By Phil Anastasia
Here's a look at the preseason Top 20 in boys' basketball in South Jersey:
1. Atlantic City (26-6 last season): The Vikings return several key players from last year's Group 4 state champions, including 6-8 senior Jah-leem Montague and 6-2 senior Dayshawn Reynolds. Other key veterans are 6-4 senior Ga-Brail Chandler, 6-3 junior Isaiah Graves and 6-6 junior Dennis White. Watch out for 5-10 freshman Lamar Thomas. Montague apparently injured his knee in the preseason and will be out this weekend, if not longer.
2. Paulsboro (30-1): The Red Raiders return Player of Year Xavier Lundy, a 6-5 senior who averaged 22 points and 11 boards. Other returning veterans include 6-8 senior Julien Davenport (13 points, 10 rebounds), 6-1 senior Derrick Burgess (nine points) and 6-2 sophomores Saleem Little (seven points) and Theo Holloway (seven points). No shortage of board crashers and defenders. Key will be development of backcort after loss of senior ball-handlers. Junior Kennen Williams has been solid in scrimmages, according to coach Sean Collins.
3. Eastern (24-4): The Vikings return a top all-around player in senior Devon Bell, a 6-1 swingman who averaged 14 points. Other returners include 6-5 senior Avery Walker, who averaged five blocks, and 6-6 junior Matt Klinewski, a board banger and post presence. Like Paulsboro, Eastern must develop backcourt after graduation of senior guards. Coach Joe Murphy thinks the squad will get a lift from football quarterback Tom Flacco, a top athlete, and baseball star Nick Tierno, a senior who didn't play basketball last season.
4. Paul VI (26-4): The Eagles return a pair of starters from last year's powerhouse team in junior forwards Jay Howard and Matt Risse and the sixth man in senior forward Pat Kennedy. Junior guard DeVahnte Mosley, a transfer from Philadelphia's Neumann-Goretti, will make an immmediate impact. Two other talented transfers will be eligible in 30 days: Junior guard Ivan Robinson from Camden Catholic and junior forward Alex Denko from Cinnaminson. This could be the strongest team in SJ in February and March if all the pieces fit together.
5. Holy Spirit (18-10): The Spartans have a top guard in senior Paul Moore, who averaged 15.7 points and rose up in big games. Junior Santiel is 6-6 swingman on the brink of a big season and juniors Uumahd Collier and Johnny Midi are talented veterans. The Spartans could get a lift in 30 days with the eligibility of 6-5 sophomore Jordan Taylor, a transfer from Absegami.
6. Shawnee (23-6): The Renegades return six of their top eight, including four-year veteran Josh Borrelli, a strong outside shooter and passer. Senior Ryan Bodnar is a top outside shooter and senior Tristan Polnitz is a talented swingman. Seniors Austin Lang and Frank Destito provide an inside presence. This is another team that likely will be better later in the season as the Renegades hope to get injured football player Jake Dean and injured sophomore deep threat Alec Warren back from injuries.
7. Camden (18-13): The defending South Jersey Group 3 champions return three starters, led by 6-7 senior Amir Maddred, one of South Jersey's most talented big men. Camden also returns its starting backcourt in junior Tavaris Headen and sophomore Rasool Hinson. The Panthers could get a boost from freshman guard Brad Hawkins.
8. Middle Township (18-10): The Panthers return four starters, including senior Tom Feraco, son of the coach of the same name. Other veterans include guards Tom Catanoso and Darrell Shelton and forward Lamarr Greer Jr. This is a smart, steady team that will be tough to beat in March.
9. Haddonfield (22-8): The Bulldogs return four of their top six from last season's South Jersey Group 2 finalist, including senior forward Chris Biddle, a four-year starter, and senior guard Billy Griffin, a top outside shooter. Sophomore twins Nick and Rob DePersia are top defenders and playmakers. Haddonfield is team to beat in Colonial Liberty -- although Sterling could challenge -- and Haddonfield and Middle Twp. could clash for SJ 2 crown.
10. Camden Catholic (14-13): The Irish will be led by senior swingman Kyle Green, a Temple recruit. Green averaged 22.7 points and could become the program's all-time leading scorer. Other veterans include senior guard Brian Matera and junior guard Rob Brosh. Sophomore forward Brendan Crawford, nephew of coach Jim Crawford, could make a major impact.
11. St. Augustine (22-5): The Hermits have a top backcourt in seniors Mike Greenman and David Sullivan. Senior Blake Rossell is a rangy swingman and junior guard Brian Seward could be on the verge of breakout season. Veteran coach Paul Rodio could pass legendary Camden coach Clarence Turner for No. 1 on SJ's all-time list for career victories this season.
12. Pitman (19-9): The Panthers feature South Jersey's top sophomore in 6-9 Tim Delaney, who has guard skills in a big-man's body. Junior Eric Stafford is a 6-5 point guard with range and a feel for the game.
13. Lenape (19-9): Led by senior forard Tabu Gaither and senior guard Sawyer Hand, the Indians will play physical man-to-man defense and win a lot of games by 46-38. Coach Chuck Guittar likes those kinds of scores. The darkhorse contender in SJ 4.
14. Cherry Hill East (21-9): The Cougars will be led by sophomore guard Jake Silpe (6.5 points), senior forward Gary Hettinger (6.7 points, 5.1 rebounds) and senior guard Hank Davis (5.7 points), a clever lefty. Plus, the Countrymen are worth a few points every game.
15. Medford Tech (20-8): Junior guard Elijah Cain is a playmaker. This program has pushed into SJ prominence in the last couple of seasons. A threat in SJ 2.
16. Schalick (21-8): The Cougars return four starters, including 6-9 junior Rashaan Armstead-Holloway, who averaged 17 points and 12 boards, along with junior swingmen Melvin Allen (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Deandre Solomon (12 points, 8 rebounds). Part of a loaded SJ 1 field.
17. Delsea (23-5): Senior forward Cedric Elleby, who averaged 17.7 points and 12.2 rebounds, is back along with senior point guard Joe Ingram and senior swingman Ryan Colone. Should challenge Camden in SJ 3. Lost to the Panthers by 52-49 last season in sectional semis.
18. Rancocas Valley (14-12): The Red Devils will play defense, crash the boards and feature sophomore guard Ned Ogoemesim, a top playmaker. This team will get better as the season goes along. A tough out in March with the way they play D.
19. Williamstown (19-9): The Braves will be led by senior guard Kali Boyce, who averaged 11 points. Senior guard Aaron Rose is a top outside shooter and senior forward Chris Leary and junior forward T.J. Booth provide an inside presence. This is a deep, athletic team that could be dangerous in SJ 4.
20. Cherry Hill West (13-14): The Lions have a top athlete in junior Rodney Williams (19 points, five rebounds) and return three other starters in Sean Mullarkey, Gren Smolsky and Ryan Lee. Big challenge opening night at No. 10 Camden Catholic.