GMC Quartet Leads Team Elevation Past NJ Wizards for HS Division Crown
WOODBRIDGE, NJ—The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc in high school sports. Since the virus shut down high school summer leagues, many teams are limited to playing games in parking lots or parks. As a result, there hasn’t been many opportunities for GMC Hoops to capture Greater Middlesex Conference boys basketball standouts in action this summer.
So, when the NJ Wizards Black Top Tournament of Champions came down to its last couple rounds, it was time to catch some of the action. On Wednesday and Thursday night, GMC Hoops visited Tanzman Park in Woodbridge to watch the semifinals and championship. When the dust settled, Team Elevation won the Black Top TOC Title impressively.
Consisting of four GMC players from three of the four Brunswick schools, Team Elevation, coached by South Brunswick assistant coach and former player, Danny Strickland, proved to be too much. The GMC Quartet of South Brunswick’s C.J. Mangrum and Ty Murchison, North Brunswick’s Jabri Fitzpatrick, and East Brunswick’s Devin Kennedy formed a solid core. Adding Princeton’s Ethan Guy and Notre Dame’s Christian Hobdy to the mix gave this team plenty of firepower despite limited depth.
Winning Spots in Black Top TOC Title Game
After Monday night’s game with the Staten Island Stingrays was rained out, Team Elevation had to play two games back to back on Wednesday night. The team wasn’t phased by the obstacles including a Garden State Heavyweights squad that was quite stocked. Defeating the Stingray’s in the 5:45 PM game on Wednesday (30-24), Team Elevation advanced to take on a Heavyweights in the nightcap. Having the likes of Mikah Johnson Jr. (Newark Eastside/Felician University), Malik Austin (Carteret/Hudson Catholic), Abdul Momoh (Timothy Christian/Patrick School National), and Ronnie Burwan Jr. (Timothy Christian), the Heavyweights had size, length, athleticism, and shooting.
During pool play, the Garden State Heavyweights were 3-2, and then won its opening round tourney game over IWork (58-37) on August 12th. However, the Heavyweights were no match for Team Elevation. Entering the tournament with also a 3-2 mark in pool play, Team Elevation, had to fight off the Stingrays in a close one, but dominated their foes in each of the last two rounds. Led by the play of Mangrum, who had a reverse layup and two breakaway dunks in the second half, and Murchison, who added a couple pull-up jumpers in transition, Elevation led by as many as 15 in the second half en route to a 45-33 win.
Meanwhile, the host team Wizards led by the likes of 2019-20 GMC standouts such as J.J. Frage and Larenzo Jackson (Colonia), Ayman Pitts (J.F. Kennedy), and Shane Doherty (Edison), rolled through pool play with a 5-0 record. Capping the undefeated pool play in great fashion, the Wizards won a thrilling 43-42 win over the Garden State Heavyweights. Then, the NJ Wizards followed that up with a first round playoff win over the WH Rams (40-33) on August 12th, and a 54-42 victory over the Staten Island Sharks (54-42) in the other semifinal.
Early Runs Help Team Elevation Win the Black Top TOC Crown
Building off the momentum of its two wins on Wednesday, Team Elevation won the Black Top TOC Title on Thursday night by picking up right where it left off. Using the combination of transition scoring from the likes of Mangrum and Murchison and the half court play and putbacks of Princeton’s Ethan Guy, Team Elevation broke out to a 14-0 first half lead. While the NJ Wizards were able to slow down Team Elevation’s momentum, they were unable to capitalize much offensively. The Woodbridge Township squad scored only 7 of the last 9 points of the half, which mostly came at the foul line.
After leading 16-7 at the intermission, Team Elevation came out fast again to start the 2nd half. The team from the Southern half of Middlesex County as well as Mercer County scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half for a 26-9 lead. Trying to show some signs of life, the Wizards did better in getting back on defense, and blocked several shots including one by Pitts. Another rejection was called for goaltending though, and Fitzpatrick followed that up with a trey from the right side of the key for a 31-14 advantage.
Once again, the NJ Wizards battled and fought hard to slow Team Elevation’s momentum, but was not consistent on offense. Both Team Elevation’s semifinal and championship opponents were unable to make outside shots and score from the perimeter. Like the Garden State Heavyweights in the Final Four, the NJ Wizards were unable to get perimeter shots to fall, especially from beyond the arc. Consequently, Team Elevation was able to benefit with numerous transition opportunities.
Despite ending the game with a 7-4 run, the NJ Wizards fell short as Team Elevation won the Black Top TOC Title by the score of 35-21. Winning all three of its playoff games, Team Elevation was able to complete the summer at Woodbridge with a 6-2 overall record. Meanwhile, the Wizards ended the summer season at 7-1. Nevertheless, GMC Hoops got a bit of a glance at GMC players that could be factors in 2020-21.
Looking Ahead to 2020-21
Mangrum and Murchison will be a tough duo to handle for South Brunswick opponents. Fitzpatrick made big strides as a sophomore at North Brunswick this past season while Kennedy proved to be a defensive and rebounding force with some scoring punch for EB.
Timothy Christian’s Ronnie Burwan Jr. had some good moments for the Heavyweights in defeat on Wednesday night while Ayman Pitts, who had a break out year at JFK, showed some good defense and hustle for the Wizards. Austin, who has improved so much from his freshman year at Carteret, has developed a very nice outside shot. Austin’s bigger, stronger physique has helped him produce a smooth perimeter stroke.
