Bishop Ahr Gets Pre-Season Nod in Division That Will Be Wide Open
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ—As predicted a year ago, Spotswood took advantage of a GMC Blue Division that was in transition. The Chargers then lost their two 1,100 point scorers in Eric Dadika (Rhode Island) and Marlon Hart (College of St. Elizabeth). Meanwhile, Bishop Ahr had a busy off-season with a new head coach, and several players transferring in from other schools.
BGA then began to gel as a squad during the fall at Immaculata, and appear to be the pre-season favorite to win a wide open division that has a lot of talent returning and additions in South Plainfield and South River that will make things even more competitive. Last year’s second place team, J.F. Kennedy moves up to the GMC White, which makes things more competitive and wide open. Here is a look at the division in 2016-17:
2016-17 GMC Blue Division—Predicted Order of Finish
Last year’s record in parenthesis
- Bishop Ahr (11-10)
- South Plainfield (9-17)
- Spotswood (22-6)
- Carteret (8-14)
- South River (18-11)
- Middlesex (9-17)
- Metuchen (6-18)
Some thoughts: This Division appears wide open at the onset. Bishop Ahr only went 11-10 a season ago, but have a new coach in former standout, D.J. Griffin at the school with a new philosophy, and several players returning this year including top scorers Sean Kudelka and Alex Santiago. In addition, the Trojans have new faces in Matt Panganiban and Simon Llaguno from St. Joseph’s and Devonte Crawford from Highland Park that will make an impact right away. This should be enough to make the BGA the early favorite.
After battling against a tough White Division schedule over the past two seasons, South Plainfield makes a return trip to the GMC Blue, where it was several years ago. Gone from the Tigers is the top scorer and three point shooter in the GMC a year ago in Lamont Williams, who is now playing at the County College of Morris, and football and hoops standout, Jason Lee. However, SPHS has the athletic Deshai Smith and sharpshooter Will McLaughlin returning along with talented youngster, Dondre Tate.
Spotswood took the biggest hit of all the teams in the GMC Blue. With the graduation of two 1,100 plus point scorers in Eric Dadika and Marlon Hart, the Chargers lost a good chunk of their offense from a year ago, but they still have the athletic J.T. Vento along with sharpshooters Andrew Fuzesi and Vinnie Guardiola, and playmaker Abdul Nieskens. In addition, Spotswood has some talent coming up from a JV team that was 12-10 a year ago including Matt Vento.
Carteret is looking to improve after finishing below .500 a year ago at 8-14. The Ramblers return a great deal of what they had a year ago. The only significant loss from last year’s roster was Victor Spencer, who graduated in June. Jemar Jordan is the key cog in the offense with his length and athleticism. Kahir Raymond, Jalen Harris, James Hart and Nasseir Moore return to provide scoring punch from the backcourt. The Ramblers are always tough on defense, and will try to grind out wins.
South River moves up to the Blue after being in the GMC Gold for the past six years. The Rams had been a staple in the Blue Division from the inception of the conference in 1985-86 until the 2009-10 season. The Rams are ready to make the jump though with a very deep and talented sophomore class led by Derrick Whitaker, Mike DeSantis, and Zac Rafano. They also have talent coming up from the freshmen level in Javon Taylor. Their style of offense, coined 94 feet of heat by head coach Rodney Harris, puts a lot of pressure on opponents, and that may be enough to make the Rams competitive.
Like the Rams of South River, Middlesex and Metuchen are small Group 1 schools that have a lot of promising talent returning. The Blue Jays lost the likes of Ryan Coke, Mike Lavenia, and Darrien Noel from a year ago, but still have a solid core returning in Tyler Ha, Chris Hendricks, Jake Robel, Chris Spencer, and Nick Montajes returning along with the addition of John Dickey, a transfer from Rutgers Prep. Middlesex turned in a solid off-season program that included play at the Bound Brook Summer League, Immaculata Fall League, Montgomery Team Camp, and DeSales University Team Camp.
Metuchen also has a lot of talent returning led by Danny Flaherty, Thomas Christine, Riley Watkins, Ethan Lebovits, and Danny Russell, and will be bolstered by a front like consisting of David Weiss, Danny Petto, and Sohan Ullal. In addition, Devin Miller, the younger brother of the third all time leading scorer, and football standout DeJuan Miller as well as Rutgers offensive lineman, Dorian Miller, has come out for the team, and brings athleticism and size as well. The Bulldogs competed also in the Bound Brook Summer League and the Monroe Sports Center Fall League this past off-season.
