When he's on the court, and in control, Tariq Jett figures there's more than just a basketball in his hands.
"I tell my team, 'I'm going to make sure all of us eat,' " said Jett, a senior at Rancocas Valley. "I'm going to make sure we all eat. But at the end of the day, I'm also going to make sure we get a 'W.' "
In today's fast-paced, high-pressure game, point guards such as Jett, Ron Curry of Paul VI, Tyrell Maloney of Willingboro, and Carson Puriefoy of Bishop Eustace must handle a lot more than that orange leather sphere.
They must be part scorer and part passer, part teammate and part coach, part star and part supporting player.
It's a tough balancing act. And oddly, it's tougher for the more talented player. He can create his own shot on every possession. He must walk the fine line for 32 minutes, making a thousand split-second decisions on whether to shoot or pass, penetrate or pull back, push the ball or set up the offense.
Nobody in South Jersey does it better than Jett, Curry, Maloney, and Puriefoy. They can score. But they are the best point guards around - and their squads are strong contenders for division, sectional, and state titles - because they play an all-around game, balancing individual excellence with team-first attitudes.
"I've got great confidence in my teammates," Maloney said. "I trust them. I'm going to get them the ball because I believe in them."
The 6-foot-3 Curry led Paul VI to a 24-3 record and a share of the Olympic National title last season. He averaged 14.8 points but impacted every game with his long-armed defense, rebounding, passing, and competitive fire.
"He's a scoring point guard, but he does so much more than that," Paul VI coach Tony Devlin said of Curry, who has signed with James Madison University, where he will play for former Paul VI guard Matt Brady. "We ask a lot of him. We run our offense through him."
The 6-0 Jett averaged 13.2 points last season as Rancocas Valley won the Central Jersey Group 4 title and advanced to the Group 4 state championship game at Rutgers. Jett was the Red Devils' top scorer in the state tournament, dropping a career-high 31 points on North Brunswick in the sectional semifinals, but leads with his heart.
"He's the ultimate competitive kid," Rancocas Valley coach Jay Flanagan said. "There probably are more talented point guards out there, but he's just so mentally and physically tough that it rubs off on our kids."
The 5-9 Maloney averaged 18.1 points for Willingboro. He scored a career-high 32 in his last game as a junior, a loss to eventual South Jersey Group 2 champion Middle Township in the sectional semifinals.
"He has the heart of a lion," Willingboro coach Jeff Haddock said. "He brings it every game."
The 6-0 Puriefoy is South Jersey's top returning scorer. He averaged 21.4 points last season as Bishop Eustace went 21-7, shared the Olympic National title with Paul VI, and lost to eventual state champion St. Augustine in the South Non-Public A quarterfinals.
Like Jett and Maloney, Puriefoy had a 30-point game in March, scoring 31 in a tournament-opening victory over Bishop Ahr. He also scored 42, with 10 assists, against Woodrow Wilson in the regular season.
"He's like a coach on the floor," Eustace coach Bob Falconiero said. "He makes great decisions as far as looking for his own shot and looking to get his teammates involved."
All four players have been point guards through their careers, from their first games with the other 6-year-olds to the brink of their senior seasons. They all like the pressure of the position, and the responsibility.
"I was little when I was younger, so they put me at the point," said Curry, who lives in Pennsauken. "I like it because I want my team to rely on me. I want to do everything I can for my team for as long as I can."
Curry is a rangy athlete who can finish on the fastbreak and score in traffic off the half-court set. He has improved his shooting over the years, and was 3 for 3 from three-point range in a recent scrimmage against Rancocas Valley.
Curry leads a talented Paul VI team that also features senior guard Kris O'Connor and senior center Roosevelt Cubbage. The Eagles are No. 2 in The Inquirer's preseason South Jersey rankings and project as strong contenders for the South A sectional and state titles.
"The big thing with Ron is how much he's matured," Devlin said. "He's matured physically as far as getting bigger and stronger, but he's also matured as far as understanding how to run a team.
"He knows he can score, and we need him to score. But he understands there are times when he needs to score and times when he needs to not force things."
Jett said he learned to play point guard by watching his brothers, William and Laquan, play the position for Pemberton.
"They're my role models," Jett said of his brothers, who attend most of his games.
Jett has been Rancocas Valley's starting point guard since his freshman year. He's more of a scorer than shooter, although he has improved his mid-range jumper. He's adept at getting in the lane, drawing fouls, and using his strength and body control to finish.
Jett will team with forward Dom Twitty, another four-year starter, to lead a Red Devils team that is ranked No. 8 in the preseason but could be playing its best basketball in March - just like last season.
"In all the years I've been here, nobody has ever been more valuable," Flanagan said of Jett. "I actually hate how much we have to rely on him. If he's off the floor, we're in trouble."
Maloney said he always has been a point guard for one simple reason.
"I always was the shortest player on the court," Maloney said.
Maloney said he grew up in Willingboro, dreaming of playing for the Chimeras. He is quick to the basket and has a deadly pull-up jumper. He's a three-year starter, and he'll team with Trenton Catholic transfer Ronny Paden to lead a Willingboro team that is ranked No. 4 and looms as a strong contender to capture the South Jersey Group 2 title, which would be the first sectional title in program history.
"He doesn't have to do everything for us," Haddock said of Maloney. "He can let the game come to him. He's so competitive. He plays with a fire. But he believes in his teammates. He trusts them. He's going to be a leader for us, but he's going to get everybody involved."
Puriefoy said he has been a point guard since he started dribbling the basketball at age 4. His father, also Carson Puriefoy, was a standout point guard at Bucknell and taught his son the intricacies of the position.
"I was a pass-first point guard my whole life," said the younger Puriefoy, who lives in Wenonah.
Puriefoy is a natural scorer. He is quick and slick with the basketball, gets to the rim, and uses his surprising strength to finish. He's also a threat from three-point range.
"He made a big jump between sophomore and junior year, and I think he's ready to take another big jump this year," Falconiero said. "He's stronger. He's improved his jump shot. He's pushed his jump shot back behind the three-point line.
"Carson is a leader on the floor. He takes what the defense gives him and works as hard as he can to get everybody involved."
Puriefoy, who has signed with Stony Brook, is the floor leader of a Eustace team that includes fellow three-year starters Sho DaSilva and Dexter Harris and two-year starter Trevor Norton.
The Crusaders are top-ranked and should be strong contenders for the South A sectional and state titles, along with their archrivals from Paul VI.
"It seems like yesterday I was playing my first game as a freshman against Camden High," Puriefoy said. "It went fast, but we still have time. We want to seal our legacy as a team by winning a state title."
Like Jett, like Curry, like Maloney, Puriefoy knows there is more than a basketball in his hands during those 32 minutes on the floor. These guys are handling their teams' hopes, too.
As seniors, they all understand the challenge in front of them. They all see the opportunity.
They all will look to score. They all will look to involve their teammates, too.
"The team eats first," Puriefoy said. "The point guard gets the leftovers."