For the last 35 years, you knew two things were certain when it came to South Jersey boys basketball: Jim Crawford was going to be calling the shots at Camden Catholic, and the Fighting Irish were probably going to be one of the top teams in the area. Crawford, who won 713 games—the third most in South Jersey history—and three state championships in his tenure, will be back on the bench this season, but in a different role as he decided to retire as head coach and stay on as an assistant. His son Matt, a former star player at the school and an assistant to his father the last four years, takes over the program. He inherits a team that went 20-8 but lost all-time leading scorer Kyle Green, who is now at Temple. The Irish do return three starters in senior guards Rob Brosh and Tom Organ and junior forward Brendan Crawford, the new head coach’s cousin. They also bring in 6-foot-10 junior Demola Onifade, a transfer student from Nigeria with tremendous upside.
Another team expected to be among the best in South Jersey is Camden Catholic rival Paul VI. The Eagles went 26-4 and lost a hard-fought thriller to eventual state champion St. Joseph-Metuchen in the South Jersey Non-Public A final a year ago. They return one of the top players in the area in senior forward Jay Howard, a Division I recruit who averaged 18.4 points and seven rebounds and was all-South Jersey first team. Like Paul VI, Bishop Eustace’s 2013 season was also ended by St. Joe’s-Metuchen, with a loss in the Non-Public A quarterfinals. The Crusaders graduated their top two scorers from an 18-10 squad but bring back a pair of solid senior guards in Flo Da Silva and Dvonne Trumbo.
Eastern looks like one of the favorites in the Olympic Conference American Division thanks to senior center Matt Klinewski, who averaged 18.4 points as a junior and was all-South Jersey second team. He will continue his career at Lafayette. “Matt has a chance to be player of the year in South Jersey,” coach Joe Murphy says. Cherokee is another team to watch. Despite going just 11-14 last year, the Chiefs had impressive wins over Paul VI and Lenape and defeated Pitman in July to win the Garnet Basketball Summer League title at Haddon Heights. The Chiefs return junior Paul Bellamy, who emerged as one of the team’s top scorers last season, as well as three-year starters in guard Kyle Kahriger, forward Kevin Wixted and center Jake Powell, all seniors.
Also in the Olympic American, Cherry Hill East is coming off a season in which it posted an 18-8 record and suffered a one-point loss to Shawnee in the South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals. The Cougars return leading scorer Jake Silpe, a junior guard, while senior Austin Wetzler also returns to the starting lineup. Lenape suffered heavy losses to graduation from a 25-4 squad that lost in the South Jersey Group IV final, and senior forward Cameron Green is expected to be out until February with an injury. But senior center Cole Moody returns and you should never count out coach Chuck Guittar’s program.
Elsewhere in the Olympic, 2013 Patriot Division champion Shawnee must replace all-South Jersey forward Josh Borelli, while Cherry Hill West returns leading scorer Rodney Williams, a senior who is playing his final season of basketball before focusing on football at Syracuse University. They also return 6-foot-5 junior forward Can Oztamur, who spent most of last season injured but looks to make a huge impact this year.
In the Colonial Conference, Haddonfield graduated its top two scorers after a 25-4 season but returns three starters in junior brothers Nick DePersia (12.3 points per game) and Robby DePersia (9 points), and 6-foot-5 senior center Abby Bah. “We should be a contending team in our conference as well as South Jersey Group II,” says coach Paul Wiedeman. “We have a lot of depth as well as athleticism and some height.”
Gloucester Catholic, despite losing leading scorer and rebounder Mike Shawaryn to graduation, returns six of its top seven players from a predominately sophomore team as it looks to make noise in the Tri-County Conference. The key returnees include junior Fran Kinsey, a two-year starter and all-conference second-team player who averaged 8.3 points per game. The Rams also add junior Matt Green, a transfer from Camden Catholic who is expected to have an immediate impact.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family’s High School Winter Sports Preview, November, 2013.
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