Camden senior Lance Ware called it the season of the “Big What If.”
Maybe Camden wins that elusive 12th state title.
Maybe Wildwood Catholic wins its first state championship since 1960.
Maybe Timber Creek wins its first state title, period.
Maybe St. Augustine caps another remarkable, late-season surge with another state title.
Maybe. Maybe not.
We’ll never know for sure, since the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled the basketball state tournaments before the finals were played in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
But we know Camden finished No. 1 in the Inquirer’s South Jersey Top 10. We know Wildwood Catholic finished No. 2.
We know Atlantic City, Cherry Hill West and Burlington City broke into the final rankings as well.
Here’s the final Top 10, with previous rankings in parentheses:
1. Camden (1) 29-1: The Panthers put together one of the best regular seasons in the fabled history of the program. That’s saying something. They just weren’t allowed to finish the job. Camden won its final 25 games. Here’s a stat: Camden went 16-0 against Olympic Conference foes, winning those games by an average of 29.1 points. Freshman D.J. Wagner averaged 18.6 points in his long-awaited debut, scoring in double figures in every game.
2. Wildwood Catholic (3) 24-7: “We were playing our best basketball of the year,” Crusaders coach Dave DeWeese said in lament of the premature end of the season. Led by seniors Jacob Hopping, Taj Thweatt and Jahlil White, Wildwood Catholic won its final eight games after a Feb. 16, overtime loss to Camden. The Crusaders took apart highly touted Rutgers Prep in the Non-Public South B final and would have met Roselle Catholic in the state title game, with an eye on a possible rematch with Camden in the Tournament of Champions.
3. St. Augustine (6) 24-5: Veteran coach Paul Rodio worked his postseason magic again as the Hermits beat Olympic Conference powers Bishop Eustace, Paul VI and Camden Catholic in succession to capture another Non-Public South A title. St. Augustine would have played Bergen Catholic in the state finals. Junior Matt Delaney averaged 14.2 points and sophomore Elmarko Jackson averaged 12.4 for a team that went 14-2 after Jan. 22.
4. Paul VI (2) 21-7: The Eagles won 11 of 12, with the lone loss to Camden, before falling to St. Augustine in the Non-Public South A semifinals. Watch out for the Eagles next season, as they return five of their top six scorers, including junior Wisler Sanon, who averaged a team-high 12.8 points.
5. Timber Creek (5) 25-5: Seniors Eric Benjamin, Justin Bladen and Demetrius Paynter each averaged double figures as the Chargers put together one of the best seasons in program history. Timber Creek beat Cherry Hill West in the South Jersey Group 3 final, then beat Central Jersey champion Wall in the state semifinals. That would have set up a battle with North Jersey power Irvington in the state final.
6. Atlantic City (NR) 21-6: Senior Steve Byard etched his name among the list of playoff heroes for the Vikings with 40 points in a South Jersey Group 4 semifinal win over Lenape plus 22 points and 12 rebounds in a sectional-title game triumph over Cherry Hill East. On paper, Atlantic City advanced to the state finals when Central Jersey champion South Brunswick withdrew from the tournament a day ahead of the NJSIAA’s decision to shut down the whole thing. Atlantic City would have played Elizabeth in the state finals.
7. Burlington City (NR) 27-4: It was an unforgettable season for the Blue Devils, as veteran coach Paul Collins earned his 800th career victory and senior guard D.J. Woodbury became the program’s all-time leading scorer. Burlington City rolled past Bound Brook to win the Central Jersey Group 1 title, then beat South Jersey champion Penns Grove in the state semifinals. The Blue Devils were scheduled to play Paterson Charter in the state finals.
8. Cherry Hill West (NR) 21-9: Behind seniors Hakim Melvin and Jordan Lipford, the Lions went 9-1 down the stretch, beat rival Cherry Hill East and stunned reigning state champion Moorestown in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals. That surge produced the program’s first 20-win season since 1988, per research by sports historian Chuck Langerman.
9. Moorestown (4) 26-3: Senior Hayden Greer averaged 13.4 points and made a team-high 75 three-pointers for the Quakers, who finished a remarkable two-year run with a 54-9 record since the start of the 2018-19 season.
10. Haddonfield (10) 25-5: In a “rebuilding” year, the Bulldogs won 25 games, captured another conference crown and reached the South Jersey Group 2 final. The highlight was a dramatic, 37-35 victory over rival Haddon Heights in the sectional semifinals, secured when senior Connor Fell made a steal and layup with 0:07 on the clock. That win was the 500th of coach Paul Wiedeman’s career.