South Jersey Sports Zone 20 in '21: Potential Surprise Teams
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!
Today we examine 20 teams in South Jersey that could surprise fans around the region and surpass expectations in 2021. Don’t be surprised if you see these teams improve from a season ago.
*Note: Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Bridgeton (6-19 record last season): Bridgeton struggled in the Cape-Atlantic League American Division last season and notched only one win (Atlantic Tech) in division play. However, the Bulldogs return leading scorer Jabril Bowman who averaged just under 15.8 points per game last season. Bowman is joined by fellow junior Antonio Sydnor. Sydnor is a threat from beyond-the-arc (33 three-pointers made) and junior Deshawn Mosley also provides efficient scoring (127 points in 19 games played). Domitris Mosley provides the Bulldogs with senior leadership and is another scoring option. The senior notched a season-high 16 points in a 68-60 setback to South Jersey Group 4 sectional semifinalist Egg Harbor Township. Bridgeton will look to increase its win total from a season ago.
Cedar Creek (14-11): The Pirates will be led by senior Kyree Tinsley who looks to fill the shoes of 2020 graduate Najee Coursey. Coursey led Cedar Creek in scoring last year (19.2 ppg) while Tinsley was second with just over 8.6 points per game. Tinsley was also named a Cape-Atlantic League National Division all-star and has shown flashes of leadership down in Egg Harbor City. The Pirates will look for increased production from juniors Isaiah Valentin, Elijah Smalls and Tyree Burrell. Senior Amaris Gresham should be a factor this season, too. Cedar Creek will look to build on last year’s success -- the team won 14 games and made an appearance in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs (Lost 59-57 to Point Pleasant Boro).
Clayton (6-19): The Clippers struggled last season and didn’t earn a single win (0-8) in Tri-County Classic Division play. However, senior Malachi Cantey is back after averaging 10.4 points per game and will be joined by five other players (TiJere Jackson, Ter’Meir Hill, Jordan Brown, Matt Seagrave and Taron Perkins) that scored at least 148 points in 2019-2020. Clayton is a program that is traditionally known for its high volume offense. Opponents are going to have to score a lot of points in order to defeat the Clippers. The experience of Clayton’s returning group should contribute towards creating an improved flow of offense and help them prevail in close-game situations against fellow Tri-County opponents.
Deptford (12-14): The Spartans will be led by senior Hassan Hampton and junior Kevin Eli. Hampton led Deptford in total points scored last season and maintained an average of 13.2 points per game. Hampton could see his scoring figures elevate this winter with another year of experience under his belt. Eli added just over 11 points per game and fellow junior Virgil Scruggs contributed 13.9 points per game in 19 games. Sophomore Josh Eli was a factor from beyond-the-arc with 39 three-pointers made as a freshman and will help the Spartans balance the floor. Deptford finished 5-3 in Tri-County Liberty Division play last season. The experience of the Spartans’ returning core could propel them to a winning record this season.
Doane Academy (18-8): Doane Academy put together an impressive 2019-2020 campaign with 18 wins and a 5-5 record in Burlington County Scholastic League Freedom Division play. The Spartans’ division featured two fierce opponents in two-time defending Central Jersey Group 1 champion Burlington City and Holy Cross Prep (24-5 record last season). Senior Shawn Congelton averaged over 14.6 points per game and returns as Doane Academy’s undisputed leader this season. Juniors Sean Hargrow and Jayson Njoga return as significant contributors and senior Levy Menjivar-Sanchez adds even more experience. Sophomore Mike Evans was productive in 10 games a freshman (6.7 ppg) and should see an increased role this season. All in all, the Spartans have a lot of experience for a team that won 18 games a season ago. Doane Academy is always well-coached under the direction of Dan Williamson.
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 2021 SJ Sports Zone 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.
Florence (12-15): The Flashes finished atop the BCSL Independence Division standings last season with a 7-3 record in division play. Florence returns First Team All-Independence selection Noel Nabors who averaged 8.3 points last season. Nabors will be accompanied by junior Rasheem Harris in the backcourt. Harris is the Flashes’ leading returner in three-point shooting with 26 three-pointers made in 2019-2020. Florence only returns three letter winners and could experience some growing pains in 2021. However, the Flashes always seem to put together an athletic team that can go toe-to-toe with its BCSL Independence Division opponents.