2020-21 GMC Hoops Pre-Season Top Ten
St. Thomas Aquinas looks like the early favorite for the 2020-21 GMC Hoops Pre-Season No. 1 while Colonia may not be far behind at No. 2. Despite losing the likes of Frage and Jackson to graduation, the Patriots will still have Jordan Derkack, Ruben Reyes, Noah Taylor, J.T. Kroner, and Josh Oluremi returning along with a JV team that won the EB JV tourney. St. Joseph’s will be in the mix as well with Elijah Barlow transferring from Union Catholic. Furthermore, post player Maurice Johnson, a healthy Miles Whye, Kody Robinson, Ethan Simmon, and Calson Goodwill are coming back.
Expect South Brunswick to remain a factor with Mangrum returning after being ineligible this past season to complement Murchison, an improved Yathin Vemula, and the likes of sharpshooter Andrew Tesser. In addition, the Vikes will also have Damien Downes (son of SBHS all time leading scorer, Donnell Lumpkin) and Shyheim Davis returning as well as a talented group of sophomores led by Harmehar Chhabra and Jacob Brokaw.
Chhabra, who saw varsity time last season, was impressive for Crossroads Middle School two years ago. Brokaw, is the son of early 1980s SBHS standout, Glenn Brokaw, and the nephew of New Brunswick hoops legend, Gary Brokaw. SBHS also had a solid JV squad last season.
Expect North Brunswick, EB, and Monroe to Contend
Look for North Brunswick to be more of a factor in the GMC and in Central Jersey Group IV next year as well. Although the Raiders lost the likes of Corey Smith, Omari Fleming, and Ihsann Whitehurst to graduation, they still have Fitzpatrick, Donovan Crawford, Cristian Salazar, Jaquil Boyd, Marquise Perry, and a solid group of incoming sophomores.
East Brunswick and Monroe also suffered key losses to graduation, but have a ton of solid underclassmen talent returning. EB not only has Kennedy back, but also the likes of GMC Hoops Freshman of the Year, Jalen Pichardo along with Justin Black, Jackson Bayuk, Jordan Williams, and Brendan Devlin. Moreover, the Bears have the likes of Logan Witkowski, Lukas Blyznyuk, and Zach Zebro from an 11th seeded JV squad that reached the EB JV Tourney final.
Monroe lost scoring machine Andrew Turco, who will be attending Drew this fall. However, the Falcons still have an overlooked big man in Chris Kobierowski leading a talented incoming senior class. Kobierowski scored over 450 points and grabbed over 220 rebounds a season ago.
As freshmen, this Monroe senior group, which also consists of Jake Labaska, Aidan McLaughlin, Nick Fellin and Nick Laughrey, reached the Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Final Four in 2018. Monroe’s incoming junior class also isn’t shabby either. With the likes of Jonathan and Josh Okocha and Courtney Benjamin, this group reached the Amboy/GMC Final Four in 2019. In addition, Elijah Okocha headlines a solid incoming sophomore group as well.
GMC Small Schools to Watch For
Watch-out for big seasons from these three teams as well: Dunellen, Wardlaw-Hartridge, and South Plainfield. Although Dunellen is losing all time leading scorer Tyje’ Kelton (playing post-graduate ball at Covenant Prep Academy) and moving up to the GMC Blue, it still has enough firepower to contend for the division crown.
Wardlaw not only took a hit to graduation with Alvari Mhya, but also lost Saivon Pressley as well. Regardless, the Rams should be fine with Mehkai Huey, Brandon McCall, Saleem Ibraheem, and Xavier Hinds all returning. South Plainfield and Metuchen will also contend with Dunellen in the Blue while Timothy Christian will again battle it out with Wardlaw in the Gold.
South Plainfield lost the likes of scrapper Dylan DeLisa and inside player Obi Ibeku to graduation. However, the Tigers still have Moshood Adebule, Destiny Nwankwo, and Josh Liberato returning along with a Jalen Russell led JV squad that reached the EB JV Tourney Final Four, and youngsters like incoming freshman, Ikenna Ibeku moving up.
Metuchen was plagued by injuries during a tough season in 2019-20. With a healthy Luke Schleck coming back along with Dominic Schiappa, Jai Dreher, and Michael Piovoso, expect the Bulldogs to be a factor. All four Bulldog players are among the current list of GMC Hoops Top Active Scorers.
Timothy Christian lost the likes of Momoh and Nate Aviles to graduation. But, the Tigers still have Burwan, sharpshooter Gian Wagner, Jordan Johnson and Jonathan McNulty returning.
Other GMC Notables
Don’t forget about Edison and Carteret either. The Eagles looks like a program on the rise after last season’s GMCT Final Four run. The Ramblers always seem to find new talent to fill the void of graduating players. The 2019-20 season was no exception as Carteret’s squad exceeded expectations.
Despite losing Cam McCargo, Elijah Colon, Tony Townes-Mays, Hubert Ramos and Dante Prioleau to graduation, Carteret remains formidable. With the likes of the athletic Starell Hearns and sharpshooter Aiden Ramirez returning, the Ramblers will still be tough. Moving up to the GMC White with Aquinas will make things a bit more challenging for CHS though.
Edison lost 80 percent of its starting five and a talented 6th man from this past season’s historic team. However, the Eagles still have Niko Barnes, Sebastian Abreu, and a solid class of incoming juniors that reached the Freshmen Final two years ago. Perth Amboy, Old Bridge, Sayreville, and J.F. Kennedy are other big schools that could be in the mix next season.