Underclassmen Kelton and Johnson Spearhead Destroyers Resurgence in Boys Basketball
The 2018-19 Dunellen Destroyers have returned to prominence among the Greater Middlesex Conference’s small schools with a 16-3 overall mark thanks to the efforts of junior Tyje’ Kelton and sophomore David Johnson as well as a good blend of youth and experience.
DUNELLEN, NJ—After several years of struggle, the Dunellen High School Boys Basketball program is back on track again, and thanks mostly to two very talented underclassmen: Junior Tyje’ Kelton and sophomore Drew Johnson. Under fourth year head coach, Howie Horowitz, the Destroyers have compiled a 16-3 overall record including a 14-1 mark in Gold Division play.
Coming into the final week of regular season play in the Greater Middlesex Conference, Dunellen has only lost to three teams so far: Burlington Township, Bound Brook, and Piscataway Tech. Burlington Township boasts two solid big men in Wesley Robinson and Manny Ayetigbo, have a 12-6 overall record, and have played the likes of Cinnaminson (defeated South Brunswick), Burlington City (lost to CJ Group 1 Championship), Nottingham (2018 TOC Semifinalist), and St. Augustine (2016 Non-Public A State Champs and 2017 Non-Public A State Finalist.
Bound Brook, a traditional Route 28 rival of Dunellen, is 14-5 this season after going 17-11 a year ago to reach the Central Jersey Group 1 Quarterfinals. Piscataway Tech is the only team in the GMC Gold to defeat the Destroyers, and have gone 13-7 overall including an 11-3 mark in divisional play. The Raiders are led by prolific scorer and senior guard, Sergio Rodriguez, who is averaging 27.4 points per game this year for a career total of 1,135 points. Rodriguez has scored at least 20 points per game in every P-Way Tech game this season including eight games of 30 points or more.
The Destroyers have also defeated Glen Ridge of the Super Essex Conference and another Route 28 rival in Middlesex of the GMC Blue in the opening round of the 2018 Shello-Santy Tournament over the holidays. This season’s holiday tourney win over the arch rival Blue Jays was the first time that Dunellen defeated its neighbor in their annual Yule-Tide clash since the 2011-12 boys basketball season. Three seasons ago, Horowitz took over a program that just graduated current all time leading scorer David Johnson, who is now in his senior year at Division II Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.
The 2015-16 edition of the Dunellen Destroyers were only 4-21, but since then, the overall record has improved to 8-17 two years ago, and 14-12 last season including a 10-4 mark in Gold Division play. Keys to the turnaround begin with two very talented underclassmen: Junior Tyje’ Kelton and sophomore Drew Johnson. Kelton, a three year varsity player at Dunellen, has recorded 13 double-doubles and tallied an average of 19.8 points per game while also collecting 11.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 4.1 steals per contest. Kelton, who scored his 1,000th point in the 77-47 victory over Middlesex back in December, has played in 69 games and compiled 375 field goals, 89 three pointers, and 223 free throws for a career total of 1,240 points.
Kelton is presently only 110 points shy of the all time mark set by David Johnson, who happens to be the older brother of Drew. The younger Johnson, who plays both football and basketball at Dunellen, has played varsity for two seasons, and has played in 45 games already with a career to date average of 15.2 points per game, or a total of 683 points. While Kelton should easily break the mark of the elder Johnson, Drew Johnson is capable of bringing the all time career point scoring total at Dunellen back to the Johnson household if he remains healthy for the next two plus years. Johnson has collected 190 field goals, 81 three pointers, and 60 free throws in his first two years.
Johnson has also tallied almost as many points this season as he did all of last year with a season average of 17.3 points per game while also grabbing 6.8 rebounds per contest. Johnson, who scored a career high 31 points in a 77-49 victory over Perth Amboy Tech on December 19th, sparked the Destroyers to the Holiday Tournament opening round victory over Middlesex by blocking a Blue Jay shot at one end, and then taking the ball the other way for a layup as he was fouled for a traditional three point play to tie the score at 11-11. Johnson’s pivotal play spearheaded a 27-8 surge to close out the first half for a 35-16 lead, and Dunellen never looked back after that en route to its 30 point win.
Although Kelton and Johnson are Dunellen’s two biggest weapons this season, they are not the entire story in Destroyer Country. The Destroyers have a good blend of youth and experience when you add the likes of Noah Wenzel, Baraka Yabidi, Angel Suarez, Alex Gibney, Kilwa Casey, Nasir White, and Jalen Thomas. Wenzel, who handed out 6 assists while scoring 6 points on two threes in the win over Middlesex, has averaged 2.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game for the Destroyers this season after scoring 4.3 points per game and collecting 1.9 assists, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game a year ago.
Yabidi and Suarez, two of the Destroyers big men, who have also gone through the struggles of the boys basketball program, have provided Dunellen an inside presence along with Thomas. Yabidi, who has collected 80 field goals and 183 points in his career, has about half of all that this year alone with 40 field goals and 94 points, for a 4.9 points per game average along with 5.5 rebounds per contest. Thomas, a sophomore guard, has contributed off the bench with 2 points, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.9 rebounds per game according to NJ.com.
Suarez, a four year varsity player for the Destroyers, has remained a positive force in limited time with about a point and a rebound per game. Gibney, who knocked down two threes for Dunellen in its early season win over rival, Middlesex, has knocked down 33 three pointers for the majority of his 114 points, or 6.7 points per game average this year so far. Casey, another prolific three pointer shooter, has chipped in with 18 threes to make up about two-thirds of his season scoring total, and 3.9 points per game average. White, an athletic sophomore, has also provided good numbers off the bench with an average of 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds rebounds per game.
Dunellen finishes out its Gold Division schedule on Monday, February 4th with a trip to Sportika in Manalapan to take on Calvary Christian, and then plays a couple of crossover games at home to round out the schedule with a match-up versus Spotswood of the GMC Blue on Wednesday, February 6th at 6:00 PM, and then against GMC Hoops current number one team, Colonia on Saturday at The Faber at 1:00 PM. The Destroyers, which are the only GMC team in the North Jersey Section 2 Group 1 bracket, are presently seeded third with 401 power points behind American History of Newark (14-4) and New Providence (15-2).