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Phil Anastasia: Pennsauken basketball on the rise

It's two games, so Cetshwayo Byrd is trying his best to remain unimpressed. He's a basketball coach. He sees mistakes. He sees lots of room for improvement for his Pennsauken team.

It's two games, so Cetshwayo Byrd is trying his best to remain unimpressed.

He's a basketball coach. He sees mistakes. He sees lots of room for improvement for his Pennsauken team.

"If we continue to work hard and put away our egos, we could be rolling a little bit by the end of the year," Byrd said. "But we've got a long way to go."

Pennsauken is 2-0 after last night's impressive 75-61 victory over Paul VI in an Olympic Conference inter-division game before a nice crowd in the Indians' second-floor gymnasium.

Suddenly, lots of folks are coming in from the cold and walking up those steps to see a team that is creating quite a buzz in South Jersey.

"We're trying to put Pennsauken on the map in basketball, and in all sports," junior forward Marcus Jones said.

Jones was all over the floor, generating 15 points as well as four rebounds, four assists and two steals. His football teammate, senior forward Sidney Holmes, was active, too, grabbing three rebounds and scoring all six of his points as Pennsauken pulled away in the fourth quarter.

But for the first time in a while, the Indians have something besides football players who look good on the basketball court. They've got pure basketball players in juniors Takwail Bailey, Frank Smalls, and Hubert Simmons.

"That's something we haven't had," Byrd said.

Bailey, Smalls and Simmons are new to the school, having transferred to Pennsauken this year. But all three are Pennsauken kids who were together in middle school.

Smalls, a muscular 6-foot-4 junior, spent two years at Trenton Catholic. He returned to Pennsauken in September but really arrived last night.

"I played lazy the first game," Smalls said, referring to his six-point effort in a narrow victory over Washington Township in Friday night's season opener. "I wanted to come out tonight and show everybody who I was."

Smalls collected 25 points and 12 rebounds. He more than held his own in a battle with Paul VI's talented 6-5 senior center, Nick Moore.

Bailey and Simmons are junior guards who transferred this year from Camden. Bailey, a pure point guard, scored 21 with six assists. Simmons, a wing, scored four points but made the game's most electric play with a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop pass from Bailey in the third quarter.

"I love playing with these guys," Smalls said.

Byrd know Pennsauken is a work in progress. But the Indians have victories over Washington Township and Paul VI, a pair of teams that could each win 20 games and challenge for their respective division and sectional titles.

Pennsauken scored 50 in the second half last night. The Indians got strong play from their starting five, plus a boost off the bench from forward Elijah Maxwell and Aaron Burt.

With four juniors in the starting lineup, Pennsauken should be a force in South Jersey for the next two seasons. Byrd hopes the Indians last longer than that.

"There's so many athletes in Pennsauken," Byrd said. "Maybe if we start winning some games and playing some good basketball, more of them will stay here instead of looking to go elsewhere to high school."

It's a long season. But Pennsauken is 2-0 and there's good reason to come inside on a cold winter's night and climb those steps to watch the Indians play basketball.

"This is only the beginning," Bailey said.

Paul VI 13 15 17 16 - 61

Pennsauken 16 9 27 23 - 75

PVI: Rob Poole 14, Nick Moore 18, Ron Curry 10, Chris Jermyn 13, Bob Stocklin 6.

Penns.: Frank Smalls 25, Takwail Bailey 21, Hubert Simmons 4, Marcus Jones 15, Sidney Holmes 6, Elijah Maxwell 4.