An Injury-Riddled Friday Night and More

(For info on some of Saturday’s big games, check the previous post)

A quick style note: I switched up the theme on the blog a little bit because that wide page was making me nuts, so hopefully this is easier to read.

I was talking to a coach on Friday night who was out scouting and watched the Christian Brothers Academy-Middletown South and St. John Vianney-Manasquan games and the first thing he said was, “If you are a big man in the Shore Conference right now, you might be scared to even go on the court at this point.” Yes, the injury bug is loaded up on Red Bull and stinging everyone in sight. In Middletown South’s loss, junior center Kyle Cancillieri took an elbow to the nose from CBA senior Pat Light, who had the ball and was trying to clear out space after a rebound, resulting in a bloodbath that sent Cancillieri to the hospital with what is most likely a broken nose. The question now is how much time he will miss as the Eagles get ready for the stretch drive to the postseason.

CBA is rolling on its way to the Class A North title and will face the monster on Saturday when it takes on St. Anthony, as legendary Friars coach Bob Hurley Sr. was at Middletown South on Friday night to get a look at the Colts. At least it’s not last season’s St. Anthony team, which might have been the best high school team I’ve ever seen in person, better than the legendary 1989 St. Anthony team with Bob Hurley Jr., Rod Rhodes, Jerry Walker, etc. The Friars led CBA 42-5 at halftime when the two teams met last year by the way. I remember people e-mailing and texting me to say that my scoreboard was messed up on my old site, but unfortunately for Colts fans, it was all too true.

I actually saw one of St. Anthony’s stars from last year, point guard Jio Fontan, recently when I went up to Fordham University in the Bronx, my dad’s alma mater, with my parents and Miss All Shore Media to watch the Rams’ game against Duquesne on Jan. 25. First off, Rose Hill Gymnasium at Fordham is a cool place to see a basketball game. It only seats about 3,200 in this old building, but the crowd is filled with old-school hoops fans (the guys behind me knew the names of the officials and what games they had refereed the night before) and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Unfortunately, there is something bad there – the team. The Rams were 2-15 after a loss to Duquesne and shot 2-for-23 from 3-point range, but Fontan was their best player on the floor as a freshman (although he still can’t shoot free throws). Another player from that St. Anthony team, freshman Alberto Estwick, also starts for the Rams, who also feature Mike (Oh Please God No) Moore, who was a sizzling 1-for-7 from behind the arc. Fontan is legit, though, and I could see him rising through the ranks to be one of the Atlantic-10’s best point guards before long.

But I digress. Back to last night. Over at Manasquan, St. John Vianney sophomore center Mike Balkovic went up for a dunk and came down awkwardly, sticking out his arm to break his fall and ending up with a broken wrist (sound familiar Monmouth fans?), most likely ending his season. That torpedoes St. John Vianney’s playoff qualifying push to a degree because Balkovic drew a consistent double team in the post and is the team’s best scorer (he had 25 points before he got hurt in the 4th quarter against the Warriors). I know the talk is of fellow sophomores Jarelle Reischel of Point Beach and Jarrod Davis of Lakewood when it comes to Division I players in the current sophomore class, but I think Balkovic can be a D-I player as well because he is already about 6-7 and has range out beyond the 3-point line. He could be the next Joe Willman, or even like former SJV standout Matt Mullery, who is now at Brown. I talked to Balkovic after SJV’s win over Red Bank Catholic the other day and he strikes me as a good kid as well, which is what I have heard from other coaches, so here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Balkovic.

Balkovic is also from Neptune – imagine what the Fliers would be with him and Lakewood’s Jacob Grant (a Neptune transfer) in the frontcourt, although I know we could play that game all day with a number of teams. Just ask any coach from the Freehold Regional District about who should really be on what team and you will get a 20-minute dissertation.

These injury updates came after I was at the Monmouth-Neptune game and saw Monmouth’s Joe Willman with one arm in a cast and a sling and the other forearm in a cast after breaking both of his wrists recently to end his season. Willman was giving out elbow hand shakes all night as the well-wishers came to wish him luck in his rehab after Monmouth fell 59-52 to the Scarlet Fliers. Willman is not an emotional player, but that had to kill him to sit there and watch that game knowing he could help. I know I had my emotions surgically removed back in sportswriter school, but I had to say it was just tough to see Willman like that, and I’m sure he will grow and move on from it, but that is a tough hand to get dealt.