Let’s take a closer look at all seven of these teams:
2016-17 GMC Blue Division—A Detailed Look
Here is a more detailed look at each team in the Greater Middlesex Conference’s Blue Division for the upcoming 2016-17 season:
Bishop Ahr Trojans
Team: Bishop Ahr
Coach: D.J. Griffin
Career Coaching Record: First head coaching job.
Coaching Record At School: First season at school
Last Year’s Overall Record: 11-10
Last Year’s Division Record: 6-4, 3rd in GMC Blue Division
Last Year’s Conference Record: 8-6
Last Year’s Accomplishments: Reached the Round of 16 in the 2016 GMCT. Qualified for the Non-Public A South State Tournament.
Last Year’s JV Team: Didn’t play in the 2016 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament.
Last Year’s Freshman Team: Finished 12-10. Competed in the 2016 Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tournament (Lost to J.F. Kennedy, 43-39 in the Round of 16).
Off-Season Leagues/Team Camps: East Brunswick Team Camp, Odie Page Summer League, and the Immaculata Fall League.
Returning Starters: Sean Kudelka (6’3” Sr. F/C), Alex Santiago (5’9” Jr. G), and Kieran Hodder (6’2” Jr. F).
Returning Reserves: Ryan O’Leary (5’9″ Jr. G), Jordan Wells (6’0″ Jr. G), Jack Roarty (6’1” Jr. F), and Matt Mellos (6’1″ Jr. F).
Key Losses From Last Season: Corey Ciszek (5’5” G), Donald Fackina (6’1” F), Robert Golden (5’8” G), and Dane Lupton (6’0” G).
Key Newcomers: Matt Panganiban (5’9″ Sr. G transferred from St. Joseph’s), Simon Llaguno (6’0″ Sr. G transferred from St. Joseph’s), Devonte Crawford (6’6″ Jr. F transferred from Highland Park), Charles Hinton (6’8″ Sr. F), Alex Guketlov (5’9” Sr. G), Jordan Wells (5’11” Jr. G), Gregory Cruz (5’9” Jr. G), Kobe Walker (6’0” So. G), Tyler James (6’1” Jr. G), and Sean LeGall-Fleming.
Outlook: After finishing the season below .500 two seasons ago for the first time since 2002, Bishop Ahr climbed back above .500 with an 11-10 mark overall a year ago including a 6-4 mark in divisional play.
The Trojans seemed to have a very good chance for getting a share of first place late in the season after defeating J.F. Kennedy head to head on February 6th and then defeating Spotswood two nights later. However, Ahr then lost on the road at Middlesex two days before the seeding meeting, which caused it to finish third in division.
During the off-season, things began to change when long time head coach, Dennis O’Keefe, stepped down after coaching at the school for 24 seasons. Former standout, Darius Griffin, took the helm of the program, and immediately pumped some life in the program by having BGA compete in the East Brunswick Team Camp and the Odie Page Summer League during the summer.
Then, during the fall, the Trojans competed at the Immaculata Fall League, where they began to get as a squad. New additions Matt Panganiban, Simon Llaguno, and Devonte Crawford began to come into their own, and the team competed very well with a 4-4 record that included wins over East Brunswick and Mendham along with competitive losses to Immaculata (48-43) and Bridgewater-Raritan (64-56).
The turning point may have been against Ridge on opening day of the Immaculata Fall League. At one point in the first half, the Trojans trailed 23-2 before turning things around with a 34-15 surge to pull within two at 38-36 with five minutes to go in the game. Ridge closed out the game with the final six points, but the Trojans found out a little bit about themselves that day, and played with much more confidence for the rest of the fall.
The BGA will be looking to play more up-tempo this season, and with the likes of Alex Santiago and Panganiban in the backcourt, that is music to their ears. Sean Kudelka could be one of the best all around players in the GMC. He brings a combination of finesse, power, inside and outside game as well as some size. Kieran Hodder has broadened his game with some perimeter scoring. Crawford can take over games inside and he along with Hinton, Hodder, and Kudelka give Ahr lots of length.
The Trojans have a very tough schedule right off the bat in 2016-17. On opening night, the BGA hosts the high octane offense of Derrick Whitaker and the South River Rams. Then, Ahr competes against pre-season number one, Sayreville in the Friends of South Amboy Benefit Showcase on Saturday, December 17th. The week leading up to Christmas break includes match-ups against Spotswood and Carteret before competing in the Hillsborough Holiday Hoops Tournament over the holidays.
