Photo via NJ.com
High school basketball generally conjures up the image of a packed gym in a farm town in Indiana or a hotly contested battle between two New York catholic schools. But in recent years, the oft-mocked state of New Jersey has become the new mecca of the high school game. Karl Towns, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Anderson and others have made New Jersey the place to be for college scouts. In 2018, NJ has made history, with 3 NJ ballers receiving the highest honor a high school basketball player can receive: being named a Mcdonald’s All-American. Jahvon Quinerly and Louis King from Hudson Catholic’s and Roselle Catholic’s Nazreon Reid have all been selected to play in the prestigious game. So far, Jersey basketball has been as exciting as ever and detailing all the exciting moments and games up to this point could take as long as a triple overtime game, so I’ll just highlight a few teams I think have the most talent and have excelled up to this point.
NJ’s Top Teams and Players for 2018:
Hudson Catholic (17-4): Hudson Catholic is the most talented team in New Jersey this year, but they have underachieved in a few games and are ranked below Roselle Catholic in the NJ.com (Star Ledger) Top 20. They have the elixir that has worked for the last 5 NJ TOC champions, a senior laden team featuring multiple division 1 signees. Jahvon Quinerly, an uncommitted senior point guard, is bar none the best player in the state. He scores at will and can play the role of distributor as well, getting less heralded teammates like Danny Rodriguez and Shaq Dezonie involved. Luther Muhammad (Ohio State) and Louis King (Oregon) are far from role players and can each drop 20-30 points on any given night. The main question surrounding Hudson Catholic is whether their relatively weak Hudson County schedule prepares them for the grueling Non-Public Playoffs. Hudson has a tougher bracket this year in the Non Public playoffs, with perennial contenders Gill St Bernard’s, Patrick School, and Roselle Catholic joining.
Roselle Catholic (18-4): I didn’t buy the hype surrounding Roselle Catholic this year until their February 9th game with the nation’s number one team: Montverde Academy. Roselle outplayed the super-team for nearly the entire game, but blew the lead late and lost by 1. The fact that Roselle could outplay a team with 5 high major D1 recruits in its starting lineup should scare the rest of New Jersey. Not to mention the fact that they have abnormal height and quickness for a high school team. They’re led up front by 6’11 Naz Reid (LSU commit) who can play the post as well as bring the ball up as a POINT GUARD, 6’8 Alanzo Frink, a terror on the glass and the team’s hardest working player, and 6’6 Khalil Whitney, a wing with a smooth three point shot and hops. Their backcourt, while initially seen as a weakness at the dawn of the season, has blossomed with Josh Pierre Louis dropping 17 on Montverde, and St. Anthony transfer Ithiel Horton raining down 3’s. RC is playing like the best team in the state right now.
Seton Hall Prep (20-1): The Prep is truly a mercurial team this year. To be frank, Seton Hall Prep is the shakiest 20-1 team I’ve ever seen. They’re 20-1, but could easily have 5 more losses. The Prep has made a bad habit of getting down big to inferior teams and somehow pulling out a win late. They were down 14 at the half to Rutgers Prep and 13 to Orange after the 1st quarter, both teams they could’ve beat by at least 20. The thing that should ease the mind of The Prep faithful is that The Prep has the talent (including one of the nation’s top sophomores, Jabri Adbur-Rahim, son of NBA player Shareef Abdur-Rahim) to make a deep playoff run and, if they played to their potential for a full 32 minutes, they could beat anyone in the state with the exception of maybe Bosco, RC, and Hudson.
Don Bosco Prep (20-2): No doubt about it: Bosco is dangerous. They are battle tested, having gone shot for shot with Patrick School in last year’s TOC final after winning 3 games as the underdog to get there. They have two solid senior stars in Ron Harper (Son of ex-NBA star Ron Harper) and Marcellus Earlington, who are both extremely versatile on the court. Earlington and Harper are built like Linemen (Earlington is about 6’5 250) but can hit 3’s and knock down deft jumpers inside the arc as well as post up and get rebounds. Matt Herasme is far from a role player and can knock down a clutch 3 pointer as well. Even point guard Mike Concannon has dropped 20 points in a game or two this year for the Ironmen. Bosco has surprisingly flown under the radar for a team with their potential this year. They’ve only lost to Mount St. Joseph of Maryland in a holiday tournament and to their archrival Bergen Catholic in a game in which they came back from a 25 point deficit only to lose at the buzzer. They haven’t played a great schedule, so they’ll be just as underrated as they were last year heading into the playoffs. But with the same cast of characters back from a year ago, Bosco has a legitimate shot to win the TOC this year after coming oh-so close in 2017.
Don’t Sleep on: Montclair Immaculate (15-7)-Immaculate showed how dangerous they can be with a win over #9 Mater Dei at the Primetime Shootout on February 11th. The lions have a dynamic duo in Syracuse commit Jalen Carey and Justin Winston as well as 6’10 Elijah Hutchins Everett and three-point sniper Zion Bethea. Immaculate has endured one of the toughest schedules in the state and their seven losses have all come to teams either ranked nationally or in the NJ top 20, including Seton Hall Prep, Newark East Side, and Findlay Prep from Nevada. Because they’ve been tested with their schedule, they have a low seed for the playoffs, but have the potential to beat higher seeded teams.
February is the time when NJ basketball action really starts picking up. The state playoffs begin in two weeks, so stay tuned for another column previewing the playoffs by the end of February.
Matthew Collins can be reached at email@example.com.