Category: Boys Basketball

Spotswood referendum calls for athletic, building improvements with zero tax impact

There’s an old saying: “If it’s free it’s for me.”

In Spotswood – and Helmetta, but not Milltown, which has its own Board of Education and its own schools through eighth grade – voters will go to the polls on September 26th to weigh in on a $12.6 million dollar bond referendum that would fund improvements to the high school football and baseball fields, as well as needed repairs and upgrades at all other district schools, all without costing taxpayers a dime.

For football, Spotswood would replace the natural grass surface at Chargers Stadium with all-weather turf, and change the configuration of its track to allow soccer to be played there, too.

The high school’s athletic fields are on land behind it which has traditionally never drained well. The baseball team affectionately calls their home field “The Swamp.” That field would get singificant drainage improvements.

But sports fields aren’t all that would be done.

  • The high school also would get new lighting and sound equipment for district-wide theater and stage performances.
  • Appleby and Schoenly Schools would get new ADA-compliant playground equipment.
  • Appleby and Memorial Schools would get upgraded and replaced HVAC units.
  • Schoenly School would get HVAC upgrades/replacements, and a new roof.

School officials say the best part about the project is that it would not increase taxes; there would be zero tax impact on homeowners in Spotswood and Milltown if the referendum is approved. That’s because 40 percent of the cost would be covered by aid from the state, which it only receives if the district borrows the money.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlickho speak with Spotswood Board of Education President Dan Lennan about the upcoming schools referendum:

South River football program gets generous gift from an old alum

Back in 1991 – when South River head coach Rich Marchesi was in his fourth season as head coach – the Rams won a state championship, beating Dunellen 14-0 for the Central Jersey Group 1 title.

One of the players he coached was Minkah Fitzpatrick. And before you are thinking of the Minkah Fitzpatrick who’s now with the Pittsburgh Steelers and one of the top safeties in the NFL, that’s the “son” Minkah Fitpatrick. This is the father we’re talking about.

He was pretty well-known for his basketball exploits, too, his team winning the CJ1 title in basketball in 1990-91, the school year prior to the ’91 football championship.

Fitzpatrick was on South River’s 1991 Central Jersey Group 1 title team. Quarterback Matt Lonczak is shown here. (Source:

So, fast forward to one day in February, 32 years later: Marchesi gets a call from Fitzpatrick – the father – who tells him he wants to help out the program. He donated a 50 brand-new sets of cleats, practice jerseys, and practice pants with pads.

“His son does a pretty good job,” Marchesi told Central Jersey Sports Radio. “He said the family is blessed, and he wanted to pay it forward.”

Being a small school, and with the cost of everything skyrocketing, Marchesi says it’s not always easy to afford to get new jerseys or new equipment.

And, of course, the district will go to voters in November to ask for $5.5 million dollars to repair Bill Denny Stadium, which the Board of Education confirmed earlier this month will be demolished, with the nearly 90-year-old stadium no longer safe.

“The kids knew where it came from,” says Marchesi, who notes they appreciate the history of the program, and often get to meet former South River stars when they come back home, a visit that’s never complete without a stop in at a football game.

Click below to hear South River coach Rich Marchesi talk about the big equipment donation from the family of Minkah Fitzpatrick:

Big changes coming to NJ high school hoops, as NFHS adopts bonus, foul shot changes for 2023-24

The NFHS – which makes rules for high school sports typically followed by the NJSIAA – has adopted two major rule changes for high school basketball that will go into effect this coming school year.

The changes were recently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors, after getting the OK from the Basketball Rules Committee at its annual meeting in Indianapolis back in April. NJSIAA Basketball Director Al Stumpf confirmed the NJSIAA will adhere to the changes.

A change to rule 4-8-1 eliminates the one-and-one foul set in the bonus situation, and will set new parameters for the bonus. Instead of the seventh foul each half being a one-and-one and the tenth foul being a two-shot situation, all shooting fouls after the fifth in each quarter will be two-shot situations.

In a press release, NFHS Director of Sports and liaison to the Basketball Rules Committee Lindsay Atkinson said, “The rules committee studied data that showed higher injury rates on rebounding situations and saw this as an opportunity to reduce opportunities for rough play during rebounds.”

Atkinson also said, resetting the fouls each quarter will improve game flow and allow teams to adjust their play by not carrying foul totals to quarters two and four.”