South Plainfield Tigers
Team: South Plainfield
Coach: Matt Connell
Career Coaching Record: 24-50
Coaching Record At School: 24-50
Last Year’s Overall Record: 9-17
Last Year’s Division Record: 3-11, 7th in GMC White Division
Last Year’s Conference Record: 6-12
Last Year’s Accomplishments: Reached the Round of 16 of the 2016 GMCT as the 25th seed with victories over Timothy Christian (67-55) in the Play-In Round and Perth Amboy Tech (55-52) in the Preliminary Round. Lost to Spotswood (68-64) in the GMCT Round of 16.
Last Year’s JV Team: Seeded 20th in the 2016 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament. Lost to J.F. Kennedy in the Preliminary Round.
Last Year’s Freshman Team: Didn’t play in the 2015 Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tournament.
Off-Season Leagues/Team Camps: Rahway Summer League
Returning Starters: Will McLaughlin (5’10” Jr. G) and and DeShai Smith (6’3” Jr. F).
Returning Reserves: Jalil Palms (5’10” Jr. G), Dondre Tate (5’9″ So. G), Jared Marks (5’10” Sr. G), and Dylan O’Connor (6’3” Sr. F).
Key Losses From Last Season: Lamont Williams (6’1” G now playing college hoops at the County College of Morris) and Jason Lee (6’1” F now playing football at William Paterson).
Key Newcomers: Jean Sapini (5’11” Sr. F), Gio Dudley (6’0” Jr. G), Ian McCoid (6’2” So. G/F), Julian Lee (5’9” Jr. G), and Joe Siegenthaler (6’4” So. F).
Outlook: The Tigers return to the GMC Blue after a two year stint in the rough and tumble world of the White Division. Over those two years, South Plainfield manufactured a record of only 18-32 overall including a 7-21 mark in divisional play. The signature win during that span was an upset victory at Sayreville in January 2015.
Gone from this year’s starting lineup are the duo of Lamont Williams and Jason Lee. Williams, who scored 55 points against Koinonia Academy on the next to last day of South Plainfield’s season to become the school’s newest member of the 1,000 point scoring club, is now playing basketball at the County College of Morris.
Meanwhile, Lee, who was also a standout player in football, is now playing on the gridiron at William Paterson University. Last year, the Tigers were a senior laden team with baseball standouts Jake Alba and Nick Polizzano also graduating along with the likes of big man, Isaiah Norman, Nate Mensah, and last year’s QB of the football team, Patrick Waldrop, who helped contribute to the team’s GMCT run with a solid game against Timothy Christian in the Play-In Round.
Nevertheless, the Tigers are looking to contend in the GMC Blue. First and foremost, they have the likes of sharpshooter, Will McLaughlin and athletic forward, Deshai Smith returning. Smith is coming off a solid season on the football field, where he was a key contributor to the Tigers state playoff run that culminated in an appearance in the Central Jersey Group 3 Championship before losing to Rumson-Fair Haven (27-22).
South Plainfield also has the likes of Jalil Palms, Dylan O’Connor, and Dondre Tate returning. Tate also was a contributor to the Tigers football team this past season including an 85 yard kickoff return to open the second half against Ewing in the Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals. Over the summer, the Tigers competed in the Rahway Summer League, where they finished 4-6 overall, and missed out on qualifying for the four team playoff.
During the season at Rahway, the Tigers battled Perth Amboy down to the wire in an exciting 54-53 loss. In the pre-season, the Tigers scrimmage Gold Division teams, Dunellen and Highland Park. In the exhibition against Dunellen, the Tigers got off to a 29-4 lead, and were able to come out on top. Against Highland Park, South Plainfield had a little more of a battle from an Owls squad that is looking to battle back to respectability.
The Tigers will open the season on the road at Middlesex on opening night before hosting Carteret on December 19th. Then, South Plainfield will finish its first week of the season with a contest at South River on December 22nd before taking on Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the opening round of the Anthony J. Cotoia Holiday Tournament at SPHS on December 27th.
Coach: Steve Mate
Career Coaching Record: 335-252
Coaching Record At School: 295-220
Last Year’s Overall Record: 22-6
Last Year’s Division Record: 8-2, 1st in GMC Blue Division
Last Year’s Conference Record: 15-4
Last Year’s Accomplishments: Reached the GMCT Quarterfinals. Reached Quarterfinals of Central Jersey Group 2 State Tournament.
