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Pennsauken is off to a fast start

It's seemingly the same story each year when the regular season materializes in the final 2 weeks of December.

It's seemingly the same story each year when the regular season materializes in the final 2 weeks of December.

For all the practices and scrimmages teams try to fit in between Thanksgiving and opening night, there is just something that can only be gained by playing regular-season games. Add in the fact that many programs have players that are coming off the fall season and not only can a lot be learned before the New Year, but in many ways it's the time of the season a coach can get the best grip on the makeup of his team.

The first weekend of the season featured several upsets and, as many of us know from our aching backs, plenty of snow.

One of those upsets came on Friday as Pennsauken rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat highly touted Washington Township, 51-49. The key to the win came in the second half when the Indians went with a full court press that confounded the Minutemen, who in turn made several uncharacteristic mistakes.

"We showed it in the first half but I have to admit I was concerned about out legs," Pennsauken coach Cetshwayo Byrd said. "To be honest, in the 7 years I've been with the program [3 as head coach after 4 , we've always touched on the basics of a zone defense but only implemented it this year. We sat back in a 2-3 zone for the first half for the most part because the few times we did press, we got beat."

Down 15, Byrd's hand was forced in the second half and the Indians took it as an opportunity to attack.

"I got lucky, it worked," Byrd said. "Township is a very good team and they have good size in the middle. We've always had speed and athleticism.

"It's what we do and even during timeouts when I thought we needed a break for our legs, my kids told me they were fine. Obviously they were."

Byrd understands that it's not about to get any easier after one win. The Indians also have to get acclimated to several transfers including 6-4 225-pound junior Frank Smalls. Add in juniors Takwail Bailey and Hubert Simmons, both of whom played for Camden last season, and one would think Pennsauken would be concerned about chemistry.

"Not really," Byrd said. "These kids have played together before. They've played on the same AAU team. I'm not worried about the chemistry."

That win gave Pennsauken an obvious boost that carried into yesterday's game against Paul VI. The Eagles were ranked in the top three of several preseason polls but Pennsauken looked past what was supposed to happen on paper enroute to a 73-61 win.

A winter wonderland

Bill Hunt wanted a full schedule at the front end of the season for several reasons.

The Williamstown coach saw a value to regular-season games over scrimmages since his team, coming off consecutive conference titles, had some holes to fill. He also understands the value of basketball-shape which is difference from say, football-shape.

"Marcus [Hampton] is really our only returning starter," Hunt said. "He's been starting for us since his freshman year. But just like everyone else, his overall conditioning needs to get better. You have to shake off the rust when it comes to ballhandling and shooting. I know that and I don't think any team is really at its best until mid-January."

Understand that Hampton is just a few weeks removed from a very successful football season in which the Braves lost only once, and that came in the Group 4 semifinals to eventual champion Cherokee. Add in the football team's secondary - Mike Dobleman, Chris Bell and Bill McCarty - and Hunt has a team chock full of players in football shape.

With that in mind, Hunt went out and set up games for Friday - a 53-40 win over Clearview, Saturday, Monday and yesterday, the last of which was at Deptford. The Monroe School District, which has plenty of country roads within its limits, shut down operations for the entire week due to the 24 inches of snow that fell on Saturday and, in turn, the Braves lost two of the four games on the original docket. They did get to play at Deptford since Deptford had school.

"We have some work ahead of us," Hunt said. "We have a good tournament at Cherry Hill East next week and, like I said, by mid-January I think we'll be in form. All I know is that this will make us better at the end of the season."

Barring any more calls from Mother Nature.

Fresh off a title

Lenape entered the season ready to hang its Group 4 state title banner in the rafters.

That title came with at a cost as the Indians return just one starter. But don't shed any tears for them just yet.

"We have some questions but every team has questions at this point," coach Chuck Guittar said. "I wouldn't say rebuilding."

Lenape has the benefit of senior center C.J. Meyer to "build" around. Meyer was named the tournament MVP last season and will be joined by seniors Phil Jackson, Kevin Cunningham and Harmon Ghuman, all of whom saw significant minutes a season ago.

"We've put in a lot of time over the summer and we're ready for the season," said Guittar, whose team is off to a 2-0 start. "I know for some teams the snow was a problem but not for us. We didn't lose any games. We lost a few practices but my bigger concern is we're going to lose 4 days over the next 2 weeks due to the holidays. That hurts conditioning but as much as I would like to choose which days we get off, everyone deals with the same thing."