I f the first week of play is any indicator, the 2011-12 season is going to be a bumpy ride in the Shore Conference A North Division for boys basketball. Coach Brian Golub’s Freehold Township Patriots and coach Rick Garretson’s Manalapan Braves have already turned things upside down.
Meanwhile in the Shore Conference B North Division, Colts Neck has a group of seniors who are playing with a sense of urgency as they seek their first championship.
Freehold Township began the 2011-12 season by beating last year’s Shore Conference Tournament champion, Raritan, and perennialANorth and state power Christian Brothers Academy.
Although Middletown North, the preseason A North pick, restored a measure of order by beating the Patriots, 76-40, on Dec. 22, the Patriots did enough in the first week of the campaign to establish themselves as serious contender for the league title.
“The key for us is that the sum of our whole is greater than the parts,” Golub said. “The chemistry is awesome. They play for each other and they have some talent. They play incredibly hard in practice. They don’t take a practice off.”
What the Patriots have going for them is depth. Golub goes 10 players deep and keeps the pressure on for 32 minutes. The coach said he believes the relentless pressure took its toll on Raritan and CBA and allowed the Patriots to win those games in the fourth quarter.
As for talent, it starts with senior Casey Skievaski, who fills the stat sheet. He can score (16 ppg. last season), but he can also rebound, pass and come up with steals on defense. Skievaski is as close as the balanced offense has to a go-to player.
Senior guard Steve McCutcheon is running the point for the Patriots and his experience is invaluable in helping him make the right decisions.
Golub pointed to another senior, Ben Collincini, whose work ethic is second to none and whose hustling attitude has rubbed off on the rest of the players.
John Horrigan, Collincini and Jake Catanzaro, all seniors, round out the starting line-up.
Ryan Talbott, Chris Talbott, Steve Cohen, Keith Clark and Kyle Czajkowski are big parts of Golub’s rotation.
The three-point shot remains a big weapon for Freehold Township and Golub noted that the Patriots have more threepoint shooters than ever before.
Manalapan (2-0) signaled it was going to be factor in A North when the Braves stunned Middletown North, 56-54, on Bryan Adams’ lay-up in the final two seconds.
Guard Anthony Firkser poured in a game-high 26 points and assisted on the game-winning basket against the Lions. Firkser drove to the hoop and when the defense collapsed on him, he found Adams open for the winning points. It was a bit of payback for the Braves, who lost to the Lions three times last season, including a defeat in the final seconds of a state tournament game.
The good news for Manalapan in the first week of the season was that the Braves got scoring throughout the lineup. While Firkser is averaging 19 ppg, Evan Pruden hit for 22 points in a season-opening win over Shore Regional. Andrew Saray and Adams have all had double-figure games.
Firkser, Adams (senior guard), Sam Skran (senior forward), Eric Presby (senior guard) and Mike Pyzik (senior guard) are the returnees from last year’s state tournament team.
Newcomers Pruden (senior guard), Russell Issom (senior forward) and Saray (senior guard) have made an immediate impact.
The three-point shot is a key part of the offense. Manalapan hit 18 treys in the first two games with Firkser, Pruden and Saray standing out as the team’s long-range gunners.
Defense remains a trademark for the Braves. As of Dec. 23 they had not surrendered 60 points in a game. That type of defense will bode well as they move into the heart of the A North schedule in January.
At Colts Neck, the bitter taste of the Cougars’ loss to Northern Burlington in last season’s Central Jersey Group III state sectional tournament championship game, when they lost a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, has not left the players and is their motivation for this year.
“I think about it every day,” forward Hunter Wysocki said. “We are all hungry. We came up short last year and we don’t want it to happen again.”
Sean O’Reilly said he has gotten the loss to Northern Burlington out of his head, but “not out of my heart.
“It’s (a championship) our motivation for the season,” he said.
Senior starters Wysocki, O’Reilly and Steve Faust have been playing together since the sixth grade. They have made Colts Neck a perennial winner during their careers, but they are still chasing that elusive first championship. Coming so close last season has given the seniors a sense of urgency, of having to get it done this year.
Wysocki, who surpassed 1,000 career points last year, has become one of the Shore Conference’s top players. The forward can defend, rebound, block shots and score inside or outside.
O’Reilly, a guard, is a relentless defender who is fearless going to the basket and has three-point range with his jumper.
But it is Faust, who has grown to 6-11, who may hold the key for Colts Neck. If he can clog the middle, rebound and block shots it will make the Cougars’man-to-man defense much more effective. Offensively, he can open things up for the team’s shooters with his inside presence. O’Reilly said when the Cougars play defense, Faust “is a distraction” to opposing offenses, and Wysocki said Faust is making a big difference on the glass.
