The veteran, the leader, and the newcomer: why St. Thomas Aquinas has a shot to win it all

St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Bob Turco talks to his team during a time out against Colonia on February 3, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Somewhere in the middle of the first full season of high school basketball in three years (2019-20 ended short, ’21 was truncated by design) the St. Thomas Aquinas ascended to the No. 1 spot in the Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten.

To be precise, it was Week Four, after its first of three wins – the most recent in the GMC Tournament final – against Colonia. Sure, Gill St. Bernard’s was ranked higher in the state, and eventually they would play each other, with Aquinas right behind the Knights in those rankings.

After that Saturday night at Roselle Catholic, the state rankings flipped. The Bellamy rankings stayed the same: Aquinas was still No. 1.

Tonight, – after an opening round bye – the 2nd-seeded Trojans open their state tournament journey against 7th-seed St. John Vianney in the Non-Public South A quarterfinals. A win would put them in the semis against Rutgers Prep, the only one of the other elite teams in Middlesex/Somerset Counties that they haven’t faced.

But one thing at a time.

The journey began prior to the pandemic, before masks and constant sanitization of basketballs were a thing.

This is head coach Bob Turco’s fourth season at the school formerly known as Bishop Ahr (which was also formerly known as St. Thomas Aquinas, for those keeping score at home). He’s now 79-18 in that time, but has had great success at his two other coaching stops: Monroe (97-42) and Notre Dame in Lawrenceville (148-46), not to mention a goodly number of years as an assistant with his younger brother Dave. (You might have heard of him.)

Junior forward Jalen Pichardo goes up for two of his 14 points against Colonia in a GMC White Division game on February 3, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

And that’s where the journey began: with the four-year veteran Samar Abdullah, followed by the team’s undisputed leader now, Adam Silas, and then the newcomer who may very well be one of the faces of the program next year, Jalen Pichardo.

Click below to hear their story:

Leave a Reply