Category: Boys Basketball

Mergin Sina, Mark Taylor among those to be honored at The Basketball Reunion next month

Now in its second year, The Basketball Reunion – an event created to bring together players and coaches from high school and college teams throughout various eras – will induct two high school coaches with local ties into its Hall of Honor.

Gill St. Bernard’s boys’ basketball coach Mergin Sina, and St. Benedict’s boys; basketball coach Mark Taylor – who also previously coached at Ridge and St. Joseph-Metuchen – will be honored on April third at the second annual event at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Sina played his college ball in New Jersey at Seton Hall, and after a 12-year professional playing career overseas that saw him inducted into the Portuguese Basketball Federation Hall of Fame, took over the girls’ program at Gill, going 105-49 in six seasons and winning the program’s first two Somerset County Tournament titles in 2009 and 2010. He then took over the boys’ program, where he just wrapped up his 13th season, is 273-71, and has won seven of the last eight SCT championships, including five straight from 2015 to 2019.

Taylor has been at St. Benedict’s in Newark for 12 years and has racked up more than 300 wins, in addition to the 255 victories he had combined at Ridge at St. Joseph of Metuchen. With the Falcons – where he also played his high school ball and is in the Athletics Hall of Fame – Taylor coached two future NBA players in Andrew Bynum and Jay Williams, who was the second pick in the 2002 NBA Draft out of Duke.

Sina and Taylor will be inducted in the “Special Recognition” category.

The Basketball Reunion will be held on the floor of the Prudential Center the night of April 3rd, with a “steakhouse” dining experience, capped off by a watch party of the NCAA Tournament’s men’s basketball national championship game. The event will be emceed by award-winning sports anchor Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV, Channel 4, in New York for the second straight year.

Among those also being inducted in various categories: former Seton Hall stars Terry Dehere and Shaheen Holloway; the 1982 Rutgers women’s basketball AIAW National Championship team; , Dana O’Neil, senior writer for the Athletic; referees Tim Higgins, Ed Corbett and Tom Lopes, all of whom have New Jersey ties; and Mike Fratello and Brian Hill in the NBA Coaching Legends category.

For more information on the event, visit www.thebasketballreunion.com. The event is open to the public. Proceeds benefit the Team Hill Foundation and its “programs to assist disadvantaged youngsters on the path to success in life.”

Spotswood at South River

South River Rams, who enthralled a whole town and a whole league in ’23, are CJSR Boys’ Basketball Team of the Year

First, a disclaimer. For as long as I have been doing this, traditionally, the No. 1 team at the end of any sports season is the team of the year. And usually, the stars align, where that team wins a state championship, goes undefeated, etc.

But one team was so compelling this year, almost from the opening tip-off of the entire season. They captivated the Greater Middlesex Conference – and of course, their community – packing their tiny gym with loud fans that left your ears ringing after you left the joint.

That team was the South River Rams. And while St. Thomas Aquinas was clearly and without dispute the No. 1 team in the final Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten – they dominated all year, won the GMC Tournament, and it wasn’t their fault they ran into the state’s No. 1 team, Roselle Catholic, in the sectional semifinals of Non-Public South B – South River was the team of the year.

Part of it was because those teams don’t come around very often. There were some titles in the ’40s and ’50s. There was the era of Kenny Jackson in the late ’70s, even though he would me more widely known for his football exploits, and the 79-80 Group 2 champions. There was the 1990-91 team, the last to win a title, in Central Jersey Group 1.

This team was on a par with them until they ran into another group two juggernaut in Manasquan with a point guard who would not be denied.

But their journey with a 22-point win over Metuchen on opening night, then took a most interesting turn the day after Christmas, when the Rams went up to St. Joe’s – in a Blue vs. Red Division matchup – and beat the Falcons 74-66.

South River’s Alex Grospe drives the lane against St. Joe’s on December 26, 2022. (Image courtesy St. Joe’s Student Media)

Everyone stood up and took notice. Would it be a fluke? Could they keep it up? If they kept winning, could they get a three-seed in the county tournament? All the talk about bias against the Blue and Gold Divisions of the past years meant nothing since those teams often didn’t play up. South River put its money where its mouth was.

They wound up winning their first eleven games before falling to Piscataway, but finished the regular season as Blue Division Champions, still picked up the third-seed in the GMC Tournament, behind St. Thomas and Colonia. St. Joe’s got the four.

Though they got knocked out in the GMC semis by South Brunswick, their next life would begin in the state tournament, as the top-seed in Central Jersey Group 2. They rolled past East Brunswick Magnet and beat Point Pleasant Boro. They filled the place against a damn good Bound Brook and beat them by six.

