When Ja'Zere Noel was developing his game on the outdoor courts on Carpenter Street in Woodbury, he never imagined playing for any team other than the hometown Thundering Herd.
Noel was an impressionable preteen during Woodbury's remarkable run from 2008-2010, when players such as Mark DiRugeris and twins Isaiah and Jared Roberts turned historic Cap Paine Gymnasium into one of the hot spots in South Jersey basketball.
"I grew up watching Woodbury basketball," Noel said. "I grew up watching [Coach Ken] Avent and those guys. I just loved it."
The 6-foot-4 Noel hopes to help Woodbury recapture some of those glory days in his senior season.
With a versatile array of skills, Noel has led Woodbury to a 5-0 start that includes the first victory over arch-rival Paulsboro in eight seasons as well as two triumphs this week at the Camden Invitational holiday tournament.
Woodbury, the No. 17 team in the Inquirer Top 25, meets No. 2 Camden in a clash of unbeaten teams in the 1:30 p.m. finale of the showcase-style event Friday at Clarence Turner Gymnasium.
"The first thing about Ja'Zere is what a hard worker he is," Woodbury coach Justin Barringer said. "If you open the gym, he will be there working on his game. And he'll be the last one to leave."
Noel on Tuesday became the 15th boys' player in Woodbury history to score 1,000th career points. He collected 33 points in an 89-62 victory over Penns Grove.
On Wednesday, Noel scored 28 and made a key late block - pinning the basketball on the glass - as Woodbury rallied for a 61-58 victory over Strawberry Mansion of the Philadelphia Public League.
Noel's strong suit is his versatility. In Woodbury's 65-48 victory over Paulsboro - which marked the Thundering Herd's first triumph over the Red Raiders since 2009 - Noel struggled with his outside shot, missing all four of his attempts from three-point range.
But he still scored 17 points with 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals.
"He is a solid player who can a lot of different things on the court," Paulsboro coach Sean Collins said of Noel. "He is extremely versatile and always keeps his composure."
With smooth ball-handling and shooting skills, Noel likely will be a small forward or shooting guard at the collegiate level. He said he plans to attend prep school for a year.
For a Group 1 program such as Woodbury, Noel needs to spent much of his time in the paint, helping with rebounding and interior defense.
"We always tell him, 'Attack the glass. Attack the glass,' " Barringer said. "He's such a versatile player, can play inside or outside. But a lot of the time, we need him inside."
Noel said he's always taken pride in his versatility.
"I want to be able to do everything. Pass, shoot, rebound, score, anything to help my team win," Noel said.
As a senior, Noel said he senses the urgency of his final season for the Thundering Herd.
"This is it. My last straw," Noel said. "I wish I could take it back, but I can't."
With Noel as well as slick sophomore guard Aaron Estrada leading the way, Woodbury looms as a strong contender in South Jersey Group 1.
Since 1934, Woodbury has made the state finals just once, when the Roberts twins and Brian Purnell led the 2010 squad to an appearance in the championship game at Rutgers University.
Noel hopes to lead the Thundering Herd on a return trip in 2017. He's been planning on it since he watched the last team make that trek up the turnpike.
"I never wanted to be anywhere else but here," Noel said of Woodbury's unique home gymnasium. "I remember watching those teams like it was yesterday. That's what we're trying to do this year, get it back."