That trio is joined in the starting lineup by junior Brandon Federici, an outstanding three-point shooter who started last year. He forces opponents to extend their defense if they do not want to be hit with a barrage of three-point field goals.
The lone newcomer in the starting lineup is junior guard Lucas Lalima.
Jon Baturgil (junior guard) and Tim Vangelas (junior guard) give coach Lou Piccola the option of going to a smaller and quicker lineup.
James Sobieski (senior forward) and Tom Scanlan (senior forward) are both 6-5 and can provide help on the front line. Zhang Hongliang (junior) adds depth to the forward position.
Along with a sense of urgency, the Cougars may have something more important going for them and that is an intangible.
“We have a lot of chemistry,” Wysocki said. “It comes form having the same lineup. We know each other’s strengths and our weaknesses. We’re like a family. We are all good friends.”
O’Reilly agreed that the Cougars’ familiarity with each other may be the team’s greatest strength.
“We play well together,” he said.
Colts Neck is off to a 3-0 start.
Howell, led by all-time leading scorer Ryan Keegan, enjoyed one of its finest basketball seasons last winter. Among the team’s accomplishments was reaching the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time in program history.
Coach Brian Quick’s Rebels will have their work cut out for them this year as the team graduated all five starters from 2010- 11.
Last year’s sixth man, Raquan Haynes, will be the team’s “go to guy,” according to Quick. Haynes is 6-2, 185 pounds and a physical presence on the floor.
“He will have to lead a very young group of players with limited or no varsity experience,” the coach said.
Senior Dylan Abolafia is Howell’s longrange shooter, the team’s three- point threat, Junior guards Jason Bower and Luke Sorge worked hard in the off-season and are solid all-around players.
For the first time in Quick’s tenure, the Rebels have some size with Joe Purcaro and John Quinlan. Each young man is 6-5 and a strong rebounder.
Forward Tory Robinson, a junior, runs the floor and is a plus to the team as a scorer and rebounder. Versatile Luke Weber, a 6-0 junior, gives Quick some flexibility because of his ability to play more than one position.
Rounding out the team are juniors Alec Dambach, James Carraher and Jake Ernst, along with freshman Aaron Trimble, Gino Palummo and Will Kocsis.
“I fully expect to be gritty and competitive all year and our team goals are to make the state tournament and the Shore Conference Tournament,” Quick said.
Howell got its season off on the right foot by going 2-1 through its first three games.
In the Shore Conference B North Division, Freehold would like to have a say about who wins the league title. Coach Ben DiBiase has a veteran team (combined eight seniors and juniors) that qualified for the state tournament in 2010-11.
Forward Matt Devorin, the Colonials’ captain, and long-range shooter Pat Mullin, both seniors, are the team’s key returnees. Junior forward Dan Martucci and junior point guard Mike Bolton are the other cornerstones of the team who played last year when Freehold was 13-13.
For rebounding and inside play, the Colonials will look to senior forwards Marc Cotroneo and Kevin Phillips, and Martucci.
A group of five sophomores and freshman guard Josh Dixon are being counted on to provide valuable minutes off the bench.
Forward Tyrod Smith-Rush, whose father, Eddy Smith, was a standout for the late Jack Kuhnert at Freehold, provides the team with a burst of energy.
Donald Allen, Glenn Bates, Jordan McGill and Dan Parr are the other sophomores the Colonials are looking at to contribute more as the season progresses.
The Colonials will have to fight their way back from an 0-3 start.
One of the early season highlights will be a non-division game between Freehold and Freehold Township on Jan. 6 at Freehold High School in Freehold Borough.
The contest will be the inaugural Kuhnert Classic that will honor the Colonials’ late coach Jack Kuhnert. Many of Kuhnert’s former players are expected to attend the game that will tip off at 5:30 p.m.
Marlboro coach Mark Truhan begins his second season with a team that has virtually no varsity experience. The good news, he noted, is that the Mustangs (0-1) play well together and are committed to playing hard on the defensive end of the court.
John Viccaro (senior guard), Ejaz Galani (senior forward), Matt Vogel (junior center), Brian Fontanetta (junior guard), Jon Cabrejos (junior guard), Mike Fasano (senior guard), Justin Markiewicz (sophomore guard), Chandler Sherman (sophomore guard), Kyle Moffit (senior forward), Dimitri Nakhla (senior guard) and Jay Kural (forward/guard) make up the 2011-12 Mustangs.
Fasano is the team’s point guard and directs the offense, while Vogel, at 6-3, gives the team size up front.
Marlboro opened the campaign with a 45-37 loss to Ocean Township which showed the Mustangs can play defense, but with no one scoring in double figures against the Spartans, the team is in need of someone who can step up and become a scorer.