Glassboro (8-18): The Bulldogs return three starters from last year’s team. Andre Camper, Marsae Leadum and Bryce Long can all provide on the offensive end. Leadum paced the offense with over nine points per game. Long registered 6.7 points per game and was among state leaders in steals (5.2 spg). Long’s defensive abilities could translate to more offense this year. In terms of familiarity, Glassboro returns nine letter-winners in total. The Bulldogs will challenge themselves this year with games against Haddonfield, Rancocas Valley and defending South Jersey Group 1 champion Penns Grove.
Gloucester (15-14): The Lions brought back a lot of guys from a 15-win team a season ago. Their biggest challenge will be to fill the void left by Rasheer Fleming (transferred to Camden). Fleming was the team’s leading rebounder and finished second on the team in scoring. The loss should be easier to overcome with the return of Jason Pino. Pino, a 2021 SJ Sports Zone Preseason All-South Jersey Honorable Mention, led the team in scoring (14.3 ppg) and ranked second in rebounding, averaging just under 10.7 rebounds per game. Gloucester also features Steven Light, Henry Cannon and Liam Gorman. Light averaged just below 13.5 points per game in 2019-2020. Gorman and Light are the Lions’ go-to guys beyond-the-arc. Steven Burkhardt, Gloucester’s standout running back in football, is another key returner that will make contributions on both ends of the floor. The Lions moved to the Colonial Conference and will be a tough team to beat with the experience of their returning core.
Gloucester Catholic (12-15): The Rams return a strong senior class headlined by Ryan Roney. Roney led Gloucester Catholic in scoring a season ago (19.4 ppg) and will have a strong supporting cast. Senior Ryan Pierman returns after averaging just under nine points per game last season. Jason Morgan (26 three-pointers made) and Cade Regan provide the Rams with outside scoring. Sam Barber is another experienced senior. Gloucester Catholic finished 5-3 in the Tri-County Classic division a season ago. The Rams experience could pay dividends in this shortened season.
Highland (13-12): The Tartans return two of their top scorers in junior Deywilk Tavarez and senior Da’Jon London. Tavarez averaged over 15 points a game last season and possessed the ability to score from long range and rebound. London was the team’s leading rebounder tallying 208 total rebounds in 2019-2020. The two will lead an experienced team that should see increased production from juniors Noah Gorham, Evan Carbone and Ian Harvey. Highland could make a significant leap this season.
Kingsway (11-15): The Dragons finished 11-15 last season and return their best overall player -- 2021 SJ Sports Zone Preseason All-South Jersey Honorable Mention Arthur Stone. Stone averaged slightly over 16 points per game and eight rebounds per game. Stone also led the team in three-pointers made (65). Kingsway’s biggest challenge will be to overcome the losses of Alex Odom and Kareem Watkins to graduation. Seniors Emi Linqueno and Adrian Talley should help offset those losses. Linqueno averaged just below nine points per game. Senior Matt Cooney is a threat from beyond-the-arc, scoring 75 of his total 83 points a season ago from behind the three-point line. An experienced group of seniors should help the Dragons compete at a high level this season.
Lindenwold (20-10): The Lions are coming off a 20-win season and an appearance in the South Jersey Group 1 final. That doesn’t necessarily scream rebuild or label them as a team to watch. However, Lindenwold is still an under-the-radar program. The Lions biggest challenge will be to replace the productivity of Tazir Cantey. Cantey, a 2021 SJ Sports Zone Preseason All-South Jersey Second Team selection, transferred to Eastern. Fortunately for Lindenwold, Eriq Campbell is back after averaging 16.6 points per game a season ago. Campbell also averaged over five rebounds and six assists per game. The 2021 SJ Sports Zone Preseason All-South Jersey Third Team selection also tallied over two steals per game. 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 six points per game last season. Senior Ibahim Dao returns as well after averaging just under 11 points per game in 2019-2020. As previously noted, it's no secret that the Lions are an experienced team. Just don’t be surprised if Lindenwold finds itself in the SJ Sports Zone Top 15 this season.
Northern Burlington (14-13): The Greyhounds return a solid core from last year’s team that finished above .500. The only significant loss was the graduation of standout guard Lorenzo Repack. Northern Burlington welcomes back its second leading scorer from last season, junior Drew Wyers. Wyers has the ability to score from various spots on the floor and can rebound for the Greyhounds. Junior Marcus Gaffney is a player to watch this season after averaging over 6.5 points per game last season. Senior Gerald Dougan makes his presence known in the low post and senior Armani Samuel is a key rebounder for Northern Burlington. The experience of this group should help the Greyhounds succeed in 2021.