South River's gym
The stands are filled in South River’s tiny gym during the JV game before the main event, the huge rivalry between Spotswood and the Rams on January 20, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Then came Manasquan.

This was a senior-laden group, and the story after that oh-so-heartbreaking defeat in the Central Jersey Group 2 title game could be told in the lingering crowd thereafter. Family, friends, neighbors. As head coach Brandon Walsh talked to his team, talked, and talked some more, one by one, the seniors would come out.

Roman Santos. Laz Rodriguez. Jeremy Grospe. Kobe Taylor. Isaac Linarez. Gavin Franco.

Each got a round of applause and standing O as they emerged from the locker room.

The Rams didn’t just go 26-4. They drove the student body bonkers every night with long three balls, pesky defense, and transition basketball. They lifted a community’s spirit.

They gave South River a basketball season it will never forget.

That’s why they’re Central Jersey Sports Radio’s 2023 Team of the Year.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk with head coach Brandon Walsh and senior Laz Rodriguez:

South River’s Laz Rodriguez looks to make a move against Manasquan in the Central Jersey Group 2 title game in South River on February 28, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Team play, upset wins earn South Brunswick’s Joe Hoehman CJSR Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year honors

They were the upset specials of the GMC and state tournament. But then again, were they really?

It might be hard to notice South Brunswick when the teams finishing above you are St. Thomas Aquinas, Colonia and St. Joseph-Metuchen, the first two of whom only joined the GMC Red Division this year.

But maybe the Vikings didn’t care if anyone was paying attention. They put together a nice regular season with a great young point guard and a center who’s like another coach on the floor, and were primed to do damage come GMC Tournament time.

And that they did. As the 7th-seed, they took care of JP Steven in the first round, then pulled off back-to-back “upsets” en route to the finals, first knocking off 2nd-seed Colonia 63-43, then eliminating Cinderella third-seed South River 53-41 in the semifinals.

They would play top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas to within three-points in a dramatic championship game, with a chance to tie it with under ten seconds left that just didn’t work out. Had they won, they would have been the lowest seed to take home a GMC Tournament trophy.

Then came the states, Central Jersey Group 4. As the sixth-seed, they easily beat Old Bridge in the opening round, then were back to their old tricks. They knocked off rival and third-seed North Brunswick in the quarterfinals 72-46, before getting a surprise home game against 7th-seed Marlboro, which they won by 11. The quest, however, would fall short at top-seed Trenton in the sectional final.

Through it all, the Vikings finished 20-7 and were one of just four boys teams in our coverage area – three from the GMC Red Division – to make it to a sectional title game.

For his efforts in guiding that squad through a challenging schedule, pulling off upsets, and showing how teamwork can build success, South Brunswick head coach Joe Hoehman is our 2023 Central Jersey Sports Radio Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

Click below to hear his conversation about the season with Mike Pavlichko:

Falcons’ Josh Ingram finished strong for St. Joseph, earning him CJSR Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year honors

Josh Ingram – like a lot of other basketball players in Middlesex and Somerset Counties – had a very fine 2022-23 season. He averaged 22 points a game, nearly eight rebounds, nearly four assists, and shot just under 60-perccent from the floor, 37-percent from downtown, and a nice 83-percent from the free-throw line.

In the early season, he provided enough offense as St. Joseph-Metuchen – missing some key pieces for various reasons – tried to find itself. Later in the season, with things hanging in the balance, and starter Jeremy Clayville out, Ingram “turned it up to eleven.”

In his final ten games of the season, which included not one, but two wins over Rutgers Prep and a run to the Non-Public South A title game against Union Catholic – the eventual Group A winner – Ingram turned averaged 23.6 points a game, had 33 in the regular season win over the Argonauts, and cracked 30 points four times, including a wild GMC Tournament first-round win over Spotswood, where he notched a career high 38 points.

Those efforts have earned him Central Jersey Sports Radio Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year honors for 2023.

He was virutally unstoppable from the time Clayville went down January 27th to the point that when he returned, it was just gravy.

“It’s been a privilege to coach Josh and watch him grow into the player and person has become,” said Joe’s head coach Jan Cocozziello. “His talent is undeniable, but he’s also a leader with a team mentality. He’s a selfless player who steps up when his team needs him.”

