Destroyers Face Tough Challenge in GMC Gold, but Looks to Win Division Again and Reach GMCT Quarterfinals
Dunellen junior, Drew Johnson, shown here warming up prior to the Destroyers contest against Watchung Hills in the 2019 Bound Brook Summer League Championship, returns this season, and not only will likely go over 1,000 points early in January 2020, but also try to get Dunellen to the GMC Elite Eight for the first time in over 20 years.
DUNELLEN, NJ—Despite losing six seniors to graduation last June, the 2019-20 Dunellen Destroyers are looking to not only repeat again in the GMC Gold, but also become the first Gold Division team to reach the GMCT Quarterfinals since 24th seeded South Amboy had its Cinderella run in the 2014 tourney before losing to top seeded and eventual champ and TOC winner, St. Joseph’s.
Two key players returning are perhaps the strongest components to the squad in senior Tyje’ Kelton and junior Drew Johnson, who have combined for nearly 2,200 points over their careers at Dunellen. Kelton, who became the all time leading scorer for the Destroyers with 1,369 points by surpassing Drew’s older brother Dave Johnson (recently graduated from Kutztown), comes back, and looks to do even bigger things.
Meanwhile, the younger Johnson, who already has 811 points on his career, and will likely go over 1,000 in January, returns also, and will be among one of the top, if not the top junior in the GMC this season. Joining them will be Nasir White, who brings some more length and athleticism as well as another go to guy on offense. The backcourt will be mostly inexperienced with a combination of either juniors Jalen Thomas (2.0 ppg and 1.3 apg in 2018-19) and Mike Burr (1.0 ppg and 1.0 rpg), or sophomore Nasir Tippett.
With the graduations of veteran guards, Noah Wenzel, Alex Gibney, and Casey Kilwa, the guard combination for Dunellen will be perhaps be the most critical part of the team. All three have the ability to score and make plays, but being able to not put too much on themselves and get the ball to Kelton, Johnson, and White will be vital to the team’s success. The Destroyers will also have the likes of Marquise Jones, Tim Godwin, Dorian Williams, and Mario San Miguel on their roster.
Losing Baraka Yabidi and Angel Suarez, will make Dunellen smaller overall, especially in the middle, but this team is very athletic with Kelton, White, Burr, and Tippett playing football this past fall and Johnson and Tippett played baseball last spring. Johnson, who was on the football team a year ago, has tremendous energy and competitiveness that he uses to make things happen at both ends of the floor. He averaged 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 1.7 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game in 2018-19.
Kelton, who focused mostly on basketball his first three years, became a three sport athlete by joining spring track last year, and then playing on the football team this season. The 6’5”, 210 pound senior, averaged a double-double last year by scoring 18.0 points per game while grabbing 10.1 rebounds per contest, also did the punting chores. He even one time threw a pass for a first down on a fake punt play against South River on October 12th.
White, who averaged 5.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 2018-19, could be the most athletic of the group with his length and leaping ability, which he put on display for Dunellen with a few dunks over the summer at the 2019 Bound Brook Summer League. Speaking of that summer league, the Destroyers finished 2nd in the regular season behind host school, Bound Brook, and then defeated 7th seeded Delaware Valley and 6th seeded Governor Livingston in the semifinals before falling to 4th seeded Watchung Hills in the Championship without Kelton in the lineup since he was at a camp.
Dunellen, which also competed In the East Brunswick Team camp and went 16-4 this off-season, will have its work cut out for itself in the GMC Gold this season with Wardlaw and Timothy Christian taking big steps this offseason, and Perth Amboy Tech returning a solid squad that consists of Felix Romero, Kelvin Diaz, and Kelvin Maria, and finished 3rd in the regular season at the Rahway Summer League before falling to Roselle in the semifinals.
All this increased tough competition, which is rare in the GMC Gold, could help Dunellen in the long run, especially in the GMCT and the North Jersey Section 2 Group 1 playoffs where the Destroyers fell to Jonathan Dayton of Springfield in the Quarterfinals last year.
The Destroyers have a squad that has a spot in the GMC Hoops Pre-Season Top Ten at No. 10. With the likes of Kelton and Johnson bringing nearly 2,200 points back along with the athletic Nasir White, Dunellen could go quite far, especially if the guard combination of Thomas, Burr, and Tippett play well as both scorers and facilitators. Dunellen will open the season on Saturday, December 21st with a key early season match-up at Wardlaw, and then compete in its holiday tournament with a first round matchup against North Plainfield.
Dunellen will also be stepping up its game come January 2020 by playing in three showcases including the inaugural Kayla Spooner Memorial Basketball Showcase at Plainfield High School versus Dickinson on January 4th, versus Hackettstown in the Hopatcong Hoops showcase on January 12th, and the New Brunswick MLK Basketball Jamboree on January 20th against Sayreville.