SPOTLIGHT

Fox leads Deptford in quest for Tri-Co, state supremacy

Seventeen-year-old Deptford senior Brandon Fox might be a little young to appreciate the legacy the Spartans boys' basketball teams have carved out the last decade.

But Fox, a 6-foot-4 forward, is plenty old enough to appreciate just how good this Spartans squad should be.

With four starters returning from a team that finished 17-8 and won the Tri-County Conference's Royal Division title, the Spartans are looking not only to repeat as conference champs (it would be their sixth title in the last 10 years), but also to make some noise in the Group 3 tournament, as well.

"Our ultimate goal is to win it all," said Fox, who averaged 16.2 points and eight rebounds a game last season.

That goal could be within reach, considering the talent head coach Bill Hoskins has to work with.

Fox is one of the conference's best interior threats, and he also is one of the Spartans' top three-point shooters percentage-wise.

"I think I've improved my conditioning," Fox said. "I was a little slower last year, so I think I'll be much more active on the glass this year."

Also returning to the Spartans' starting lineup is 6-2 point guard Erv Ezell, a junior who shot up 2 inches in the last year. Hoskins said Ezell might be the team's most improved player.

"He had a tremendous off-season playing AAU," Hoskins said. "He gets up and down the floor. He really has improved his vision of the court. And he's improved on his defense, which will be key."

Senior Hershal Phillips, who averaged 14.5 points and five boards as a junior, joins Ezell in the backcourt, and another senior, Fred Battee, should see plenty of minutes. Junior Elwood Clement, a 6-5 Washington Township transfer, will compete for a starting role. Clement and Fox could form one of South Jersey's most potent frontcourts.

Deptford's main league competition comes from Williamstown - the Braves won Royal titles the four times the Spartans did not during the last decade. Williamstown returns four starters, led by 6-0 guard Collin Whipple. The teams square off Tuesday in Deptford, just a few days into the regular season.

"They're saying that is supposed to be our top opponent," Fox said, "so we're looking forward to beating them early and being the best again this year."

Clearview, which saw a promising 2006-07 season fizzle due to injuries, has a deep squad, according to head coach Jim Woolbert. The Pioneers feature a three-guard offense, led by senior Nevin Potts and junior Dylan Bowman.

"It seems like everybody's going to try to beat us, because we're one of the best," Ezell said. "But our goal is to get to the [conference] championship and win the state championship."