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Preseason South Jersey basketball Top 25: Wildwood Catholic leads the pack

Wildwood Catholic, Haddonfield, Camden, Camden Catholic and St. Augustine set the pace on the brink of the season.

Haddonfield players Mike DePersia (left), Aiden Blake (center) and Dan Fleming celebrate after last season's South Jersey Group 2 tournament victory over Camden. All three athletes are back for the No. 2 team in the preseason Top 25.
Haddonfield players Mike DePersia (left), Aiden Blake (center) and Dan Fleming celebrate after last season's South Jersey Group 2 tournament victory over Camden. All three athletes are back for the No. 2 team in the preseason Top 25.Read moreH. Rumph Jr.

Here is a look at the boys’ basketball preseason Top 25:

1. Wildwood Catholic (25-3 last season): The Crusaders will be led by 6-foot-7 junior Taj Thweatt and 6-6 junior Jahlil White, both of whom have scholarship offers from Temple. This is an athletic team that will flourish in transition and has displayed impressive defense in the preseason. Jacob Hopping, a 6-3 junior sharpshooter, and savvy 6-1 senior guard Jake McGonigle, are players to watch.

2. Haddonfield (29-4): The Bulldawgs return four starters led by 5-11 senior guard Mike DePersia, an IUPUI recruit who averaged 13.4 points last season and led the team to the Group 2 state title. Other veterans include 6-8 senior Dan Fleming, who averaged 11 points, as well as 6-4 senior Aidan Blake and 6-5 senior Dylan Heine. Senior guard Lewis Evans is a top defender and 6-6 junior Ben Cerrato, who missed much of last season with an injury, could emerge as one of South Jersey’s top players in the Class of 2020.

3. Camden (21-6): The Panthers have the pieces to be the top team in South Jersey but might need some time to adjust to changes in the program. New coach Vic Carstarphen will lean on returning starters such as 6-1 senior guard Ethan Tarte and 6-9 junior swingman Lance Ware. Three transfers from the Philadelphia Catholic League are expected to make a major impact, including 6-7 sophomore TaQuan Woodley from Neumann-Goretti, 6-7 sophomore Jerome Brewer from West Catholic and 5-10 junior Nasir Lett (Roman Catholic). El Khana Hidalgo, a 5-11 senior, and Duce Chestnut, a 5-10 sophomore, are other players to watch.

4. Camden Catholic (23-7): The Irish return three starters from the Non-Public South A champions led by 6-6 senior Baba Ajike, who averaged 14.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, and 6-6 senior Uche Okafor, who averaged 9.4 points and 8.5 rebounds. Junior Pat Corbett, a 5-11 lead guard who averaged 6.3 points and 4.5 assists, is another returning starter. The Irish should get a boost from sophomores such as 6-7 Zachariah Hicks, 6-6 Justin Hawkins and 6-1 Lucas Dunn.

5. St. Augustine (21-7): The Hermits return three starters in 6-5 senior Charles Solomon, 6-2 senior Cole Vanderslice and 5-7 senior Jordan Kendrick. The team should get a big boost from 6-7 senior Andrew Delaney, a transfer from Blair Academy. His brother, 6-6 sophomore Matt Delaney, is a young player to watch.

6. Paul VI (15-13): The Eagles return all five starters from a team that came on strong at the end of last season led by 6-3 senior Tyshon Judge and 6-4 senior Hartnel Haye, both of whom averaged 14 points. Sophomore Wisler Sanon, a 6-0 guard, averaged 20 points in his last five games as a freshman and projects as one of South Jersey’s top players in the Class of 2021.

7. Moorestown (24-6): The Quakers return seasoned seniors such as 5-10 guard Jagger Zrada, a top outside shooter, and 6-1 swingman Nick Cartwright-Atkins, a top all-around player. Other veteran include 6-0 senior Vinnie Caprarola,, 6-3 senior Brian McMonagle and 6-2 senior Tommy Londres, among others. This is a team with depth, experience and balance.

8. Bishop Eustace (18-10): The Crusaders return three starters in 6-6 senior swingman Mattia Morini, who averaged 14 points and eight rebounds, as well as 6-3 junior guard Matt McCaffrey and 5-11 junior guard David Cross, a top defender and distributor. Matt Kempter, a 6-3 senior guard and top outside shooter, returns after missing most of last season with a wrist injury. Two sophomores to watch are 6-7 swingman William Humer, a transfer from Sweden, and 6-9 Christian Tomasco, a transfer from St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia.

9. Pleasantville (17-10): The Greyhounds have talent and depth led by 6-6 senior Jacob Valeus, who averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds, and 6-2 senior Sahmir Jones, who averaged 14 points with five assists. Other returning starters are 6-6 senior Sam Growalt and 6-7 sophomore Elijah Jones. The team should get a boost from 6-1 senior Jalen Freeman, a transfer from Middle Township who averaged 18.1 points last season.