Paulsboro (13-12): The Red Raiders will be led by 2021 SJ Sports Zone Preseason All-South Jersey Honorable Mention Keyshun Sanders. Sanders averaged 17 points, 4.2 rebounds and five assists per game in 2019-2020. The junior also registered an astounding 4.4 steals per game along with 20 three-pointers made. Sanders could see his numbers increase with another year of experience on his resume. His leadership and athleticism will help Paulsboro compete this year. Sophomores Ja’Vonn Osbourne, Jamile Gantt and junior Tyree Thomas could see an uptick in production this season. The return of senior Geovanni Serrano will also help in terms of experience. The Red Raiders return three starters and won six out of their last eight games a season ago. This team can go as far as Sanders can take them. Paulsboro will continue to be a tough team to beat in the Colonial Conference.
Pemberton (5-21): The Hornets return two out of their top three scorers from a season ago. Senior Nason Ceruti (9.6 ppg) is a threat from beyond-the-arc (42 three-pointers made) and is accompanied by fellow senior Jaysen Emmons. Emmons (8.8 ppg) has the ability to create and score from the wing and/or shoot from long distance. Pemberton’s biggest challenge will be overcoming the short absence of the two. Ceruti remains out for undisclosed reasons and Emmons is unable to play until he is medically cleared. Fortunately for the Hornets, Medford Tech transfers Cameron Downs and Jordan Lomax will join the starting lineup this season and help alleviate those losses. Downs was a BCSL All-Patriot second team selection after averaging 11.7 points per game in 2019-2020. Pemberton added even more size with the arrival of a third Medford Tech transfer -- 6’4” forward Brandon Palmer. Isham McClain, Elijah Zapata-Smalls and Travon Shervington are also key returners for the Hornets. Pemberton will be a formidable opponent for rebuilding teams in the Burlington County Scholastic League.
Shawnee (7-20): The Renegades struggled last year, finishing with a 7-20 record that included an 11-game losing streak to conclude the season. The Olympic Conference is a gauntlet year in and year out, so this young team’s struggles don’t warrant a need to panic. In fact, Shawnee proved it could compete with a 57-48 win over South Jersey Group 3 finalist Cherry Hill West last season. The Renegades also fell short to eventual NJSIAA Group 3 state championship finalist Timber Creek, 44-42. Shawnee returns its best player from a season ago in guard Andrew Ball. Ball averaged just under 13 points per game and was a threat from beyond-the-arc with 64 three-pointers made. The junior was recently named a 2021 SJ Sports Zone Preseason All-South Jersey Honorable Mention. Ball will be joined by fellow juniors Matt Fish and Avery Cohen. Both players could see an increase in production this season. The Renegades will also welcome back senior Matt Lodge. Lodge could emerge as another viable scoring option. Shawnee should be improved this year with more experience and will remain a tough team to beat under the direction of legendary coach Joe Kessler.
Sterling (14-14): The Silver Knights will be led by arguably the most underrated player in South Jersey. Antoine Arnett was named a 2021 SJ Sports Zone 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.
Winslow (5-20): The Eagles struggled in 2020 with 20 losses and a 2-6 record in Olympic Patriot play. However, there were some positives. Winslow notched quality wins over Shawnee and Cherry Hill West last season. The Eagles return three starters in Karson Collins, Ezekiel Sabb and Nasir Watson. Additionally, coach Norm Ingram returns to Atco to direct the Eagles’ boys basketball program this season. Ingram led Winslow to a South Jersey Group 3 title in 2016. The Eagles made it to the Group 3 state championship in that same season and lost to Teaneck. The football program at Winslow experienced a resurgence this past fall… maybe the basketball team will, too.
Woodbury (4-22): The Fighting Herd struggled last season despite winning a Group 1 state championship three seasons ago. Woodbury returns its leading scorer, Javon Soloman, who averaged over 14 points per game last year. Javon is joined by sophomore Jabron Soloman who averaged over 6.2 points per game last season. The Fighting Herd showed signs of a bright future last year with quality road victories over Gloucester and Collingswood. Seniors C’Mar Webster and Branden Moye earned significant minutes a season ago. Junior Nazir Smith could also emerge as a contributor in 2021. Woodbury’s rebuilding process appears to still be in-action, but expect the Fighting Herd to be more competitive this season.
(Cover Photo: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)