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Timber Creek clearly a threat in Patriot

Timber Creek has a strong chance to dethrone perennial power Shawnee in the Olympic Patriot race.

New coach Tim Dunne, who formerly coached at Pennsauken, inherits four returning starters at Timber Creek, including blue-chip 6-foot-7 senior forward Tyler Hines. The other returning starters are 5-9 sophomore guard Jameer Briggs, 6-3 senior guard Marquise Smith, and 6-4 senior guard Mike Martin.

Add products from a 22-3 junior varsity team and you can understand why opposing coaches have lots of respect for the Chargers.

"Tim Dunne brings a tradition of winning as a head coach, and their three best players last year were all juniors," Seneca coach Erich Wiltsee said. "They're big, athletic, talented and deep. Not a bad combination."

Renegades regroup.

Three-point specialist Eric Kessler, a 6-2 senior, is the only returning starter for Shawnee. But don't feel sorry for the defending Group 3 state champs. The Renegades have plenty of reinforcements and should be a strong Patriot contender.

Doug Holcombe, a 6-2 guard, is a returning letter-winner who will be a starter. The Renegades will also get contributions from 6-4 Will Tarrant, 6-5 Ben Simms, promising 5-10 sophomore point guard Dillon Fields, 6-6 Matt Finch, 6-0 Gary Devine, and 6-3 Tom Molina.

Youth movement.

Washington Township could have four sophomores in its starting lineup, headed by 6-9 Matt Lopez. "He has a ton of potential," Township coach Bob Byatt said. "We've already had Division I coaches in the gym watching him."

The other sophomores to watch: 5-10 Adam Marcucci, 6-4 Chris Grabbe, and 5-9 Nick Favatella. Junior guard Rick Hudson is the team's lone returning starter.

Winslow's mission.

Winslow doesn't have any returning starters, but the Eagles have enough speed and athleticism to make a run at the Patriot crown.

Brandon Jones, a 6-2 senior guard, will lead the way and get support from 6-3 Tyriq Rickards, 6-1 Brandon Crossan, 6-3 Aaron Sallie, and 6-3 Preston Earland.

Breakout season?

Cherry Hill West is counting on 6-8 sophomore center Chris Gebhart to blossom in his second year as a starter. Gebhart has recovered from a broken hand suffered at the end of last season. "He's developed, and he'll be our leading guy," West coach Dave Allen said.

The Lions also are counting heavily on 6-3 Matt Speckman, 6-0 Kevin Noon, 5-9 Joe DeSantis, and 5-10 Jon Smith, an athletic sophomore.

Cherokee reloads.

Senior guard Richie Tarr, who averaged 11 points per game last season, and 6-5, 255-pound junior center Ronson Quick will be the go-to guys for Cherokee, the defending South Jersey Group 4 champion. Both are returning starters.

Coach Ron Powell is excited about the potential of 6-8 sophomore Ryan McKeaney. The Chiefs have several players battling for starting berths, including point guards Bobby Arthur and Christian Jordan and forwards Nelson Torres (a dangerous three-point shooter), Maurice Jackson, Alec Bernstein, Justin Turner, and A.J. Valentine.

Around the league.

Chris Santo is just a freshman, but the 6-2 forward is so talented that he could crack Cherry Hill East's balanced starting lineup. . . . Teon Russell, a 6-4 senior swingman, is ready to assume a leading role at Woodrow Wilson. "He's smarter and stronger than last year," Wilson coach Darryl Roberts said. "He worked hard on the courts in the summer." Roberts thinks the Tigers can sneak into contention in the loaded Olympic National. . . . Pennsauken returns starters Garnett Briscoe, Isiah Vaughn and Cashuan Green from a 20-7 squad and should be a formidable challenger in the Olympic American. Key newcomers include junior forward/center William Forest, a transfer from Palmyra, and junior guard Eric Johnson. Cetshwayo Byrd, a Pennsauken assistant for four years, has been promoted to head coach. . . . Lenape returns starters Pete Dinich, Mike Celestin and Isiah Dixon and several promising players from a 16-4 JV team. . . .. Junior guard Rich McNamara and senior swingman Jayson Taylor figure to give Seneca one of its best scoring duos in the program's young history. . . . Bishop Eustace had all five starters graduate and could have as many as four sophomores receive significant playing time. . . . Triton should be aided by brothers Will and De'Von Simmons, speedy guards who transferred from Timber Creek. Juniors Charles Dyer (10 ppg.) and Bob Seeburger are returning starters.

- Sam Carchidi