Last Year’s JV Team: Finished 12-10 overall. Seeded 16th in the 2016 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament. Defeated Sayreville in the Preliminary Round and lost to top seeded North Brunswick in the Round of 16 (64-46).
Last Year’s Freshman Team: No Freshmen Team.
Off-Season Leagues/Team Camps: Montgomery Team Camp, Monroe Sports Center Summer League, Monroe Sports Center Fall League.
Returning Starters: J.T. Vento (6’2” Jr. F), Andrew Fuzesi (5’9” Jr. G), Vinnie Guardiola (5’9” So. G), and Abdullah Nieskens (5’9” So. G).
Returning Reserves: Justin Dekovics (5’9” So. G), Derek Buhl (5’6” So. G), and Nate Carone (6’1” So. F).
Key Losses From Last Season: Eric Dadika (5’11” Sr. G), Marlon Hart (5’11” Sr. G), and Shawn O’Connor (6’0” Sr. G).
Key Newcomers: Matt Vento (5’11” So. G), Dominic Tesoriero (Jr. G), Solomon Tyson (Jr. G), and Matteo Tavella (Sr. G).
Outlook: Don’t be fooled by this year’s Spotswood Chargers. True, the Chargers lost two 1,100 point scorers in Eric Dadika and Marlon Hart, but they have plenty of firepower returning led by the athletic J.T. Vento, who can attack the rack almost as good as anyone in the division, and can score in other ways as well.
Andrew Fuzesi is the next big offensive weapon for Spotswood with a solid perimeter game that makes him one of the top three point shooters in the division and conference coming into the season. Vinnie Guardiola will also provide some scoring punch from long distance along with Abdul Nieskens.
Coming up from the JV level a year ago is Matt Vento, who played a key role in the Junior Chargers 12-10 season that included a win over Sayreville in the Preliminary Round of the East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament, and gave a battle to top seeded North Brunswick on the road before falling in the final period.
Justin Dekovics, Derek Buhl, and Nate Carone are reserves returning from a season ago. Dekovics, who also starred on the JV team last year along with Nieskens and Matt Vento, had some moments of brilliance during the season last year including a three against Monroe. Dekovics will be providing additional scoring punch from the perimeter while Buhl will provide defense and intangibles.
Over the summer, the Chargers competed in the Montgomery Team Camp, Monroe Sports Center Summer League and Monroe Sports Center Fall League. The Chargers also had a squad in the Colonia JV Summer League. At Colonia, Spotswood’s JV team that included the likes of Matt Fuzesi, finished tied for 5th place with J.F. Kennedy with a 2-6 record, but gave third seeded Colonia all it could handle before losing 51-46.
Spotswood will open the season with some tough match-ups. First, the Chargers travel to Carteret for the season opener on December 16th. Then, they will play another road game at neighborhood rival, South River on December 19th before hosting Bishop Ahr in a renewal of that intense rivalry on December 21st. The Chargers, which will play in the Bound Brook Crusader Classic over the holidays again this year, will also travel to Metuchen on December 23rd.
Coach: Herman White
Career Coaching Record: 109-71
Coaching Record At School: 109-71
Last Year’s Overall Record: 8-14
Last Year’s Division Record: 5-5, 4th in GMC Blue Division
Last Year’s Conference Record: 8-9
Last Year’s Accomplishments: Defeated North Brunswick of the GMC Red at the time in February. Won 5 of its last 10 games of the season.
Last Year’s JV Team: Didn’t participate in the 2016 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament.
Last Year’s Freshman Team: No Freshmen Team.
Off-Season Leagues/Team Camps: Rahway Summer League.
Returning Starters: Jemar Jordan (6’3” Sr. SF), Jalen Harris (5’9” Sr. G), and Kahir Raymond (5’9” Sr. PG)
Returning Reserves: Nasseir Moore (6’1” Jr. G), Angelo Golino (6’0” Sr. F), and Isiah Danelis-Porter (6’3” Jr. F).
Key Losses From Last Season: Victor Spencer (6’2” Sr. SF), Humberto Jimenez (6’2” Sr. F), and Naafi Powell (5’9” Jr. G).