The moral of the whole story of the last two weeks is that if you are a talented big man in the Shore who has all of your limbs and bones intact, don’t let any black cats near you or break any mirrors or walk under any ladders. And wrap your wrists in about 6 rolls of tape before every game. And don’t try any dunks.

As for Neptune’s win over Monmouth, it was weird because although Monmouth entered at No. 1, Neptune felt like the favorite because it was in their building and the Falcons were without Willman. The biggest developments for Neptune have been its increased aggressiveness off the dribble, better rebounding and just better shooting overall. I also have been impressed with the shooting range of junior forward Jamaal Hubbard, who was knocking down 17-footers after setting high picks and finding an open space for the kickout. If he can do that with any regularity, that’s a big, extra dimension for their offense. D.J. Gutridge is also relentless and plays at a faster pace than most guards. A team will be celebrating a basket and he will have already sped to the other end of the floor and dropped in a lay-up before they can react. He has gotten some good Division II looks, including an offer from one school in New York, and with the effort he brings regularly, a team will be happy to have him.

As for Monmouth, its lack of depth really hurts right now because it’s hard to suddenly make up 20 points and about 12 boards a game in Willman’s absence without a group effort. Neil Thompson and Anthony Gibson have done their best to carry the offense, but if Brent Shelton or Austin Whitehurst doesn’t crack double digits against a good team, they will be fighting a major uphill battle.

I also caught up with former Neptune great Bobby Braun, a member of the legendary 1980-81 team that shocked Camden, at halftime of the game against Monmouth on Friday night. There was a benefit to help Braun with his medical bills during the Holiday Jubilee Tournament earlier this season, as he was almost fatally injured in a catastrophic jet ski accident in 2006 and had to undergo radical surgeries and intense rehabilitation since then, but is doing much better. I actually know Bobby from my days of covering the Lakewood BlueClaws, because he used to work for HomePlate, which serviced Lakewood’s concession stands, and he is a good guy. It was great to see him doing much better, and he said in two weeks he is off the crutches and will use a cane, and then two months after that, he should be walking on his own again. “It makes you gain a whole new appreciation and outlook on life, that’s for sure,” Braun said. You’ll be back on the golf course in no time, Bobby.

In other news, Howell continued its strong push toward a state playoff berth with a 52-45 win over a depleted Colts Neck team that just lost talented freshman guard Brian Kenny to knee surgery. Sophomore guard Ryan Keegan is one to keep an eye on for the Rebels, who are now 8-9 with the state playoff cutoff coming up next Saturday. Give head coach Brian Quick credit for keeping this team focused when its season could’ve gotten away from it early on.

Also, while I mentioned the CBA-St. Anthony game on Saturday as the game of the day, there are two others to keep an eye on. St. Rose is heading to Asbury Park’s janitor closet-sized court for a big Class B Central game. The team waving the purple and yellow pom poms will be Point Beach, which would be tied with the Blue Bishops for first place if the Purple Roses can pull off the win, and the Garnet Gulls still have a game with Asbury Park remaining. The whole game will come down to how St. Roses’s guards handle Asbury Park’s full-court pressure, plain and simple.

Middletown South also hosts a Rumson-Fair Haven team that has shown some signs of life lately with wins over Manasquan and Holmdel. Plus, there’s a good chance Middletown South will be without Cancillieri, one of its top scorers, which helps Rumson’s cause and could make the game interesting.

On the girls side, Colts Neck and Neptune continued their inexorable march toward division titles with lop-sided wins that clinched no worse than a tie (although no one is beating them anyway) for the Class A North and Class B North crowns, respectively. Jackson Memorial made it past a potential landmine in its quest to win the Class A South title when it knocked off Brick Memorial behind Caitlyn Testa, who is one of the more underrated point guards around.

The win of the night belonged to Holmdel, which surprised Raritan in the Rockets’ home gym, 46-43. The Hornets overcame a 28-point night by Raritan junior guard Nicole Lentine, as Melissa Martorelli had 16 points and Alex Diekmann added 12. Holmdel is fighting for its playoff life right now at 7-9 on the season, which always makes an opponent dangerous.

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