Colonia Proving It’s Still a Team to Reckon With

Led By Frage and Derkack, the Patriots Off to Tremendous Start

Colonia’s Brandon Wasserman and Larenzo Jackson shown here battling in the paint against Hillsborough in the semifinal round of the 2019 Hillsborough Holiday Tourney on December 28th, are two pieces of a nucleus returning from last year’s North Jersey Section 2 Group 3 Championship team, who along with Jimmy Frage, Jordan Derkack, Ruben Reyes, and JT Kroner, are proving that the Patriots are still tough to deal with despite losing its entire starting five from a year ago.

COLONIA, NJ—Historically, Colonia is one of the top programs in the GMC year in and year out, especially on the public school side. Led through the years by coaches such as Bob Sanislow, Bob Tisdale, Jack Krieger, Ken Pace, Chris Chiera, Brandon Hall, and now Jose Rodriguez, the Patriots have managed to remain among the GMC’s elite teams, and maintain a standard of excellence.

This year has so far been no exception. Despite losing its entire starting five to graduation including 2019 GMC Hoops Player of the Year, Chad Baker, who is now at Spire Academy in Ohio, and 1,000 point scorer, Luke Valeriano, who is now at Ramapo College, Rodriguez, who made key adjustments after Valeriano went down to injury against Snyder of Jersey City in the state playoffs a year ago, has continued to keep the program rolling along despite the off-season changes with his experience and steady hand.

The solid foundation established at the lower levels has also been important for Colonia. Proof positive: The 24-5 team from a year ago was several years in the making due to a solid foundation at the JV and Freshmen levels that began under Hall during a 2016-17 campaign in which the varsity was only 7-15. Baker and Valeriano were key figures on both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 teams, but also role players such as Chris Sica, Tommy Mitch, and Timmy Rodriguez as well as Frage, Derkack, Larenzo Jackson, Brandon Wasserman, and Ruben Reyes have come up through Colonia’s well built sub varsity system.

Despite losing the likes of point guard, Frank Lehman, and fellow classmate, Kristian Chapman from the 2017-18 Colonia team that was the first team to reach a GMCT Championship as a 7th seed before losing to St. Joseph’s (46-43) in an epic final, the 2018-19 Patriots still managed to exceed expectations. Now, it is more of the same with this year’s team with Jimmy Frage and Jordan Derkack leading the way, and the recent JV and freshmen successes have much to do with that.

Frage, who was the 2019 GMC Hoops Post-Season Player of the year by stepping up for the Patriots in their last three playoff games against Rahway, West Morris Central, and Ramapo after Valeriano went down with a season ending injury, didn’t play much of the summer since he was focusing on football, but reminded everyone not to sleep on Colonia upon his return to hoops action this season. He along with Derkack, Jackson, Reyes, Wasserman, and JT Kroner have provided a solid nucleus for 2019-20.

As a result, Colonia continues to thrive despite the turnover. The Patriots are undefeated through 8 games including solid wins over Franklin (63-54), Hightstown (58-49), and Edison (53-41). The Eagles then knocked off previously third ranked New Brunswick on Saturday, and now the Pats, which had 9 different players score in a 68-50 win against Piscataway on Saturday, find themselves up six notches from the pre-season to No. 3 in the latest GMC Hoops Top Ten this week. Frage has set the tone by 15.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game so far this season.

Frage’s early season start included a 23 point performance versus Hightstown in the Championship Game of the 2019 Hillsborough Holiday Hoops Tourney during Christmas break, and 18 points against Edison this past Thursday night in Colonia. Derkack, the son of former Colonia standout, and 1,000 point scorer, Gene Derkack, who went on to play college ball and also score 1,000 points at Florida International, has been a steady playmaker at point guard for the Patriots while also averaging 12.3 points, 4.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game thus far this season.

Jackson, who also came off the bench last season for Colonia, has chipped in with 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 steals per game according to nj.com. Reyes, who played with the team for much of the off-season that included games in the Elizabeth and Bridgewater Summer Leagues, and the Elizabeth Fall League, has also been a key contributor by averaging 8.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per contest. Brandon Wasserman, who also was a reserve on last year’s team, and is coming off a solid football season as well, has played well in the paint with solid defense and rebounding while averaging 8.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game.

While seeing a bit more limited action so far this season, sophomore J.T. Kroner, who is also a standout on the baseball diamond, has averaged three points per game including 9 points versus Governor Livingston, and 5 points against Hightstown including a key three pointer in the first half to keep the Patriots in the contest before they rallied in the second half for the win and the Hillsborough Holiday Tourney title. Matt Croteau, a childhood friend of Frage’s, also came out for basketball this season after a solid campaign on the gridiron this past fall in Colonia.

Croteau, who was selected as the GMC Gridiron Defensive Player of the Year, has brought the same competitiveness, hustle, scrappiness, and toughness from the football field to the basketball court while also averaging 3 points per game. Freshman Noah Taylor has also given the team a lift from the bench by averaging 8.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game including a 10 point effort versus West Windsor-Plainsboro North on December 27th, and five points in the second half versus Hillsborough on December 28th in the Hillsborough Holiday Tourney before adding another 10 point game in the win over Piscataway on Saturday.

While the varsity has enjoyed a great deal of early season success, the JV has also played well with the likes of Billy Anderson and Mike Howell leading the way. Two solid bigs, who played for the Garden State Heavyweights squad at the 2019 Raritan Bay Summer League over the summer, both Anderson and Howell are important examples of how sturdy the Colonia program is at the lower levels. Both have a good feel for each other on the basketball court, and have a nice touch around the basket along with an unselfish quality in their game and good teamwork. Anderson also has a nice perimeter game in his repertoire.

The Colonia JV team, which is coached by former Perth Amboy head coach, Edwin Santana, is off to a 7-1 start that includes a 52-47 win over Hightstown in the JV Championship Game of the 2019 Hillsborough Holiday Hoops Tournament, and a lopsided victory over Piscataway on Saturday. Santana also guided last year’s JV team to the Championship Game of the 2019 East Brunswick/GMC JV Tourney before falling to East Brunswick. Meanwhile, Colonia’s freshmen squad, which reached the Final Four of the 2019 Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tourney before losing to crosstown rival and eventual champion Woodbridge in the semifinals and to Monroe the consolation, is also off to a good start including a berth in the Hillsborough Holiday Tourney finals.