No changes were made to the amount of personal fouls allowed before a player fouls out of the game; that will remain at five.

The move mirrors women’s NCAA basketball’s rules since it moved from playing two halves to two quarters for the 2015-16 season.

Other minor rule changes include:

  • Simplifying the location for throw-ins by the offensive team in the frontcourt when the defense commits a violation to three feet on either side of the lane or the hash marks on the sidelines, whichever location is closest to the violation.
  • Designating the scorer’s table as the official placement of the shot clock operator for states that use it; New Jersey does not.
  • Clarifying that teams may use multiple styles of uniform bottoms, but they must be like-colored and adhere to existing uniform rules
  • Allowing teams to wear a single solid color or solid black undershirt in order to achieve uniformity for schools with hard-to-find colors
  • Allowing a player to “step out of bounds and return to the court if the player gains no advantage. A player is penalized only if, after returning inbounds, the player is the first to touch the ball or avoids a violation.”

For the full NFHS rule changes, click here.

NJSIAA’s Colleen Maguire talks new transfer rule, emphasis on curbing recruiting in HS

The sweeping changes made Monday by the NJSIAA to its rules on student-athlete transfers and recruiting go hand-in-hand.

That’s the theme from NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire, who talked with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday morning.

The two big changes are this: all student-athletes will be allowed to transfer at least once in their high school careers without penalty – having to sit out a portion of the season – regardless of whether or not they have moved, and that recruiting a student-athlete before high school is now permitted, though it will continue to be banned once a student-athlete enters high school.

That’s defined as either the first day of classes or the first day they attend practice in the fall sports season, whichever comes first.

But Maguire says with no more requirement of a student-athlete to have a bona fide change of address for a penalty-free transfer, the NJSIAA will put more emphasis on policing recruitment.

Anecdotally, it happens all the time, whether public schools or private, at all grades in high school, all sports. But few cases ever get to the point where penalties handed down..

The most recent high profile case happened this fall when Paramus Catholic was found guilty of illegal recruiting in football after allegations were leveled by Belleville High School. The Paladins were ruled ineligible for the postseason and placed on two years’ probation, but on appeal by Belleville, head coach Greg Russo and assistant coach Christian Maldonado were suspended for the remainder of the probation period.

NJSIAA rules adopted Monday also strike language from its bylaws allowing penalties against student-athletes who transfer as a result of recruiting violations.

Click below to hear the full interview as NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire talks to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko about the new recruiting and transfer rules:

Groundbreaking new NJSIAA transfer, recruiting rules approved; will be in effect a month early

Sweeping changes first proposed back in January will go into effect June first, allowing for recruitment of student-athletes before they become high schoolers, and – in general – one free transfer during their high school careers without having to sit out, regardless of whether they move or not.

Three ballot proposals – the third of which allows the new bylaws to go into effect June first, whereas most amendments go into effect July first – were overwhelmingly approved by the NJSIAA’s membership at its annual meeting Monday.

Recruiting now allowed before high school

The first of the changes amends the NJSIAA’s “Athletic Recruitment Rule.” It removes removes any penalties for recruiting student-athletes before they enter high school, as well as “potential penalties” against student-athletes. It also adds that if a student moves to a residence provided someone associated with the school, it will be considered evidence of recruiting unless proven otherwise.

Previously, the Athletic Recruitment Rule called for a penalty of one year of ineligibility for students-athletes who transfer as a result of recruiting, but that language was eliminated under the changes adopted Monday.

Scroll to the bottom of this story for the full NJSIAA wording on the rule changes.

It is still against the rules to recruit a student-athlete once they’ve entered high school. That includes “using mail, letters, brochures, or news media to compare high schools and to solely point out the athletic assets of the sender; engaging in proselytizing interviews or communications, initiated by school personnel or associates; offering athletic scholarships, free tuition or other monetary assistance, either from the school directly or indirectly through some affiliated body or individual, to induce a student to attend the school for athletic reasons.”

Athletic recruitment is not only banned by administration, staff, and coaches, but also “students, parents, booster clubs, or any organization having a connection with the school.”

Free transfers, but also limits

The NJSIAA says in its bylaws “it aims to discourage transfers for athletic reasons, multiple transfers, and transfers after a sports season has begun.”