Scroll down for honorable mention selections.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk with 2023 Boys’ Player of the Year Josh Ingram of St. Joe’s:

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Deuce Jones, St. Thomas Aquinas: There was a lot of talent on the Trojans’ roster this season, but as head coach Bob Turco has said about Jones, “he’s the straw that stirs the drink.” He averaged six assists a game, while still scoring 16.5 points a game for the three-time GMC Tournament Champions. What made it more impressive is that the junior was playing just his first season in North Edison, a transfer from Trenton Catholic. But he fit seamlessly into a solid core that included players like Jalen “Pop” Pichardo, Terrell Pitts, Kamal Lee, and more.

St. Thomas Aquinas junior guard Deuce Jones (right) talks with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Justin Sontupe after a 69-46 win over Colonia in Edison on January 12, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Jadin Collins, Rutgers Prep: An outstanding two-year varsity starter for Matt Bloom’s club, he averaged 19.2 points per game in that span and four-and-a-half assists as the Argonauts’ point guard, while also racking up 224 steals. This year, he averaged 20.5 points per game for 22-8 Prep en route to the Somerset County Tournament Championship, a year after they won the 2022 Non-Public South B title on his then-career-high 33 point effort – kitting key bucket after key bucket down the stretch.

Jordin Collins of Rutgers Prep brings the ball up the floor in the second half against Gill St. Bernard’s on January 24, 2023. Collins finished with a game-high 22 points. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Jordan Summers, Bound Brook: Summers – who just signed on with Caldwell Monday – has been a stalwart from a great recent basketball family in The Brook. Summers finished with 1,456 career points, and scored 690 this year in 27 games, averaging an area-best 25.5 points per game – that’s tops among boys and girls in the CJSR coverage area. But it was the intangibles, leadership and unselfishness that made him most valuable to his team. “I have seen Jordan grow in front of my eyes since he was a kid, says head coach Anthony Melesurgo. “I am so proud of the young man he has become. The sky’s the limit for him!” He’ll also be playing in the North-/South All-Star game this Sunday at 2 pm at Rutgers Prep, the second player in as many years to do so; Quadir Harrell played last year.

Jordan Summers of Bound Brook – surrounded by teammates – signs on for a full scholarship with D2 Caldwell on March 6, 2023. (Photo courtesy Anthony Melesurgo)

St. Thomas Aquinas finishes the season where it began: No. 1 in the Bellamy & Son Paving Boys’ Basketball Top Ten

On the strength of a 25-4 season – and its third straight GMC Tournament Championship – the St. Thomas Aquinas boys’ basketball team finishes the year at No. 1 in the final Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten, never budging from the top spot from the preseason rankings all the way through to the end.

The Trojans have been the dominant boys’ team in Middlesex County for the last several years. Though their three-year run as full county tournament champs was interrupted by a loss in the GMC’s COVID-year, one-off, Karl-Anthony Towns/Jay Williams four-team postseason pod to Colonia, they have won 31 straight games against Greater Middlesex Conference opponents since.

St. Thomas Aquinas has won 57 straight divisional regular season games, with the Trojans’ last loss coming in January 2018 at Carteret, back when they were in the Blue Division. And they are now 103-23 in five seasons with head coach Dave Turco at the helm.

Checking in at No. 2 in the final rankings is Colonia, which had a fantastic year, going 22-9 this season. Though they didn’t win the Red Division (STA did) or make the GMCT Final, they were the only boys’ basketball team in the Central Jersey Sports Radio Coverage area to win a sectional title this season, beating Snyder to win its second straight North 2, Group 3 title, and third in the last four playoff seasons.

St. Joseph of Metuchen finished third, checking in at 18-11, rising all the way from No. 10 in the last rankings before the playoffs. The Falcons finished the year strong, reaching the Non-Public South A title game, where they lost to eventual Group A state champ Union Catholic.

Rutgers Prep (22-8) finishes fourth, having won both the Somerset County Tournament championship – beating defending champ Gill St. Bernard’s in a thriller – and the Skyland Conference Delaware Division title.

South River (26-4) checks in at No. 5, the darling of the GMC all year long. The Rams won the Blue Division title, but got the attention of Central Jersey basketball fans in late December, when they knocked off St. Joseph in Metuchen the day after Christmas. They picked up the third seed in the county tournament, and reached the semifinals. In the states, they went to the Central Jersey Group 2 final, losing to eventual state Group 2 champion Manasquan.

Gill St. Bernard’s finished 19-8 and comes in sixth in the final rankings. The SCT finalist had a successful season considering a Mergin Sina’s squad had almost a complete roster turnover of key players from last year’s team, and its highly-touted point guard returned to Europe just a couple of weeks into the season.

