Isaiah Graves and Dennis White, seniors
For two years, Isaiah Graves and Dennis White have been role players for two of the best teams in Atlantic City basketball history.
This season will be different.
Graves and White are the seasoned veterans on an otherwise inexperienced team that will try to maintain the standard set by the Vikings in winning back-to-back Group 4 state titles for the first time in the program's history.
"Coach [Gene Allen] told us at the end of last year, 'It's on y'all to get us back here,' " Graves said. "We know we have to step up and be ready to play every game."
Graves, a 6-foot-2 lefthander, averaged 10.5 points last season as a second-team all-South Jersey selection. He made a series of big shots in the Vikings' run to the state title.
White, a 6-6 lefthander, averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds. He's a clever inside player, a reliable rebounder, and a surprisingly sharp passer.
"There's a lot of pressure on us this year, but we like it," White said.
On teams that featured leaders such as Dayshawn Reynolds, a first-team All-South Jersey selection last season, Graves and White were able to serve as complementary players.
This season, they must lead the way.
"We've been playing together since we were little," Graves said. "We know everybody's looking to us this year. We're ready."
Nick and Rob DePersia, juniors
Nick and Rob DePersia sparked Haddonfield to Colonial Conference Liberty Division titles as freshmen and sophomores.
Now juniors, the talented and tenacious twins hope to push the program to an even higher level in the state tournament.
Haddonfield looms as the favorite in both the Colonial Liberty and South Jersey Group 2, thanks largely to the presence of the DePersias.
"Ever since we were little, we always went to see big games," Nick DePersia said. "We always wanted to play in games like that."
The DePersias are interchangeable on the court, with each capable of running the point and operating as an off-guard.
But for the most part, Rob DePersia plays the point. The 5-foot-10 athlete averaged 9 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals last season.
Nick DePersia spends most of his time at shooting guard. The 6-footer last season averaged 12 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
With full-court pressure defense and creative playmaking at the offensive end, the DePersias form one of South Jersey's best backcourts.
"We have great chemistry from playing together our whole lives," Rob DePersia said.
Jay Howard and Matt Risse, seniors
It only seems as if Jay Howard and Matt Risse have been together forever.
The Paul VI seniors are three-year starters and four-year varsity players. They were regulars on teams that went a combined 52-8 in the last two seasons, with a pair of Olympic Conference National Division titles and two appearances in the Non-Public South A final.
Add in offseason workouts, spring-league games, summer camps, fall-league games, and in-season practices, and the two sometimes feel more like brothers than teammates.
"That's definitely how it seems," Howard said. "It's like he's my brother out there."
The 6-foot-3 Howard is an explosive finisher on the break and a prolific scorer. He averaged 18.4 points last season as a first-team all-South Jersey selection.
He is considering Bucknell, Delaware, Fairfield, Quinnipiac, and Rider as college choices but could end up at Navy.
The 6-5 Risse is a sturdy, all-purpose player who rebounds in traffic and knocks down three-point jumpers. He will head to James Madison as a preferred walk-on, with a scholarship offer in his second year.
With a loaded senior class, Paul VI enters the season as the No. 1 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings. But the Eagles will face severe challenges in the Olympic National, in a daunting out-of-conference schedule, and in the Non-Public South A tournament, in which two-time champion St. Joseph of Metuchen looms as the favorite.
It's nothing new for Howard and Risse.
But they know their last season together is something special.
"I can't believe how fast it went by," Risse said of his high school career. "Jay and I have been together for four years. We're as close as teammates can be."
Eric Stafford and Darnell Foreman, seniors
Tim Delaney, junior
Eric Stafford figures that Pitman's talented trio has the basketball court covered.
Junior Tom Delaney is a powerful inside presence. Senior Darnell Foreman is a top perimeter player. And Stafford, a senior, is a swingman who can play a variety of roles.
"It's like we hit all aspects," Stafford said.
With Delaney, Foreman, and Stafford leading the way, Pitman went 24-6 last season and advanced to the South Jersey Group 1 title game.
Delaney, a 6-foot-9 athlete who has committed to Villanova, averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds. He provides the inside muscle for the Panthers, although he's capable of facing the basket and stepping out behind the three-point line.
"I think we have the best backcourt in South Jersey, and that makes my job a lot easier," Delaney said, referring to Stafford and Foreman.
The 6-1 Foreman averaged 13.2 points and 3.8 assists last season. He sees himself as a "distributor," although he's also an effective slasher to the basket with a strong mid-range game.
"We complement each other," Foreman said of the trio.
The 6-4 Stafford is a Lafayette recruit. He averaged 15.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists last season.
"We really started to jell last year, and we're hoping to carry that over to this season," Stafford said.
Ed McWade and Jordan Robertson, seniors
Wildwood Catholic's tiny gymnasium off Central Avenue in North Wildwood is a special place to Ed McWade and Jordan Robertson.
And the senior duo is the biggest reason that so many other folks will flock to that little facility with obstructed sight lines and limited seating that provides one of South Jersey's best home-court advantages.
"You can't really practice to play there," McWade said. "We love to play people on our court."
McWade, a crafty lefthanded forward, averaged 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds as Wildwood Catholic went 23-6 and pushed into shore-area basketball prominence last season.
Robertson averaged 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds and also sank 45 three-pointers.
Now, with five returning starters, Wildwood Catholic is looking to become one of the top teams in South Jersey.
And the Crusaders' dynamic duo plans to make its unique home court an even tougher place for visitors to play.
"It seems like when we play big games, our fans are front and center," Robertson said. "There's so much atmosphere. There's not many gyms like it but we're used to it, so it's to our advantage."