Key Newcomers: Judah Pascal (6’4” Sr. C), Zemar Brake (6’3” So. F), Timothy Ellis (5’11” So. G), Donte Prioleau (5’10” Fr. G), Dwayne Sharpe (5’11” Jr. F), James Hart (5’11” Sr. G—out for the first month of the season).
Outlook: The Carteret Ramblers will be looking to return to form this season after going below .500 a year ago in a transition season. The team has a veteran squad back led by big man, Jemar Jordan along with a backcourt consisting of Kahir Raymond, Jalen Harris, and Nasseir Moore.
Carteret also has a good deal back in the backcourt with the likes of Kahir Raymond and Jalen Harris back along with Naafi Powell and Nasseir Moore. The Ramblers will have some toughness with Angelo Golino, the QB of the football team during the fall, coming off the bench.
The Ramblers will have a good deal of length along with its characteristic hard nosed defense that has defined Carteret basketball for several decades. The key will be how well the team does on offense, particularly in the half court as well as how the team takes care of the basketball and minimizes mistakes.
Over the summer, GMC Hoops had an opportunity to see Carteret a couple times at the 2016 Rahway Summer League including a win over J.F. Kennedy and a loss to eventual regular season and overall champion, J.P. Stevens on the final day of the regular season. At Rahway, the Ramblers started the summer at 5-0, but ended up losing 4 of their last 5 to knock themselves out of a playoff spot at 6-4.
The Ramblers will play seven games before the New Year. Carteret will open the season against Spotswood at home on December 16th, and will play the top three teams in the division over the first week of the regular season with games at South Plainfield on December 19th, and against Bishop Ahr at home on December 23rd. Sandwiched between those two games is a contest versus Middlesex at home on December 21st.
For the third straight year, the Ramblers will be competing in the Matawan Huskies Holiday Classic over the holidays. After playing Manalapan in the opening round in each of the past two years at Matawan, Carteret will face the host school Matawan in the nightcap of the first day on December 27th. Then, in mid-January, the Ramblers will participate in the 2017 Eric LeGrand Classic at Kean University on January 15th with a match-up against Hillside.
South River Rams
Team: South River
Coach: Rodney Harris
Career Coaching Record: 100-92
Coaching Record At School: 100-92
Last Year’s Overall Record: 18-11
Last Year’s Division Record: 11-5, Tied for 3rd in GMC Gold Division
Last Year’s Conference Record: 12-8
Last Year’s Accomplishments: Won the Keansburg Holiday Tournament; Reached the Semifinals of the Central Jersey Group 1 State Playoffs.
Last Year’s JV Team: Finished 11-5 overall; Competed in the 2016 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament. Was seeded 19th and lost to 14th seeded Colonia in the Preliminary Round.
Last Year’s Freshman Team: No Freshmen Team.
Off-Season Leagues/Team Camps: Raritan Bay Summer League, Monroe Sports Center Summer League, and Monroe Sports Center Fall League.
Returning Starters: Derrick Whitaker (6’1″ So. G), Zachary Rafano (5’9″ So. G), Matthew Pietryzk (6’4″ Sr. G/F), Michael DeSantis (5’10” So. G).
Returning Reserves: , R.J. Fischer (5’10” So. G), Silvio Cruz (6’5″ So. G), and Jaryn Bullock (5’11” Sr. G/F).
Key Losses From Last Season: Mario Nigro (5’10”, G), Angel Pesante (Sr. G), and Billy George (6’0” G/F).
Key Newcomers: Ishamel Abass-Shreff, Javon Taylor, (5’10” Fr. G) Davine Mayes (5’11” So. G), Nick Morris (6’0” Sr. C), and D’Juan Ross Jackson (6’1” Jr. F).
Outlook: The Rams surprised many including this basketball observer with a fantastic season a year ago. Picked to finish next to last by GMC Hoops in the pre-season, South River ended up in the final GMC Hoops Top Ten poll with an 18-11 overall record including an 11-5 mark in division.
South River, which is Group 1 in football, but Group 2 in basketball, moved up to the GMC Blue, where it has not been since the 2009-10 season. Other than the 2004-05 season where they started out 8-0, and lost to Metuchen in the CJ Group 1 Semifinals, the Rams didn’t enjoy a lot of success in the Blue until Rodney Harris became coach.
The Rams are equipped to handle the jump. Despite being very young, South River is loaded, especially at the sophomore level with the likes of GMC Hoops Freshmen of the Year in 2015-16, Derrick Whitaker followed by Mike DeSantis, who was QB during football season, and Zac Rafano making up the starting five. Whitaker and DeSantis are great athletes while Rafano is a solid playmaker.