South Brunswick had a nice run all the way to the County finals, as well as the Central Jersey Group 4 final, and finished 20-7 on the season, checking in at No. 7.

In eighth is South Plainfield (23-6), which won the GMC White Division, and had one of the county’s top scorers in Brandon Dean.

Ninth is Bound Brook (22-5), the Skyland Conference Valley Division champs, followed by Hillsborough (19-8).

Below are the full final Bellamy & Son Paving Boys’ Basketball Rankings for 2022-23:

Ramapo too much for Colonia down the stretch, as Patriots’ season ends in the Group 3 semis – again

Colonia has now won back-to-back sectional titles in North 2 Group 3, and has taken the title in three of the last four playoff years.

But they just can’t seem to get over that hump, that hump called Ramapo.

For the second year in a row, the Patriots lot to the North 1, Group 3 champions in the Group 3 semifinals out at Phillipsburg High School, last year by ten, this year by four.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

But that was little consolation on Wednesday night out on the State Line, where Colonia – unlike last year – led going into the fourth quarter, albeit by one, thanks to a Jaeden Jones bucket.

But Ramapo got out to a slim lead in the fourth quarter, by two, three, four; never quite enough to seal the deal until the end, but enough to keep the Patriots in catch-up mode.

Colonia ends its season 25-5, while Ramapo goes on to the Group 3 finals at Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena Saturday at a time to be determined against Central Group 3 champ Nottingham, which beat South 3 winner Moorestown 56-49 down at Brick Memorial High School Wednesday night.

Union Catholic too big for St. Joseph as Falcons fall in Non-Public South A finals

St. Joseph-Metuchen beat Union Catholic in late January with both teams missing a key piece. The Falcons were without Jeremy Clayville, and UC was without Chimeziri Okeoma.

The second time, Okeoma turned out to be the difference, scoring a game-high 26 points – eight better than his season average – to help his team to an 86-72 win in the Non-Public South A championship game at Lenape High School.

Joe’s fell behind early, down 26-13 after one quarter and never fully recovered, playing catch-up all night. They trailed by 14 at the half and 63-41 after three.

They cut it to 11 on and and-one opportunity by Jeremy DeCaro with 1:24 left, but he missed the foul shot and the Falcons got called for a flagrant foul near their bench that resulted in an ejection and four free throws for Okeoma, who made the first three, and squashed any comeback attempt.

St. Joseph was led by Clayville’s 15, nine of which came in the final quarter. Senior Josh Ingram had 12, but was held to just four points – all on free throws – in the first half, a result of UC’s defense.

Union Catholic will face either Bergen Catholic or St. Peter’s Prep, the North A winner, with that game close late at Franklin HS as of this writing.

Follow Sportsplex at Metuchen on Instagram for the latest on open gym sessions on their courts and turf!

Click below to hear for postgame reaction brought to you by SportsPlex at Metuchen – COMING SOON!

INSTANT REPLAY: Boys’ Central Jersey Group 2 Final – #2 Manasquan 60, #1 South River 52

The top-seeded South River Rams fell just a win short in their quest for their first state title since 1991, falling 60-52 to second-seed Manasquan in South River. Senior Laz Rodriguez led the Rams with 15 points, while sophomore Alex Grospe had 13 – 10 of which came in the fourth quarter – including three treys.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko call all the action on February 28, 2023 on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

St. Joseph looks to claim first state sectional title since Towns era, battles Union Catholic tonight in South Jersey

Falcons head coach Jan Cocoziello has said more than once this season something to the effect of: “People forget, this isn’t your Karl Towns St. Joe’s.”

And he’s not wrong, of course. Talented as they are, there certainly is no one the caliber of Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Few teams have anyone like that.

But shades of that era – when the Falcons went to back-to-back Tournaments of Champions, and won it all in 2014 after reaching the finals in 2013 – are creeping back into the minds of fans, and likely for the first time into the minds of the Falcon Flock, the loud boisterous student section, even though the oldest of them would have been just nine years old when Towns shook the rims at the Maglio Gymnasium.

The 2022-23 campaign got off to a slow start in the ’22 part of the schedule, by St. Joe’s standards. They lost Game 3 to new Red Division member Colonia – up from the White – by five, then were shocked at home the day after Christmas by South River in Metuchen, 74-66, to send them into the New Year at 3-2.

Follow Sportsplex at Metuchen on Instagram for the latest on open gym sessions on their courts and turf!

But Cocoziello’s squad would challenge itself the rest of the way, with games against the likes of Linden and Seton Hall Prep out of conference, get swept two games by St. Thomas Aquinas, but avenge their December loss to Colonia.

