South Jersey Sports Zone (SJSZ) was co-founded by Kevin Emmons in 2017. The brand covers high school sports and promotes South Jersey pride. If you’d like to keep up with SJSZ, find them on Facebook and Twitter.
High school basketball season is upon us in South Jersey and SJ Sports Zone has you covered with the best regional basketball coverage of the seven-county (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem) area. The abbreviated season will begin on January 26 and conclude on March 6. There will be no postseason tournaments this season and teams are allowed a maximum of 15 regular season games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, there will still be plenty of elite basketball going on, so you don’t want to miss a beat!
Below is the South Jersey Sports Zone Preseason Top 15 for boys basketball:
1. Camden (29-1 record last season): The Panthers finished as the top-ranked team in New Jersey last winter before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the remainder of the season. Camden was in a position to become the first public school to win the Tournament of Champions since 2000. Ironically, the Panthers won the T of C that year behind the play of high school basketball legend DaJuan Wagner. Wagner’s son, DJ Wagner, returns to Camden for his sophomore season and is the top-ranked player in the Class of 2023 according to 247Sports and ESPN. Wagner will be joined by seniors TaQuan Woodley (South Carolina commit) and Jerome Brewer — a 6’7” wing with offers from Rider, Mississippi Valley, Bryant and Tulsa to name a few. 7’0” center Aaron Bradshaw joins the Panthers this season and is the fifth-ranked sophomore in New Jersey according to 247Sports. Bradshaw holds offers from Nebraska, TCU and Texas A&M. The plethora of talent doesn’t end there. Sophomore Cornelius Robinson charted significant minutes off the bench as a freshman and currently holds offers Bryant and Texas A&M. Sophomore Cian Medley returns and will share ball-handling responsibilities with Wagner. Medley was the starting point guard a year ago and holds an offer from Manhattan. 6’6” forward Rasheer Fleming transferred from Gloucester and will be an inside threat with superb rebounding capabilities for the Panthers this season. Camden proves to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field and will be extremely hard to beat in 2021.
2. Paul VI (21-7): The Eagles are led by NJIT commit and Preseason All-South Jersey First Team selection Wisler Sanon. Sanon led a balanced scoring attack last season averaging slightly over 13.2 points per game. The senior guard is joined by Preseason All-South Jersey Second Team selection Jalen Boyd-Savage and Nicolo Nobili. Nobili, a 6’9” forward, holds offers from IUPUI, Lafayette, Boston University and Lehigh to name a few. Paul VI also returns another experienced post player in Jordan Pierre. Guard Jaden Arline returns for the Eagles this season, too. Arline was recently named a Preseason All-South Jersey honorable mention. Paul VI welcomes back an extraordinary amount of experience from last season’s team that fell to St. Augustine 57-48 in the South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals.
3. St. Augustine (24-5): The Hermits return a trio of forwards that helped them reach the South Jersey Non-Public A final in 2020. 6’8” forward Matt Delaney, an American commit, returns after averaging just below 15.7 points per game last season. Delaney was named a Preseason All-South Jersey First Team selection and will be joined by 6’7” forwards John Horner and Keith Palek. Both players were recently named Preseason All-South Jersey honorable mentions. Palek is a threat from beyond-the-arc with 38 three-pointers made last season. St. Augustine’s biggest challenge will be overcoming the loss of guard Elmarko Jackson. Jackson transferred to Academy of the New Church (PA) during the offseason. Jackson emerged as a sophomore last season for the Hermits and appeared to only be scratching the surface on his true potential. Stability in the Hermits’ backcourt could be an issue early on, but not one worth stressing. As long as Paul Rodio is at the helm, St. Augustine will be among the best in South Jersey.
4. Camden Catholic (20-9): The Irish return a trio of starters headlined by 6’9” swingman Zach Hicks. Hicks, a Temple commit, was named a Preseason All-South Jersey First Team selection. The senior is a prolific scorer that can fill up that stat sheet. Hicks averaged just below 20 points per game and was Camden Catholic’s leading rebounder a season ago. He will be joined by guards Colin Merriman (Scranton commit) and Lucas Dunn. Both players were named Preseason All-South Jersey honorable mentions. Merriman averaged over 10.3 points per game in 2019-2020. The experience of this trio should help the Irish remain as one of the top teams in the highly competitive Olympic Conference.
