In a number of South Jersey leagues, the Paul VI boys' basketball team would be a heavy favorite.
The Eagles, who return five starters from a 15-12 squad that shared last season's division title, have the misfortunate of playing in the deep-and-talented Olympic Conference National Division. The National happens to have three teams that appear to be among the best in South Jersey: Paul VI, Camden Catholic and Camden.
And Woodrow Wilson won't be a pushover, either.
"I think Camden and Camden Catholic are great teams," said second-year Paul VI coach Tony Devlin, whose Eagles shared the Olympic National crown with those two teams last season, each posting an 8-2 division record. "All three of us have experienced teams and some good young players to support them."
Paul VI features Will "The Thrill" Campbell, a fleet 5-foot-10 point guard who averaged 21.8 points per game last season. He can score from the inside or outside. The Eagles also return starters Jon Grimes, Mike Stafford, Nick Moore and Greg Smith.
Grimes, who doubles as a football standout - he was on a recruiting trip to Temple last weekend - is a relentless rebounder despite being just 5-11. The 6-4 Stafford (14.9 ppg. last season) is a quality shooter, and he has a scholarship offer from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a Division I school.
Campbell, an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey selection last season, has received an offer to attend Division II Merrimack (Mass.) on a basketball scholarship, although he's hoping to play on the Division I level. "We're counting on him to run the team," Devlin said. "But he'll be keyed on and see a lot of box-and-ones, so our goal is to have him get the others involved and have a balanced attack."
Camden also has a gifted returning nucleus, led by 6-4 Aaron Walton (15.6 ppg.) and guards Garry Simmons (18.3 ppg.) and Vince Walls (10.2 ppg.). Walls is a three-point specialist and the son of former Camden all-American Kevin Walls.
Like Paul VI and Camden, Camden Catholic has tons of experience. The Irish return four starters and a slew of promising sophomores. Forward Tyler DeLecce and guard Jahseer Bronson are the Irish's leaders.
Paul VI, which also is counting on production from Ian Still, Casey Weisenbach and 6-2 freshman Robert Poole, started 1-4 last season. Just like they did last season, the Eagles begin this season against highly regarded opponents. Tonight, Paul VI plays host to Cherokee; Tuesday, the Eagles face Winslow Township. Those two teams were a combined 47-13 last season.