They would also beat Rutgers Prep on February second, the top team in Somerset County at that point, 73-61 in Somerset, a sign this team could be turning the proverbial corner. Just over three weeks later, it proved to be an omen, as Joe’s again topped the Argonauts, this time at home, back on Monday in the Non-Public South A semifinals.

And the 70-66 win came in the most dramatic of ways. The Falcons trailed 21-9 after one quarter. But they chipped away, cutting the deficit to nine at halftime, and three at the end of the third quarter. The gym was jumping the entire second half.

Now, 6th-seed St. Joseph-Metuchen (18-10) takes on fifth-seed Union Catholic (19-9) in the Non-Public South A Championship Game down in South Jersey. Game time is 7 pm at Lenape High School in Medford Lakes. Central Jersey Sports Radio will have complete postgame coverage after the game is over.

The contest will be a rematch of a late January meeting in Scotch Plains, where the Falcons won 60-55 behind 20 points from team leader Josh Ingram, who also had seven rebounds and dished out four assists.

But one key difference from that game will be a new player added to the mix for UC: Chimeziri Okeoma, who wouldn’t become eligible for four more days after the first meeting with Joe’s. All he;s done in a dozen games since sitting due to transfer rules is score 18.9 points per game, while scoring 43 combined in the last two, with wins over Paul VI in the quarterfinals, then top-seed Camden Catholic by eight in the semis.

Then again, Joe’s also missed shooter and creator Jeremy Clayville in that first matchup, who’d been injured and just played his first game back on Monday, chipping in seven points to the effort.

But in the last game, Joe’s also got a huge contribution from Anthony Williams, a senior forward who has stepped in Clayville’s absence, but even with him back in the lineup, led all scorers in Monday night’s game, with 24 points.

Tonight’s South A winner will face the North A winner on Friday night at 5 pm in the Non-Public Group A Championship Game at Jersey Mike’s Arena at Rutgers University in Piscataway. The North A final features 5-seed Bergen Catholic – the defending champ, which beat Rutgers Prep in the Group A final last year at Rutgers – taking on 3rd-seed St. Peter’s Prep out of Jersey City.

South Brunswick boys, Middlesex girls fall in sectional finals

The GMC got swept in sectional title games Tuesday night, as the South Brunswick boys were ousted in the Central Jersey Group 4 title game, while the Middlesex girls lost in the Central Jersey Group 2 final.

That’s in addition to the South River boys, which lost 60-52 to Manasquan at home in the Central Jersey Group 2 final 60-52, the Rams stopped in their quest to win their first sectional trophy since 1991.

Colonia is now the last remaining public school from the Central Jersey Sports Radio coverage area to be alive in the state tournament. The North 2, Group 3 champion Patriots take on North 1, Group 3 winner Ramapo at Phillipsburg Thursday night at 7, a rematch of last year’s sectional semi, won by the Raiders.

Boys’ Central Jersey Group 4 Final: #1 Trenton 53, #6 South Brunswick 37

The sixth-seeded Vikings – who pulled off numerous upsets late in the year en routr to the GMC Tournament final, and now the CJ4 title game – gave top-seed Trenton (29-1) a valiant effort in a tough, hostile environment in the state capitol. In fact, South Brunswick led 12-11 after one quarter, and despite a run by the Tornadoes over the next eight minutes, only trailed 29-25 at halftime.

But Trenton further extended the lead in the third quarter, and pulled away for good in the fourth. They’ll now move on to face Egg Harbor Township, the third-seed out of South Jersey Group 4 – which upset top-seed Lenape Tuesday night, 41-36 – Thursday night at 7:00 at Central Regional High School in Bayville.

The Vikings (20-7) were led by Kalani Antoine’s 10 points, while Daniel Swirad chipped in nine, and Hamrehar Chhabra added six.

Girls’ Central Jersey Group 1 Final: #1 Shore Regional 62, #2 Middlesex 31

Shore came out hot to a 16-4 lead at the end of one quarter, and continued over the next 16 minutes, going into the locker room with a 32-12 lead thanks to a stifling defense.

Jaclyn DeShields led Middlesex (20-9) with 14 points, while Jessica Devine added 10, but senior Neysa Aguilar – the team’s leading scorer – was held to just two points in the game.

Shore (23-6) now moves on to the Group 2 semifinals against South Jersey Group 1 winner Woodstown. The top-seeded Wolverines (22-8) were 57-30 winners over Wildwood Tuesday night, and move on to the semis at Deptford High School Thursday at 7 pm.