5. St. Joseph-Hammonton (22-6): The Wildcats reached the Cape-Atlantic League semifinals a season ago and notched 22 wins. In addition to last year’s success, St. Joseph Academy returns its top player in senior Marcus Pierce. Pierce averaged just below 19.7 points per game and was named a Preseason All-South Jersey Second Team selection. The senior will be joined in the backcourt by guard Jordan Stafford. Stafford averaged 8.7 points per game last season and could be one of the most improved players in South Jersey in 2021. The Wildcats also added two transfers to help add size to the roster. 6’9” junior Daryl McGraw will be an inside force and 6’5″ forward Dom Thomas could contribute immediately. Thomas averaged over 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for Clearview in 2019-2020. The senior also helped the Pioneers win 18 games last year competing in the Tri-County Conference. The Wildcats added size could help them matchup with CAL rival St. Augustine. Don’t be surprised if St. Joseph-Hammonton emerges as the best team in the Cape-Atlantic League this season.
6. Lenape (20-9): The Indians return four starters from last year’s team that won 20 games and reached the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals. Lenape fell to eventual South Jersey Group 4 champion Atlantic City, 61-58. Junior Derek Simpson is one of the best guards in the state and holds offers from St. Joseph’s and Rider. Simpson averaged 18.1 points per game last season and was recently named a Preseason All-South Jersey Second Team selection. Junior Tayvon Gaither averaged 9.2 points per game last season and was named a Preseason All-South Jersey honorable mention. Riley Spitznas and Matt Alexander are also key returners for Lenape. The Indians are traditionally known for regulating their own pace and slowing down the game in the half-court. Under the direction of coach Matt Wolf, Lenape has the ability and experience to be among the best teams in the Olympic Conference this season.
7. Eastern (18-10): The Vikings will be a major threat in South Jersey if their new faces can establish chemistry with their familiar faces. Eastern added Lindenwold transfer Tazir Cantey this offseason. Cantey averaged 25.3 points per game and helped Lindenwold reach the South Jersey Group 1final last season. Cantey was named a Preseason All-South Jersey Second Team selection. The Vikings also return 6-foot-6 senior Zubair Lee. Lee averaged 15 points per game last season and was recently named a Preseason All-South Jersey honorable mention. Zubair’s twin brother, Zayd Lee, could be a breakout player in South Jersey this season. Sophomore Noah Payne could see an uptick in production this season, too.
8. Cherry Hill East (20-10): The Cougars won 20 games a season ago and reached the South Jersey Group 4 final. Cherry Hill East did fall short to Atlantic City, but four starters are returning in 2021. The Cougars’ starting lineup will be headlined by Preseason All-South Jersey Third Team selection Drew Greene. Greene averaged 13.2 points per game last season. More importantly, Greene exhibited a command for the offense and exerted leadership on the floor. The junior will be joined by Jake Green, one of the best three-point shooters in the state. Green connected on 102 three-pointers in 2019-2020 and averaged 13.5 points per game. Coach Dave Allen’s team also welcomes back junior guard E.J. Matthews-Spratley. Matthews-Spratley ranked second on the team in three-pointers made (47) and averaged over 8.3 points per game. Seniors Ben Adler and Ryan Bloom are key returners for Cherry Hill East.
9. Egg Harbor Township (13-15): The Eagles put together an improbable run last season to reach the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals as the 16th-seed. EHT knocked off top-seeded Toms River North 67-61 and 9th-seeded Williamstown 49-40 before narrowly falling to Cherry Hill East in the sectional semifinals. The Eagles return Carlos Lopez, their top scorer from a season ago, who was named a Preseason All-South Jersey honorable mention. Lopez averaged 15 points per game and knocked down 71 three-pointers as a sophomore last season. Senior forward Ethan Dodd returns after scoring 300 points last season and leading the team in rebounding. Dodd is also a threat from beyond-the-arc with 46 three-pointers made last season. Dodd and Lopez form a prolific one-two punch for EHT. DJ Germann averaged over 11.3 points per game as a freshman last year and will be even better this year. Senior JJ Germann and junior Isaiah Glenn also provide the Eagles with experience and scoring. Egg Harbor Township’s impressive run in the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs last season should help them reach new heights in this abbreviated season. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles are one of the best teams in the Cape-Atlantic League this season.
10. Atlantic City (21-6): The Vikings captured the South Jersey Group 4 title last season and were in good position to qualify for the NJSIAA Group 4 state championship. However, COVID-19 ended the season abruptly on the same day that Atlantic City was scheduled to play South Brunswick in the Group 4 state semifinal. The Vikings biggest challenge this season will be overcoming the loss of Stephen Byard to graduation. Senior Ja’Heem Frederick is a notable returner that has superb athleticism. Frederick played football for the Vikings’ football team and was named a 2020 SJ Sports Zone All-South Jersey Second Team Offense selection. The senior is expected to step up his production this season. Atlantic City will have plenty of size with forwards Aamir Mack and Christian Hobbs. Guards Naquan Blakeley, Jayden Jones and Nassan Blakely form an athletic backcourt trio. The Vikings are well-coached under the direction of Gene Allen. Atlantic City could climb up this list throughout the course of this season.
