The 2008-2009 basketball season will tip off on Friday, Dec. 19. Locally, the Union County heavyweights will square off against some of the state’s premiere teams in the Hoop Group Tip Off Classic.
This will be the last year for both the Watchung Conference and the Mountain Valley Conference. The NJSIAA, the governing body for New Jersey state’s schools, will create one Union County basketball conference.
Here is my pre-season pick for the county’s top ten:
1. St. Patrick under coach Kevin Boyle is still the top team in the county. After losing Kansas freshman Qunintrell Thomas, this will be Dexter Strickland’s team. The North Carolina-bound Strickland will look to lead the Celtics back to the T of C finals. Along with Strickland, George Mason-bound senior Parris Bennett, Michael Gilcrist, and junior Guard Kevin Boyle Jr., will be the core for the Celtics.
2. The Linden Tigers lost Desmond Wade and most of their bench to graduation. St. Joseph’s recruit David Bruce ( 6’9”) will take the reigns for Linden. Sophomore Elijah Hodge will have to fill the void left by Des Wade. Coach Colicchio’s club faces two early tests as they open up against their Watchung rival on Friday at Plainfield and Saturday against the Group I state champion and T of C runner up Science Park in the Hoop Group Tip Off Classic.
3. Plainfield lost their coach, Pete Vasil, in the off-season, but they still have a talented team with seniors Anthony Baskerville, Tyrone Johnson and Isaiah Epps. Plainfield will contend with Linden and then Paterson Catholic on Sunday at Seton Hall University in the Hoop Group Tip Off Classic.
4. Union will follow Linden on their home court on Saturday against CBA. Losing Travis Taylor and Thomas Goubidia to graduation, the Farmers will look to Dion Nesmith, Aishon White, and Josh Kolas to make an impact.
5. Elizabeth’s Coach Balent will have a senior dominated team led by point guard Ray Graham. Fellow seniors James Frazier and Latif Rivers might help the Minutemen to improve on last year’s gains.
6. Rahway- The Indians went through most of the season without losing until St. Pat’s gave them their first defeat in the Union County Tournament semi-finals. Jose Pena, Benjamin and Troy Eastman will have Coach Conroy’s team at the top of the Mountain Valley Conference.
7. St. Mary’s of Elizabeth only lost one starter from last year’s team. Mudia Osemwegie, Edson Exume and Tyler Roberson will turn the corner for Coach Moffitt’s squad.
8. Scotch Plains- Although the Raiders are coming off their State Championship Group III victory last year, Scotch Plains has a new coach and lost the school’s all time leading scorer. Bryan Dougher. The Raiders will rely on Kevin Maroney to bring the team back to the state playoffs.
9. Roselle Catholic-Second year coach Dave Boff had a productive summer but will have to contend with an inexperienced, yet talented team. Junior Gjon Vuckedah, Brian Petrozelli, Steve Morgan, Rich Ferreira and Conner Laverty will have the Lions looking to make it to the state playoffs.
10. Oratory Prep- Coach Brian Martin’s club received some valuable experience with injuries last season. Steve Zychowski, Scott Miller, and Sebastian Leguerre will help Oratory to compete with the top half county teams.
Jim Whelan will be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org