By Phil Anastasia
One day before tipoff, here's a look at the preseason Top 20 rankings in South Jersey boys' basketball:
1. Paul VI (26-4 last season). The Eagles return four of five starters from a team that won the loaded Olympic Conference National Division title and advanced to the Non-Public South A final. Senior forwards Jay Howard, a first-team All-South Jersey selection last season, and Matt Risse are three-year starters. Senior guards Ivan Robinson and DeVahnte Mosley are solid defenders and distributors. Senior forward Jair Green is another top veteran. Howard is nursing an ankle injury and could miss the first few games.
2. Atlantic City (30-2). The Vikings are the two-time defending Group 4 state champion. Senior guard Isiah Graves and senior forward Dennis White played major minutes in big games for both championship teams. Senior guard Tashad Reynolds and sophomore guard Lamar Thomas, a top outside shooter, were contributors to last year's run.
3. Pitman (24-6). The Panthers have one of the state's top juniors in 6-9 forward Tim Delaney, a Villanova recruit who averaged 21 points. Senior swingman Eric Stafford is a Lafayette recruit. Senior guard Darnell Foreman is a top defender, passer and finisher. The Panthers got a big lift from the addition of 6-6 senior forward Tyler Wisniewski, a transfer from Deptford who averaged 16.4 points. He will be eligible right away.
4. Holy Spirit (16-11) The Spartans will be among the most talented teams in South Jersey. They return four starters, including 6-7 senior forward Junior Saintel, a four-year varsity player. Other returning starters include junior guard John Middleton and sophomore forward Leon Daniels. Senior guard UUhmad Collier, who started as a sophomore but missed last season with an injury, is back. Junior forward Jordan Taylor, a wide receiver in football, will make an impact once he rounds into basketball shape.
5. Haddonfield (25-4). The Bulldogs return three starters, including junior guards Rob and Nick DePersia, twins who have been regulars since their freshman year. Senior center Abby Bah is another returning starter. Senior forward Ted Stavetski and junior forward Jake Robinson were key contributors last season for a team that won the Colonial Liberty Division title. Big game Saturday vs. RV at Schalick.
6. Bishop Eustace (18-10). The Crusaders took a hit when senior guard Dvonne Trumbo transfered out of state but return plenty of talent. Senior guard Flo DaSilva is a top defender and finisher and University of the Sciences recruit. Junior forwards Brandon Cazan and Connor McLaughlin played big minutes last season, as did sophomore guard Mike Cohen.
7. Camden Catholic (20-8). The Irish lost 6-9 junior forward Demola Onifade, a Nigerian citizen who lives in the school's Nazareth House, to a shoulder injury that will sideline him indefinitely. But there's still plenty of reason for optimism under new coach Matt Crawford as the Irish return three starters led by senior guards Rob Brosh and Tom Organ and junior forward Brendan Crawford, the coach's cousin.
8. Rancocas Valley (25-3). The Red Devils looked like Top 3 team before they lost their leading scorer, junior guard Ned Ogoemesim, who transferred to Life Center. The team sustained another blow when junior guard Shaun Bradley suffered a season-ending knee injury in a football game. But there's still talent and a tradition of playing tenacious man-to-man defense. Senior center Nick Davidson is a Bloomfield recruit, and senior guard Vince Anfield is a top play-maker.
9. Paulsboro (27-3). The Red Raiders lost Player of the Year Xavier Lundy but return several veterans of the teams that won the last two South Jersey Group 1 titles. Leading the way should be junior forwards Theo Holloway and Saleem Little along with senior guards Keenen Williams and Cassius Carter.
10. Camden (18-11). New coach John Valore's team returns four starters, led by senior guard Tavaris Headen, an All-South Jersey first-team pick who averaged 18.5 points last season. Junior guard Rasool Hinson, sophomore guard Brad Hawkins and sophomore forward Jamal Holloway are other returning starters for last season's South Jersey Group 3 champions.
11. Eastern (21-7) Senior forward Matt Klinewski, a Lafayette recruit, averaged 18.4 points and was a second-team All-South Jersey selection. He's a relentless player who bangs the boards and gets to the foul line. Senior guard Alex Barr is a good distributor and senior guard Tom Flacco is an active, athletic defender.
12. Wildwood Catholic (23-6). The Crusaders return all five starters, led by senior forward Ed McWade and senior guard Jordan Robertson. McWade averaged 18.7 points and already has scored 1,000 career points. Senior center Clint Freeman is another top veteran. Robertson looked great in tri-scrimmage with PVI and Holy Spirit. McWade is out for a little while with an ankle sprain.
13. Schalick (18-9). The Cougars will be led by South Jersey's top returning scorer in 6-9 senior center Rashaan Holloway, a Massachusetts recruit who averaged 22.7 points. Other veterans include senior guard Melvin Allen and senior forward DeAndre Solomon. The Cougars picked up two key additions in Sacred Heart transfers Mike Holloway, a 6-6 junior who is Rashaan's brother, and sophomore lead guard Tyler Lundsford.
14. Lenape (25-4). The Indians suffered a setback when senior forward Cameron Green, their top returning player, suffered an off-season knee injury. Green could be back by February. Lenape will play defense and control the pace on offense. The Indians have some experience up front in senior big men Cole Moody and Jesse Spitznas.
15. Cherokee (11-14). The Chiefs loom as a darkhorse in the Olympic American and South Jersey Group 4 with a seasoned squad led by seniors Kyle Kahriger, Ben Handel, Jake Powell and Kevin Wixted and featuring junior Paul Bellamy, who could be on the brink of a break-out season. They open at home Friday vs. rival Shawnee.
16. Cherry Hill East (18-10). The Cougars return a top guard in junior Jake Silpe, a slick playmaker who averaged 12.8 points and 5.4 assists. Senior guard Austin Wetzler is a returning starter. Sophomore forward Tim Perry, the son of former Temple star Tim Perry, could be ready to make an impact.
17. St. Augustine Prep (23-6). The Hermits might be a year away from big thunder but have the talent, tradition and coaching to be competitive with most teams in South Jersey. Senior forward Brian Seward will lead the way, with sophomores Sa;eed Nelson and Mike Vasturia and freshmen Justyn Mitts and Austin Kennedy expected to play major minutes.
18. Pemberton (17-9). The Hornets return four starters and should get a big boost from the addition of 6-7 sophomore forward Jean LeBrun, a transfer from Haiti. Senior forward Shaun Brooks averaged 14 points while sophomores Tyler McShea, I'Javion Ivory and Antoine Wilson started as freshmen.
19. Willingboro (14-11). The Chimeras return several veterans led by senior forward Awwal Reid as well as junior guard Jeff Haddock, the son of the coach.
20. West Deptford (19-9). Senior guard Justin Hansen, a four-year starter, leads the way for a team that returns three other starters in seniors Sean Langan and Mike Gardner and sophomore Marquise Owens.
-- Contact Phil Anastasiaat email@example.com