10. St. Joseph (21-7): The Wildcats could push into South Jersey’s elite this season with a strong squad led by 6-3 senior Marcellus Ross, who averaged 23.1 points, and 6-10 senior Malik Bailey, who missed last season with a knee injury. Other key returners are 6-1 senior guard Corey Blackwell and 6-0 senior guard Ian Brown. One newcomer to watch is 6-8 junior Alanas Urbonas, a Lithuanian native who transferred from Ontario Prep in Canada.

11. Cherokee (17-10): The Chiefs have a guard-heavy lineup led by 6-2 senior Anthony DiCaro, a three-year starter and top three-point shooter who averaged 15 points last season. Other key returning players are 6-3 junior Gavin Gibson as well as 6-0 senior Justin Kang and 6-1 senior Olare Oladipo.

12. Millville (17-11): The Thunderbolts have a top scorer in 6-2 senior Rynell Lawrence, who averaged 19 points last season and enters this season with more than 1,200 career points. Little John Green, a 6-7 senior, is a four-year starter who blocked 87 shots last season. Eddie Jamison, a 6-0 senior, and Solomon DeShields, a 6-2 junior, are top athletes.

13. Eastern (20-9): The Vikings should be led by 6-6 senior forward Ryan Ems, a top rebounder and insider scorer. Senior guards Andrew Heck and Jack Winsett are smart, seasoned players and junior guard Noah Klinewski is a player to watch.

14. Cherry Hill East (11-16): The Cougars will be led by seniors Carl Gibson and Sam Serata, a pair of three-year starters. The 6-0 Gibson averaged 15.4 points and the 6-3 Serata averaged 16. Ryan Green, a 5-9 junior, and Jake Rose, a 5-10 senior, are players to watch.

15. Atlantic City (25-6): The Vikings have some inside muscle with 6-8 senior Zion Teague and 6-5 junior Stephan Byard. Seniors Zaire Montague, a 6-2 guard, and Joe Persiano, a 6-1 guard, are veterans as well.

16. Shawnee (29-5): The Renegades return one starter from last year’s Group 4 state champions in 6-4 senior swingman Connor Deveney, a top outside shooter. Nick Tamburro, a 6-1 sophomore, and Cole Fleming, a 5-10 junior, are players to watch.

17. Delsea (25-6): The Crusaders return all-purpose senior guard Javon Gordon from last year’s South Jersey Group 3 champions. He averaged 18.1 points and three steals. Senior guard Kobey Evans was a scorer off the bench last season who should have a greatly expanded role this season.

18. Haddon Heights (23-5): The Garnets return four key players, although they will miss graduated guard Jared Latane, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Seniors Jared Bolling, a 6-3 forward, and Jabari Higgs, a 5-10 guard, lead the way. Two players to watch are 6-2 junior TeSean Pressley and 6-2 sophomore Isaiah Turner.

19. Bordentown (19-10): The Scotties have a strong junior class led by 6-2 Jordan Martin, a three-year starter who made 59 three-pointers last season and averaged 12.2 points. Other returning veterans include 5-7 junior Roshon Vankline, 6-3 junior Gavin Shiver, and 6-0 junior Osvalso Urena, a top defender.

20. Timber Creek (21-7): The Chargers are rebuilding a bit after losing several key players but have some experienced players in senior lead guard Sean Miller, who averaged 11 points and six assists, and senior forward Tim Schultice, who averaged six points and eight rebounds. Watch out for dynamic senior guard Trevon Alderman, a transfer from Caravel High in Delaware.

21. Lenape (16-9): Senior guard Steve Matlack, a top scorer, and Alex Matthews lead the way for the Indians under first-year coach Matt Wolf.

22. Willingboro (13-11): The Chimeras have a couple of top returners including 6-4 sophomore Marcus Randolph, who averaged 14 points as a freshman and scored 38 in a game vs. Cinnaminson. Nazim Chavies, a 6-0 junior guard who averaged 10 points, is another player to watch.

23. Ocean City (21-9): The Red Raiders bring back three starters including 5-10 senior Joey Sacco,a top floor general who had 108 assists and 79 steals. Luke Varallo, a 5-11 guard, averaged 11.1 points and made 45 three-pointers and Donovan Graham, a 6-2 swingman, averaged 10.6 points.

24. Holy Cross (13-15): New coach John Valore has an intriguing team that will feature a pair of junior transfers from Italy in 6-6 Gianmarco Arletti, a top ballhandler and playmaker, and 6-9 Giovanni Cessel.

25. Woodbury (21-12): The defending Group 1 state champion lost star guard Aaron Estrada, who transferred to St. Benedict’s. But the Thundering Herd should be competitive behind 5-10 senior guard T.J. Carter, a dynamic scorer who dropped 24 on Bishop Eustace in a recent scrimmage, as well as 6-5 senior Isaiah Bailey and 6-3 senior JayShawn Harvey.

Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Burlington City (24-5), Glassboro (23-6), Haddon Twp. (15-11), Holy Spirit (16-11), Penns Grove (20-7), Rancocas Valley (20-8), Winslow Twp (10-18).