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Elijah Perkins started his high-school basketball career playing in high-pressure games at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River, so when he returned to Ocean County as a member of the Camden boys basketball team for Thursday and Saturday games at the Metro Classic Session 2, he was right at home.

Then again, in his first official game at Camden High School after transferring from Ranney, he made himself at home with a nationally-televised putback dunk in his team's win over Roselle Catholic -- the No. 2 team in the state behind the Panthers.

A return to the Shore had a similar effect on Ryan Mabrey, who spent his first two high-school seasons at Christian Brothers Academy and at the Metro Classic played his first set of high-school games in New Jersey for the first time since transferring to La Lumiere in Indiana.

Perkins and Mabrey capped triumphant returns to the Jersey Shore with double-digit performances Saturday in Toms River, Perkins in a Camden win over St. Peter's Prep and Mabrey in a La Lumiere win over Gill St. Bernard.

"It was great," Mabrey said of the return to the Garden State. "Ever since I transferred, I always dreamed of getting a chance to come back here. I saw we had this Jersey team on the schedule and this showcase on the schedule and I was hyped up."

After a four-point game in No. 1 Camden's win over No. 3 Gill St. Bernard on Thursday night, Perkins came back with a season-high 16 points in Saturday's 70-46 win over No. 6 St. Peter's Prep.

More impressive than the point total were Perkins's 7-for-9 shooting performance from the field and his defense against Villanova commit Mark Armstrong, who finished with 20 points on 6-for-21 shooting.

"That's my boy," Perkins said of Armstrong. "We have been working out since middle school, playing against each other, learning each other's moves. He's a great player. He got his 20, so credit to him, he played a great game."

Perkins hit his first seven attempts of the game, four of which were dunks, one of which was a three-pointer and another was a two-pointer with his foot on the line.

Prior to Saturday, the best scoring performance Perkins had as a Panther was a 14-point outing in a win over Milton (Ga.) that ended a brief two-game skid -- Camden's only two losses of the season and both to out-of-state competition.

Perkins was a combo-guard for Ranney, scoring 15 points per game as a junior while also keeping teammates involved. This season has been an adjustment for the 6-foot-3 Tinton Falls native as he learns to play without the ball in his hands as often, but he has added to Camden's defensive prowess and been a dunk artist for the Panthers as well.

"I'm still adjusting to this day," Perkins said. "It's mostly a chemistry thing. I'm just trying to help us in any way I can."

Although the on-court learning process is on-going, Perkins has felt fully welcomed into the basketball-crazy culture of Camden, whose games are more of an event than just about anywhere in the state.

"It's a great atmosphere every game," Perkins said. "I love it. This is what basketball is about. That first home game against Roselle Catholic was crazy, with like a thousand people there. It's really like a family. Even the people I met in the crowd, it's like I have known them forever."

Mabrey's transition at La Lumiere has been a similar one. Although his freshman and sophomore seasons as a varsity player at CBA were impacted by injuries, he still had the ball in his hands as the Colts' point guard from the time he stepped into the starting lineup.

Now a 6-5 guard playing for a national program routinely ranked in the top 10 in the U.S., Mabrey has learned to fit in playing off the ball while still able to use his skills as a passer and playmaker to go along with his shooting.

"At CBA, the ball was in my hands a lot more," Mabrey said. "On a team like this, where we have all this talent, I've had to learn to play off the ball more, screen for others and when we have a guy going off like J.J. (Starling) did today, you just find ways to feed him."

In La Lumiere's Sunday win over Gill St. Bernard, Mabrey scored 10 points on a pair of three-pointers to back teammate J.J. Starling's 41-point outburst in a 77-60 Lakers win over the No. 3 team in N.J.

"Playing at a place like CBA, you might see a team like Gill or Camden maybe once on the schedule and that's it," Mabrey said. "Here, you are playing teams like that every game. Every other weekend, we're playing nationally-ranked teams."

La Lumiere had a 2-1 weekend at the Metro, starting with a memorable 93-91 double-overtime win over IMG Academy and a one-sided loss to Montverde.

Mabrey's move to Indiana was related to his older sister Dara's transfer from Virginia Tech to Notre Dame. Not only did that make her the third Mabrey sister to play at Notre Dame, but older sister Michaela is an assistant coach with the Irish. With two siblings in Indiana, the family decided to move closer to Notre Dame, with Ryan set up to continue his development with a national prep power.

Mabrey also got a nudge toward La Lumiere on the advice of Jaden Ivey, who is a former La Lumiere standout currently playing for Purdue and projected to be a high-lottery selection in this summer's NBA Draft.

"I got a chance to watch some of those high-level games and I really believed I could play in those," Mabrey said. "I got an opportunity to do that and I thought that was the best thing for me as a player and as a person. I heard about (La Lumiere) from a friend, Jaden Ivey, who pretty much told me all about the program and it sounded great."

Both Mabrey and Perkins are still unsigned college prospects with, Perkins holding 12 Division I offers, according to Rivals and Mabrey drawing some interest from a collection of mid-major and Atlantic 10 programs.

"It's a little slow right now, to be honest," Mabrey said. "All the teams are in-season and with the transfer portal and the extra COVID year, it's a little tougher to get a spot than it used to be. But I'm talking to a few schools: Atlantic-10, Missouri Valley, Big East, places like that."

Perkins would not mind making a trip back to Toms River for a late-round NJSIAA Tournament or Tournament of Champions game, while Mabrey's next trip to the Jersey Shore is most likely to his family's home in Belmar, where they still spend their summers.

"I was happy to be back and see so many familiar faces," Mabrey said. "I was blessed to get out here a day early to spend some more time. With college coming up next year, I don't know how many more summers and trips out here I'll get, so I'm trying to enjoy it."

"It feels good to be back close to home, playing in Toms River," Perkins said. "I've seen a lot of my friends in the crowd and I'm going to try to talk with them for a little bit. It just feels good being back home."



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