
“Sometimes, I just need to remind him that nobody else on our team is going to do it as well as you are,” Lynch said of Matt Hodge and his scoring ability. “So just go do it, and he has been stepping up big-time. He is a fun guy to have on your team.”
The result has been a stat-line of 17.4 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game for a 19-1 team through Monday’s games. Matt Hodge has put up those numbers despite often playing fewer than three quarters in several one-sided wins for St. Rose.
Saturday will also be a high-level test for Jayden Hodge, whose college recruitment has picked up significantly over the past several months. The 6-5 sophomore just added a scholarship offer from Rutgers this week to go with offers from Villanova, Maryland, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Temple, St. Bonaventure and Old Dominion.
St. Rose also has a cast of supporting players eager to prove themselves against the nation’s best. Senior Gio Panzini is a 6-6 forward who is putting up 10 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while juniors Bryan Ebeling and Evan Romano will both have a chance to open some eyes while playing against the nation’s best.
A season ago, St. Rose suffered two of its four losses to Roselle Catholic – the team that ended the season No. 1 in New Jersey for the 2022-23 season. St. Rose managed to hang tough against the Lions in the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game and a year later, the Purple Roses are hoping to author a similar performance on Saturday vs. Montverde.
Before taking on Montverde, St. Rose will try to continue its tear through New Jersey when it plays reigning NJSIAA Non-Public A champion Union Catholic on Thursday night.
“Right before the Shore Conference Tournament, we’re playing the number one team in the country and we’re probably going to go all-out and give everything we’ve got,” Lynch said. “Who knows how tired and beat-down we’re going to be after two games like that? But at the end of the day, this is what our guys want and we’re not going to pass up this opportunity.”
Jersey Homecoming for Former Manasquan Star
Darius Adams, La Lumiere Academy Photo by Tom Smith, TP Images
Darius Adams was the Shore Sports Network Player of the Year in 2023 after leading Manasquan to its first ever NJSIAA Group II championship, as well as a third Shore Conference championship in four years.
After doing all that in his first two years of high school basketball, Adams was ready for a bigger challenge and took his game to the Hoosier State.
Adams transferred to La Lumiere in Indiana in order to play for a national power that competes in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. The 6-3 guard left Manasquan with a collection of Division I scholarship offers and has expanded that collection with offers from brand-name programs like Kansas, Indiana, Alabama, Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Florida State.
Since transferring, Adams has made it back to New Jersey to visit family over the holiday break and to check in on his former team, but the Metro Classic will mark his first game in New Jersey with his new team.
La Lumiere will play on Thursday and Friday, starting with a marquee matchup on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Montverde. The following night will be as close as Adams has come to playing on the same floor at the same time as his former school: La Lumiere will play Brewster Academy (N.H.) at 7 p.m., followed by Manasquan vs. Roselle Catholic.
Without Adams, Manasquan has remained more than competitive while playing its usual challenging schedule. The Warriors are in the midst of an eight-game stretch leading into the Shore Conference Tournament that includes St. Rose, Camden Catholic, East Orange, Ranney, Roselle Catholic and Montclair Immaculate.
Roselle Catholic will be Manasquan’s opponent at the Metro Classic and both teams have been playing with a chip on their respective shoulders after losing key figures in the program. Roselle Catholic lost longtime coach Dave Boff, who left the team he led to four NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles to take over the first-year varsity program at College Achieve Charter School in Asbury Park.
Manasquan not only lost Adams to the transfer, but also lost senior leader, point guard and All-Shore standout Ryan Frauenheim to a torn ACL over the summer. Despite that, the Warriors are 15-3 and have beaten the likes of College Achieve, Christian Brothers Academy, Red Bank, Holmdel, Red Bank Catholic and East Orange.
While Manasquan-Roselle Catholic is not an annual rivalry, the matchup has produced some memorable games in recent years. Last year, Manasquan led the No. 1 team in New Jersey by seven at halftime before Roselle Catholic took over with a 13-0 third quarter en route to a 68-59 win at Manasquan.
In 2019-20, Manasquan – despite missing standout forward Alex Galvan – took Roselle Catholic to the wire in a 45-43 loss at Brookdale. The two teams did not play during the COVID-shortened 2021 regular season, but met again in 2021-22, when Manasquan started two freshmen and two sophomores. The Warriors stayed within single-digits into the third quarter, but the Lions pulled away for a 67-44 win.
Junior Griffin Linstra and senior Alex Konov were first-year starters in 2021-22 and are looking to get Manasquan its first win over Roselle Catholic. Linstra is having one of the best seasons of any player in the Shore Conference, averaging 18.8 points and 11.1 rebounds to go with top-notch defense. Konov missed five games with a foot injury and has started to find his scoring touch with 49 points over a stretch of three consecutive games.
With Konov out, Manasquan saw the emergence of senior Jason Larned and freshman Rey Weinseimer, while seniors Luke Roy and Ryan Mulvaney have also picked up the slack for an injury-riddled roster that just keeps winning.
Roselle Catholic enters Tuesday just 7-9, but has played its typical loaded schedule. Since starting 0-6, the Lions are 7-3, with their only losses coming to Hudson Catholic, Bergen Catholic and Camden.
A trio of sophomores has emerged as the top threats on the Roselle Catholic roster: six-foot point guard Jalen Grant (13.1 points, 3.6 assists, 2.9 steals), 6-6 wing Ethan Mgbako (16 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.3 steals) and 6-8 forward Eric Hillsman (12 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.4 blocks). The sophomores lead a young Roselle Catholic roster with just one senior (Jaden Kelly) getting regular minutes.
Proving Ground for Three More Shore Teams
Toms River North, Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic will all get a chance to take the showcase stage on Saturday afternoon, including a showdown between Toms River North and Rumson that carries major Shore Conference Tournament seeding implications.
With losses against Toms River South and Matawan, Toms River North will be looking to bolster a résumé that also includes a win over Manasquan. With a win over a Rumson team that has only lost to CBA, Red Bank Catholic, Rutgers Prep and St. Peter Prep, Toms River North could be back in play for a top six seed. The Mariners also have a chance to climb up to the No. 4 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV section, which could mean a potential home game in the sectional quarterfinals.
Rumson, meanwhile, looks primed to land in the 5-to-7 range of the SCT seeding, but a win over Toms River North could be crucial in landing the No. 2 seed in the NJSIAA Central Group II Tournament. Manasquan has separated itself in the race for No. 1 in that section, but the Bulldogs and Holmdel are in a battle for No. 2.
Red Bank Catholic will try its hand against St. Peter’s Prep and that is a hot hand coming out of the weekend. Senior Colin Cavanaugh is coming off 35 points and a school-record 11 three-pointers in a win over Ranney on Saturday to cap a three-game winning streak to end the week. The Caseys are positioned to be the No. 4 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament as things stand right now, but they are currently winning a close race for the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A section.
A win over St. Peter’s Prep would be ground-shifting for the Caseys, who could make a case to be ranked in the state with a win and would land a major blow to the rest of the field trying to catch them for the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey section. The Marauders are 17-1 heading into Tuesday’s slate and are led by senior Nico Pena and his 14.4 points per game, followed by four players who all average between nine and 10 points per game apiece.