Wildwood Catholic was terrific last season and could be even better this season.
Camden appears on the brink of waking up the echoes of South Jersey’s most fabled program.
Paul VI, Camden Catholic and St. Augustine are back in familiar spots — angling to get the best of each other in Non-Public South A play and positioned as usual among the best teams in the area.
It’s a new season in South Jersey boys’ basketball, set to tip on Friday. Here’s a look at the preseason Top 10, with last season’s records in parentheses:
1. Wildwood Catholic (27-2): The Crusaders were crazy-good last season, taking Tournament of Champions winner Ranney School to the brink in an overtime loss in the Non-Public South B final. The key players are back, including West Virginia recruit Taj Thweatt and Temple recruit Jahil White along with veterans Jacob Hopping and DeSean Lopez. The addition of sharpshooter Martin Anguelov, a transfer from Lower Cap May, should make this team even tougher to defend, and defeat.
2. Camden (17-10): There’s an audible buzz around this team, which returns Kentucky recruit Lance Ware, a senior swingman, as well as talented and complementary junior forwards TaQuan Woodley and Jerome Brewer Jr. But most of the anticipation springs from the arrival of freshman phenom D.J. Wagner, son of former Camden star Dajuan Wagner and grandson of former Camden star Milt Wagner. The third-generation athlete is a do-everything guard who combines his dad’s ability to get to the rim with his grandfather’s long, lithe build and smooth shooting stroke. Get there early if you want a seat at Camden games this season.
3. Paul VI (25-4): These Eagles will run and jump for 32 minutes. Juniors Jalen Boyd-Savage and Wisler Sanon lead an athletic team that will specialize in pressure defense and transition offense. Juniors Jordany Pierre and Andrew Harrell are returning veterans along with sophomore Jaden Arline. A key addition could be 6-9 junior Nicolo Nobili, a transfer student who is part of another wave of hoop-playing imports from Italy.
4. Camden Catholic (26-4): The two-time Non-Public A South champions will be back in the mix again behind junior swingman Zach Hicks, a natural scorer who has a chance to be one of the top offensive players in program history. Juniors Lucas Dunn and Justin Hawkins are key veterans, while some talent young players are expected to make an impact as well.
5. St. Augustine (22-5): The Hermits will be led by senior guard Kevin Foreman, a top athlete and excellent defender. Junior center Matt Delaney is a rare mix of a workhorse in the paint and someone who likes to pop outside for three-pointers. Junior sharpshooter John Horner and versatile sophomore Elmarko Jackson could step into big roles for veteran coach Paul Rodio.
6. Cherokee (22-9): There’s no shortage of top basketball players in Marlton these days. Leading this group will be senior guard Gavin Gibson, a talented playmaker who operates with flair. His three-point shooting and crisp passing should open the floor for the Chiefs.
7. Lenape (14-13): The Indians return a pair of seasoned seniors in Anthony Cortese and Connor Kennedy, plus their usual collection of hard-nosed defenders, three-point shooters and role players. But the athlete to watch is sophomore point guard Derek Simpson, a creative playmaker who already has an offer from St. Joe’s.
8. Bishop Eustace (14-15): Competing in the Olympic National with Camden, Paul VI and Camden Catholic, the Crusaders will be as battle-tested within their division as much as any team in South Jersey. But this group, with seasoned seniors David Cross and Matt McCaffrey as well as 6-9 junior Christian Tomasco, could give as well as it gets on some of those pressure-packed Thursday nights.
9. Atlantic City (9-13): The smart money in this casino town has the Vikings bouncing back in a big way from their first losing season since 1969. Veteran coach Gene Allen will have this team on the hunt for redemption behind senior swingman Stephen Byard, a versatile player who came on strong late last season.
10. Holy Cross (17-10): The Lancers will be a team to watch under second-year coach John Valore, who has recharged the proud old program. Leading the way will be seniors Gianmarco Arletti and Giovanni Cessel, a pair of Italian imports in their second year in Delran. The 6-6 Arletti is a stylish playmaker who has signed with Delaware, and the 6-10 Cessel is developing into a serious force in the paint.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Bordentown (15-11), Burlington City (22-8), Burlington Twp. (21-9), Cedar Creek (12-13), Cherry Hill East (15-14), Eastern (20-9), Glassboro (25-5), Haddonfield (31-2), Haddon Heights (19-10), Penns Grove (25-5), Pleasantville (20-9), Shawnee (15-10), St. Joseph (21-6), Timber Creek (14-13), West Deptford (27-4).