Marlon Hargis started as a sophomore for a St. Augustine Prep basketball team that went 30-2 and won the Non-Public A state final by 33 points.

"He was just a young kid back then," St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio said.

Hargis started as a junior for a St. Augustine team that went 26-3, won another Non-Public South A title, lost the state final when a three-pointer bounced off the rim at the buzzer, and finished No. 1 in the Inquirer final Top 25 for the second year in a row.

"He still was playing second fiddle," Rodio said.

Times have changed for Hargis and the Hermits.

Sa'eed Nelson has been gone for two years. Justyn Mutts, Austin Kennedy, Walter Harvey and six other players who were seniors last season have departed as well.

Hargis is the senior leader of a restocked team that will look to maintain the lofty standards set over the last few seasons, and by many of the program's top squads of the past.

"We still have Coach Rodio," Hargis said. "We still play defense. We still play smart. We're still St. Augustine. So we're still going to be a good team."

Rodio said the 6-foot-6 Hargis, one of South Jersey's most versatile players, has embraced his new role as a veteran leader of a young team.

"He's really asserted himself in that way," Rodio said. "He played for some awfully good teams with some awfully good players. Now he's a senior and we've got a bunch of young kids who still are learning. They are looking to him."

Hargis and 6-2 guard Travis Stoll are returning starters for St. Augustine, the No. 4 team in the Inquirer Top 25.

The Hermits are relying heavily on juniors Jordan Kendricks, Charles Solomon, Nkem Ota and Cole Vanderslice, among other relatively inexperienced players.

"I'm trying to be more conscious of talking more," Hargis said. "You always talk on defense, talk on the court, but I know I need to talk more at practice, in other situations. We had Sa'eed in the past. Austin, Justyn, Walter, those guys were leaders. I need to step into that role."

The early results are positive, but the Hermits are about to be tested. They visit rival Atlantic City on Saturday night in a clash of Top 5 teams with 2-0 records, then embark on a trip to the San Diego area for a holiday tournament against what Rodio believes will be quality competition.

"The team we play second, they're 11-0 already," Rodio said. "So we'll find out a lot about this team. We've got a chance to be OK, but they're still learning."

Rodio said the team will lean heavily on Hargis, who has scored 34 points in the first two games. Hargis has scholarship offers from Colgate, American and Lafayette, and also has drawn recruiting interest from Ivy League schools.

In the past, Hargis has been a complementary player. This season, he's likely to be the Hermits' No. 1 option, their go-to guy in tough situations.

"I know I have to be a leader for this team," said Hargis, who lives in Mays Landing. "I'm comfortable with that. I'm a senior. I know I have to step up."
Game to Watch

St. Augustine Prep (2-0) at Atlantic City (2-0), Saturday at 6 p.m.

Rankings: Atlantic City is No. 3 in the Inquirer Top 25 and St. Augustine is No. 4.

Familiar foes: These teams usually play twice a season and occasionally three times. This is the first of two Cape-Atlantic League American Division games this season. The teams also could meet for a third time in the CAL tournament.

Last year: St. Augustine beat Atlantic City by scores of 64-56 and 66-46 in the regular season and by 62-53 in the CAL tourney title game.

The streak: St. Augustine has won 58 games in a row against CAL foes.

Last loss: Atlantic City is the last CAL team to beat St. Augustine, scoring a 65-60 win in the first round of the CAL tournament on Feb. 27, 2014.

Players to watch: Atlantic City is led by 6-5 senior Ray Bethea, a Howard recruit who went for 34 the other night against Ewing, as well as 6-3 senior Nah'Sir Morgan and 6-2 senior Nazim Derry. St. Augustine features 6-6 senior Marlon Hargis, 6-2 senior Travis Stoll and 6-5 junior Charles Solomon.