Great Competition Highlights League Play
UNION, NJ–With the completion of the semifinals and championship game on Wednesday night, the 2011 Kean Spring League came to a conclusion. In the 55 games that were played, GMC Hoops got results from 41 of them. Of those 41 games, 20 of them, just under half were decided by nine points or less. At least four games went to overtime with two of those coming in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Shabazz, which qualified for the Central Jersey Group II playoffs as the fifth seed, and lost in the quarterfinals at Governor Livingston, earned the top seed, and was undefeated in eight games that the site covered, or got results of including a hard fought 56-50 win over eventual fourth seeded Scotch Plains on May 11th. The Bulldogs and Raiders seemed to be primed for a rematch in the semifinals of the playoffs, but Notre Dame derailed those hopes with a double overtime, 52-48 victory over Scotch Plains in the quarterfinal round. Shabazz defeated Piscataway twice including a 49-37 win on May 2nd as well as the 59-51 victory over the Chiefs in the Championship Game.
Another Newark team, Newark Central, qualified for the playoffs as the second seed before falling in overtime to seventh seeded Piscataway (66-62) in the opening round. The Blue Devils, led by Brandon Waiters, are looking to retool after having a very successful 2010-11 campaign where they won the Group II State Championship, and reached the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions before losing to the eventual winner, St. Anthony’s of Jersey City. With Patrick Cole, Kameen McPleasant, and Ramon Johnson all graduating this year, Newark Central got to work right away on the 2011-12 season.
Roselle earned the third seed, and reached the semifinals of the post-season tournament before falling to Piscataway. The Running Rams from Union County began working toward a successful run in 2011-12 this spring, and have a good deal of talent coming back. The folks at Roselle have done a great job building up the team that they’ve assembled. I can remember seeing a number of these youngsters back when they were in the 5th and 6th Grade playing at the Raritan Bay Summer League in South Amboy. This past season, Roselle qualified for the Central Jersey Group II playoffs, and reached the quarterfinal round before losing to second seeded and eventual champion, Ewing of Mercer County and the Colonial Valley Conference.
Scotch Plains was one of the favorites in this league coming in. The Raiders qualified for the North Jersey Section 2 Group III state playoffs, and after surviving a frantic second half rally to defeat J.F. Kennedy in the opening round, they upset second seeded Newark East Side in the quarterfinals before losing to Mendham in the semis. The Raiders, led by Dom Gonzalez edged Piscataway (56-51) on opening night, and then defeated J.F. Kennedy (57-55) in overtime in the final game of the regular season to dash any hopes for the Mustangs to qualify for the post season. They also defeated South Plainfield by a score of 41-34 back on May 2nd. Hoping for a rematch against Shabazz in the playoffs, the Raiders may have been caught looking ahead as they lost to Notre Dame in overtime (52-48) in the opening round.
Notre Dame will be a program to watch in the coming years. After former Monroe head coach, Bob Turco took over the program toward the end of the summer league season, there have been some bumps in the road, but the Irish are making progress. This past season, Notre Dame qualified for the Non-Public A South state tournament, and lost in the opening round to last year’s sectional champ and Tournament of Champions finalist, Camden Catholic. The Irish followed that up with a fine spring not only qualifying as the fifth seed in the playoffs, but putting together a surprising run that landed them in the semifinals before losing to eventual champion, Shabazz.
Sayreville and Piscataway were the sixth and seventh seeds in this year’s playoffs, and were the only two teams from the GMC to reach the playoffs. The Bombers edged the Chiefs for playoff positioning thanks to a forfeit win over P-Way back on May 11th. However, Piscataway had the better run in the playoffs as they lived up to their expectations by reaching the Championship Game with wins over Newark Central and Roselle in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds respectively. The Chiefs also gave Shabazz a good fight before bowing out in the finals. Some players that really stood out for the Chiefs this spring were Donovan Kirkland, Thaddeus Dalton, Greg Davis, Jelani Jackson, and Marcus Freeney.
Meanwhile, Sayreville faltered against Roselle in the opening round of the playoffs, but made a much better representation of itself against the Rams than it did in the regular season finale. Back on May 18th, Roselle defeated the Bombers by a score of 53-38. Sayreville has a good group coming back for 2011-12 with the likes of Joe Saitta, Trey Johnson, Corey Taite, Cody Van Note, and Danny Wojcik all returning. The Bombers have a good deal of superb guard play including great perimeter shooting coming back. The question is, how well will Sayreville’s interior game hold up with a lack of size in the frontcourt.
Rounding out the eight playoff teams that qualified was Millburn out of the Super Essex Conference. The Millers, which reached the North Jersey Section 2 Group III State Tournament in 2010 before bowing out against eventual Group III state champ, Mendham, had a rebuilding year this past season, but still managed to qualify as the 16th seed in this year’s tournament before losing to Somerville. Millburn didn’t play in the playoffs at Kean despite qualifying. Playing in its place was another GMC team in J.F. Kennedy.
The Mustangs didn’t make the playoffs originally, but still made a good representation of themselves. Some good moments this spring was the first half showing in a loss to Newark Central in week one, a come from behind victory against South Plainfield on May 11th that was highlighted by a game ending 31-9 surge, and a two point loss in overtime to Scotch Plains on the final day of the regular season. J.F. Kennedy will take some hits to graduation this year losing the likes of Daishon Robinson, A.J. Pichalski, Jordan Toczynski, and A.J. Williams. However, JFK still has a good deal of talent coming back with Josh Kamenas, Steve Alvarez, Shabas Clarke, Vik Pawar, and Kurt Lorentzen returning for 2011-12.
Westfield and South Plainfield rounded out the 10 high school teams that were competing in the league this year. The Tigers had some good moments, but had trouble sustaining that for a whole game. SPHS will need to sustain those good moments for a full 32 minutes so that they can improve on this past season’s 6-15 finish next season. The Tigers will also have to fill the void left behind by graduating seniors Denzel Mensah, Bryant Rosario, Sharif Ross, and Troy McNair. There is good talent returning though with the likes of Ray Perez, Joe Skwiat, Justin Glover, Claude Payne, Jordan Lackey, and Malik Cisson among others.
The Blue Devils of Westfield are always a very competitive team. Playing in the always tough confines of the Watchung Division of the Union County Conference, Westfield started off on the wrong foot with a 70-48 defeat to Notre Dame on opening night, but played tough the rest of the way with three losses by eight points or less including a 50-47 decision to Piscataway in the last game of the regular season, and a 65-58 victory over Sayreville back on May 4th. Rounding out the 13 teams that competed in the league were two squads from the AAU team, the Raritan Roundballers.
The Somerset County squad made up of players from schools such as Rutgers Prep, Ridge, and Immaculata, were led by the likes of Jack Kerwin and Dylan Kerwin of Ridge as well as Brandon Patton of Rutgers Prep. The Roundballers, coached by Kean men’s basketball coach, Rob Kurzinsky, had three losses by eight points or less including a 59-57 defeat to Roselle, a 49-41 loss to Westfield, and a 56-50 overtime loss to Shabazz. The AAU squad also soundly defeated Notre Dame by a score of 78-48.
On a final note, GMC Hoops would like to thank Kean men’s assistant basketball coach, and former EB player, Tom Wagenblast for his assistance and hospitality this spring.
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