Overcoming some late season turmoil, the South River Rams put together a great state tourney run by defeating Academy Charter in the opening round, and then outlasting a game Henry Hudson, a team it beat to win the Keansburg Tournament, in the quarterfinals. However, the Rams ran into a buzz saw that was Florence in the semifinals.
In the off-season, South River competed in the Raritan Bay Summer League, Monroe Sports Center Summer League, and the Monroe Sports Center Fall League. The Rams played their JV at Raritan Bay, but it gave GMC Hoops the opportunity to see the likes of Ishamel Abass-Shreff and Javon Taylor as well as Silvio Cruz. All three didn’t shy away from making big shots, and showed that they can fit right in to the Fun and Run style of offense deployed by Coach Harris.
At the Monroe Sports Center Summer League, the Rams did quite well despite a loss to neighborhood rival Spotswood toward the end of the season. South River managed to qualify for the playoffs with a 5-3 record to earn the third seed. The Rams would lose to Monroe (65-48) in the first round, and then have a second half rally fall short in the consolation game to West Windsor-Plainsboro North (68-63). In the fall at MSC, South River finished 3-5 including a heartbreaking loss to FINCC (61-60) on the last day of the season.
The Rams will open up the season in a big way with a trip to North Edison to face pre-season division favorite, Bishop Ahr, and then return less than 24 hours later to face Timothy Christian in a crossover at TCS. South River will then have to face arch rival Spotswood at home on December 19th before traveling to Metuchen on December 21st, and hosting South Plainfield at home on December 22nd. The Rams will again compete in the Shore-Middlesex Tournament at Henry Hudson with South Amboy, Keansburg, and Henry Hudson.
Middlesex Blue Jays
Coach: Jared Goldstein
Career Coaching Record: 13-36
Coaching Record At School: 13-136
Last Year’s Overall Record: 9-17
Last Year’s Division Record: 3-7, 5th in GMC Blue Division
Last Year’s Conference Record: 7-10
Last Year’s Accomplishments: Won Shello-Santy Holiday Tournament. Upset Bishop Ahr, and Qualified for the Central Jersey Group 1 State Tournament
Last Year’s JV Team: Finished 13-4 overall; Seeded 12th in the 2016 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament. Defeated Highland Park in the Preliminary Round before losing to Monroe in the Round of 16.
Last Year’s Freshman Team: 0-17 overall; DIdn’t participate in the 2016 Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tournament.
Off-Season Leagues/Team Camps: Montgomery Team Camp, Bound Brook Summer League, Immaculata Fall League, and DeSales University Team Camp.
Returning Starters: Tyler Ha (5’9” Jr. G), Jake Robel (6’5” Jr. F/C), Chris Hendricks (5’10” Sr. G), Chris Spencer (5’10” Sr. G), and Nick Montajes (5’11”, Sr. F).
Returning Reserves: Pat Rudwaski (5’10” Sr. G)
Key Losses From Last Season: Ryan Coke (6’0” G), Mike Lavenia (5’10” F), and Darian Noel (6’1”, G/F).
Key Newcomers: John Dickey (5’10” So. G), Kareem Aref (6’3″ Jr. F), Anthony Mason (5’10” Jr. G/F), Brad Kaplan (5’7” Jr. G), and Ryan Reynolds (5’10” Jr. G).
Outlook: The Middlesex Blue Jays will improve upon their 9-17 effort from a year ago. The Jays did lose several veteran players including Ryan Coke, a top scorer and three point shooter, Mike Lavenia, who provided scrappiness and toughness, and Darrien Noel, who brought athleticism and length.
However, the Jays do bring back a solid nucleus from last year’s team including top juniors Tyler Ha and Jake Robel, and seniors Chris Hendricks, Chris Spencer, and Nick Montajes. Another senior, Pat Rudawski will be coming off the bench while Rutgers Prep transfer, John Dickey is a solid addition, who can make plays in a variety of ways. Kareem Aref provides some depth down low as well.
During the off-season, Middlesex put in a good deal of work. First, the Jays competed in the Montgomery Team Camp. Then, they played in the Bound Brook Summer League, where they recorded an impressive win over Bridgewater-Raritan on July 11th. Finally, in the fall, Middlesex competed in the Immaculata Fall League and the DeSales University Team Camp.
At Immaculata, the Jays finished with 2-6 overall record, but with the exception of its opening day game against Bernards on September 11th, they competed very well, especially in games seen by GMC Hoops. One of those games was against Bridgewater-Raritan on the final day of the fall. Middlesex battled to the very end before losing to the Group 4 Panthers by the score of 62-54.
As a Group 1 school in a division that is mostly made up of Group 2 and 3 schools along with a Non-Public A squad, Middlesex is going to have to scrap for wins. The Jays open up the season on the road against South Plainfield, which is coming down from the GMC White, and is projected to finish second in the Blue Division. Then, Middlesex hosts Metuchen on December 19th and visits Carteret on December 21st.
The Blue Jays will then round out the 2016 year by competing in the annual Shello-Santy Tournament in Dunellen, where they have dominated in recent years. Middlesex has won the tourney four straight years by defeating Dunellen in the Championship Game. Expect the Jays and the Destroyers to be back in the final again this year in another chapter in the long saga of the Battle of Route 28.
Coach: Guy Jensen
Career Coaching Record: 143-120
Coaching Record At School: 13-35
Last Year’s Overall Record: 6-18
Last Year’s Division Record: 1-9, 6th in GMC Blue Division
Last Year’s Conference Record: 3-10
Last Year’s Accomplishments: None.
Last Year’s JV Team: Finished 6-10; Didn’t play in the 2016 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tournament.
Last Year’s Freshman Team: 4-6; Didn’t play in the 2016 Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tournament.
Off-Season Leagues/Team Camps: Bound Brook Summer League and the Monroe Sports Center Fall League.
Returning Starters: Danny Flaherty (6’1” Sr. G), Thomas Christine (6’0” Sr. G), Riley Watkins (6’0” Jr. G), David Weiss (6’3” Jr. F)
Returning Reserves: Justin Briggs (6’3” Sr. F), Danny Russell (6’0” Jr. G), Sohan Ullel (6’3” Jr. F), Danny Petto (6’3” Jr. G/F), and Ethan Leibovits (5’9” So. G)
Key Losses From Last Season: Nate Walters (5’10” G)
Key Newcomers: Devin Miller (6’4″ Sr. F), Will Hronich (6’0″ Jr. G), Jack Bradley (6’0″ Jr. F), Christian Nagy (6’0″ Jr. G), Ryan Grace (5’10” So G), and Amari Whitehead (6’0″ Fr G).
Outlook: Like Middlesex, the Metuchen Bulldogs will be a small school competing against a number of Group 2 and Group 3 schools as well as a Non-Public in Bishop Ahr. A year ago, the Bulldogs took some lumps with a young squad against a very tough schedule that also included the likes of non-conference foes, Mount Olive and Cranford in the Cranford Holiday Tournament.
However, the young squad showed signs of maturing late in the season as then juniors Danny Flaherty and Thomas Christine began to blossom while then sophomores like Riley Watkins and Danny Russell began to come into their own as well. Over the summer, Metuchen competed in the Bound Brook Summer League, and qualified as the sixth seed before losing to Bound Brook in the opening round.
The Bulldogs then competed in the Monroe Sports Center Fall League, and competed well with a 3-5 mark. One of those losses came against Group 4 school West Windsor-Plainsboro North, where the Bulldogs rallied from a 16 point deficit to pull within six points late before losing 36-24. In addition to the plethora of young talent returning, Metuchen added newcomer Devin Miller to the roster.
Miller, who has been a standout on the football field the past several years, and is the younger brother of DeJuan Miller and Dorian Miller, also football standouts, gives Metuchen length, athleticism, and toughness. By the way, the older Miller, DeJuan, who played college football at Oklahoma, and plays Arena football nowadays, is the third leading scorer in Metuchen history behind Larry Spigner and Artie Flaherty Sr.
On top of Miller, the Bulldogs have a good deal of size with David Weiss, Danny Petto, and Sohan Ullel. Ethan Leibovits, the younger brother of former MHS football standout, Jake Leibovits, returns, and will provide some playmaking ability to the point guard spot. Metuchen will open the season on December 19th at Middlesex, and then host South River on December 21st and Spotswood on December 23rd.
Over the holidays, Metuchen will host its own holiday tournament, which will include Kononia Academy, the Academy of Urban Leadership from Perth Amboy, and West Windsor-Plainsboro North in a Round Robin.