11. Cherokee (16-11): The Chiefs put together a productive season a year ago, despite losing several key players the year before to graduation. Cherokee always proves to be a competitive program under the direction of coach Eric Cassidy. In fact, the Chiefs proved so by winning the South Jersey Group 4 title in 2019. Senior Christian Armstrong could emerge as a player to watch in South Jersey and will be joined by Ethan Stith and Davonte O’Brien. Several teams in the Olympic Conference rank ahead of Cherokee, which means the Chiefs could be a team that flies under the radar. Cassidy’s group will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves this year and will be tested immediately when they hit the road to battle Eastern on January 28. The Chiefs open the season on January 26 at Bishop Eustace.
12. Timber Creek (25-5): The Chargers hope to pick up right where they left off in 2020. Timber Creek captured its first sectional championship since 2008 and qualified for the NJSIAA Group 3 state championship before COVID-19 ended the season. However, the Chargers graduated a loaded senior class that featured Eric Benjamin, Justin Bladen, Demetrius Paynter and Jalen Bergen. There’s no need to panic in Erial. Seniors Kolby Miller and Austin Green are ready to take on larger roles. Green, a 6-foot-7 forward, will provide Timber Creek with efficient scoring and rebounding. Ahmad Roberts is another player to watch that could contribute significantly in 2021.
13. Ocean City (17-10): The Red Raiders top player is Preseason All-South Jersey Third Team selection Gannon Brady. Brady, a Fordham baseball commit, averaged 22 points per game last season. Junior Tom Finnegan averaged 10 points per game in 2019-2020 and could see his scoring average increase this season. The 6-foot-7 forward provides Ocean City with much needed size. Senior Joe Repetti is another key returner and will complement Brady in the backcourt. Repetti helped the Red Raiders’ football program celebrate a successful season in 2020 as their starting quarterback and continually proves to be a leader in many ways. Ocean City also welcomes back senior Mike Rhodes. Rhodes averaged 9.1 points per game last season. The Red Raiders will be overlooked in the Cape-Atlantic League as the perennial powerhouses (St. Augustine, St. Joseph-Hammonton, Atlantic City, etc.) continue to rise and new faces (Egg Harbor Township) begin to emerge. That doesn’t change the fact Ocean City won 17 games a season ago and brought back a handful of key players. The Red Raiders could be one of the most underrated teams in South Jersey.
14. Lindenwold (20-10): The Lions are fresh off of a 20-win season and an appearance in the South Jersey Group 1 final. Lindenwold’s biggest challenge will be to replace the productivity of Tazir Cantey. Cantey, a Preseason All-South Jersey Second Team selection, transferred to Eastern. Fortunately for the Lions, that task won’t be as difficult as it appears. Eriq Campbell is back after averaging 16.6 points per game a season ago. Campbell also averaged over 5 rebounds and 6 assists per game. The senior was named a Preseason All-South Jersey Third Team selection after tallying over 2 steals per game in 2019-2020. His ability to score and defend on the perimeter will benefit the Lions this season. Lindenwold also returns its leading rebounder from a season ago, Ed Ngene. Ngene is a Bloomfield commit and averaged over 6 points per game last season. Senior Ibahim Dao returns as well after averaging just under 11 points per game in 2019-2020. Additionally, the Lions already have experience playing without Cantey as he missed time due to injury last season. Lindenwold was able to pull off three straight wins against Woodbury, Pitman and Gloucester while Cantey was out. Campbell scored 80 points in that three-game span (26.6 ppg). The Lions have faced adversity and should rise to the occasion in 2021.
15. Sterling (14-14): The Silver Knights will be led by arguably the most underrated player in South Jersey. Antoine Arnett was named a Preseason All-South Jersey Third Team selection after averaging 19.9 points per game last season. The 6’5” senior can score in various ways for Sterling and is closing in on 1,000 career points. Junior Jeff Ryder returns after leading the team in three-pointers made (35) a season ago. Ryder finished third on the team in scoring and could be an even larger threat from beyond-the-arc this season. Senior Javon Johnson and junior Mike Ermel both eclipsed 100 points scored last season and will be options on offense this year. Junior Andrew Tummings appeared in 21 games last season and provides the Silver Knights with added experience. Sterling could be the team to beat in the Colonial Conference this season under first-year head coach Justin Barringer.
Others under consideration (listed alphabetically): Doane Academy, Deptford, Gloucester, Haddonfield, Haddon Heights, Holy Cross Prep, Moorestown, Overbrook, Shawnee, Wildwood, Wildwood Catholic.
(Cover Photo: Joe Lamberti/Courier Post & USA TODAY)