Current rules require any transfer, in general, to sit 30-days before participating – or half the number of games, whichever is less – unless the transfer had a bona fide change of address.

The changes approved Monday eliminate the change of address rule, and allow a free transfer with no penalty any time in a student’s first six semesters of their initial high school enrollment. But a “second or subsequent” transfer at any time will require the typical 30-day sit-out period.

Senior transfers – anyone who transfers after their first three seasons of eligibility in a sport they participated in during the past 12 months – would have to sit 22 days or a third of the contests – whether it’s their first transfer or not.

Transfers still would have to sit it they transfer after the start of practice, and would be ineligible for the NJSIAA postseason if they transfer after regular season play begins – neither of those change.

One difference from when the rules were first proposed in January are the exceptions added in by the NJSIAA along the way. The new rules state “immediate eligibility, without penalty, will be granted for transfers resulting from DCP&P placement (Division of Child Protection and Placement), court placement, HIB transfers (Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying), and military transfers.”

“More than just a game,” Autism Awareness Challenge will feature 70 baseball and softball teams from across New Jersey this weekend

Just like last year, it’s the biggest it’s ever been.

The 2023 Autism Awareness Challenge returns this weekend to North Brunswick’s Community Park, where there will be a full slate of 20 baseball games and 15 softball games played over three days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

That’s 35 games, 70 teams, just like last year.

Are we having fun yet?

The whole thing started in 2008 with just eight teams from the Greater Middlesex Conference, founded by Mike Garlatti, who heads up Baseball Warehouse in Highland Park. A scout for the Colorado Rockies, Garlatti also was a Rutgers assistant under Fred Hill on the 1990 team that missed a trip to the College World Series by just one game.

When it started in 2008, there were just eight Greater Middlesex Conference teams taking part.

Garlatti started the Teamwork Unlimited Foundation a couple of years after the initial event, which didn’t even have a fundraising component; it was simply dedicated to raising awareness about autism, after his son was diagnosed and found to be on the spectrum.

The Foundation now distributes money raised to autism support services and related groups. Scholarships are also handed out.

Garlatti spoke with Central Jersey Sports Radio about this weekend’s event. Click below to listen, and scroll down for a YouTube video recapping last year’s event.

Follow Team Work Unlimited Foundation on Twitter at @teamworkunlimit for schedule updates and more, including how to make a donation.

GMC will keep pilot program for Red Division boys’ basketball in ’23-’24

The pilot program that allowed GMC Red Division boys’ basketball teams to only play each other once this past season will continue next year.

Greater Middlesex Conference President Mike Pede confirmed the recent extension of the program by the division’s Athletic Directors for another season, since the league is in the middle of a two-year scheduling cycle.

Typically, teams in each division play each other twice. But some public schools didn’t want to play powerhouses like St. Joseph-Metuchen and St. Thomas Aquinas twice in a season, fearing it would hurt their potential playoff standing. And the pilot allowed some schools more scheduling flexibility to play in showcases in and out of the state.

The GMC Red was a mammoth nine-team division last year, meaning each team otherwise would have had 16 division games, more than anyone else in the conference. With a shorter season thanks to NJSIAA changes to the school year sports calendar, that limited opportunities to find opponents that could help their power point totals.

So, a pilot program approved last spring that would allow teams to play each other once. They would be permitted to play any other school twice, but when it came to seeding the county tournament, only the first matchup would count.

Now, that will continue for another season. Beyond that, in the future, the league could change divisional alignments, scheduling, or come up with some other idea entirely.

“The GMC has done an amazing job looking forward and thinking outside the box,” Pede told Central Jersey Sports Radio. And he says all those changes are considered with the student-athletes in mind.

For example, in baseball, the league moved to a five-division setup based on factors beyond school size, adding the GMC Silver. As a result, Piscataway – a large school which has struggled in the Red (5-15 in 2021) and White (7-18 last year) Divisions of late – is in the Blue this year. They are 3-5, but have lost only one of those five games by ten runs or more. Last year, they lost eight of their 15 games by that margin.

“This is not a GMC issue,” Pede said, indicating that it’s not something being considered in other sports. “This is a boys’ basketball Red Division issue.”

“If they feel there’s a problem with boys’ Red Division basketball, let’s fix the problem,” Pede added. “Let’s not fix what’s not broken.”

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 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: