Open Gym: St. Joseph Regional HS, Hammonton, NJ Cape Atlantic League ' United Division –

When you mention the name Paul Rodio in South Jersey people automatically think of the long time coach at St. Augustine Prep but his son Paul Jr. is starting to make a name for himself as well at St. Joseph Regional HS in Hammonton, NJ. Last years team went 19-6 and earned a 4 seed in the NJSIAA Non-Public South B playoffs but fell in the second round to Trenton Catholic Academy at home which stung a bit but with most of their regulars returning and big man Malik Bailey back after missing the season with a knee injury Coach Rodio has high hopes for the squad this season.

The Backcourt:

Most of this teams fire power last season was in the backcourt as 6'2' '19 Marcellus Ross is closing on 2,000 career points and will probably leave as the school's all time leader in that category when his career comes to a close. He has a velvety jump shot with unlimited range and is quite effective pulling up off the bounce to launch one before the defender can set up in a defensive posture. He has instinctive handles and can also drive it to the basket where he can score with quick burst drives or dish it to a cutter or open shooter. 6'1' '19 Ian Brown is another guy who can fill it up from downtown and watching him in the open gym I can see why Coach Rodio is so high on him. He has good instincts for when to shoot and when to dish it and is equally adept at both. Another young man that will be counted on will be 6'3' '19 Corey Blackwell who also showed an ability to knock down the deep ball while showing off some driving skills to the basket. Two youngsters who stood out to me were 6'3' '21 Jordan Stafford who seemed to have a great feel for the game and was an excellent passer with a good IQ to locate open teammates and hit them with pinpoint feeds in scoring positions and 5'10' '21 Devin Benson who impressed with his slick drives to the basket and penchant for finishing once he got there. Both of these guys should be contributors this season for the Wildcats. One other young man who deserves a mention is 5'3' '22 Yamere Diggs and while he may not be a regular rotation member I was impressed with his shooting from deep and his moxie on the court for his diminutive size and a year of JV ball may really hone his game.

The Frontcourt:

As I mentioned in the opening 6'10' '19 Malik Bailey missed all last season with an ACL/MCL injury that required surgery. He had really started to come into his own as a Sophomore at Life Center Academy and was generating some D-1 level interest. With Life Center deemphasizing hoops Bailey transferred to St. Joseph and was set to have a big year before the injury. While several programs are still interested Bailey will have to prove that he's back all the way and while he told me he has some residual pain after long workouts, which is to be expected, he says he's getting comfortable with the brace he's using and he seems to be moving without hindrance. While he is still careful not to get tangled up with guys in certain situations he looked fluid in his movements from catching the ball with his back to the basket and spinning to the hoop with a quick move to going up strong and finishing in traffic. He was facing up and hitting 10-15 foot jumpers with no difficulty and was running the floor to help with his conditioning. He will definitely help on defense from rebounding to blocking shots and will add a dimension they were missing last season. They also added 6'8' '19 Aidan Flavell a transfer from Shawnee HS who was not in attendance at the open gym. I was told he was getting therapy for a slight injury and since it's only September that makes perfect sense. He can stretch the floor as a shooter with some range and should help on the glass as well. One player I liked was hard to categorize that being 6'4' '19 Joe Ennewerji who was full of energy and played hard all over the court on both ends. He played really good defense which in open gym sessions is rare and he battled hard for scores in the paint and rebounded very well too. No doubt that he can help this team with his hustle and sturdy frame. It is possible that the Wildcats could add an international player who is a 6'9' '21 but that is not a definite at this time.

Outlook:

For St. Joseph Regional the path to states will be littered with potential landmines as this senior heavy group embarks on a season of high expectations and Coach Rodio has scheduled accordingly. In addition to the League where he'll face Wildwood Catholic, Pleasantville and Middle Twp. twice each, which helps in Jerseys point system, he also has some very tough non league tilts thrown in as well. The Wildcats will definitely have a different look this year as Bailey is back along with Flavell and maybe the international player to give them some size up front and with their explosive scoring guards like Ross and Blackwell and the steady hand of Ian Brown this squad could certainly finish atop the league standings and possibly earn the chance to garner another top 5 seed in the South Non-Public B playoffs. Their ultimate destiny will depend on the health of the bigs as there presence should help alleviate the pressure on the backcourt to provide most of the offense and a more balanced attack to me would be beneficial to their success not only in the Cape Atlantic League but a possible state run as well.