You have to forgive Todd Decker if he has a bright smile across his face these days. It has nothing to do with the Christmas holidays approaching and the third-year St. Peter’s Prep head basketball coach just loving all the Christmas tunes plastered all over the radio.
Nope, it has to do with the array of talent that Decker has on the Marauder roster this season, bringing major excitement down to Grand and Warren, probably even more excitement than when the Marauders reeled off three straight county titles a few years back.
Sure, the Marauders lost three key components to their 23-7 season that culminated in the NJSIAA Non-Public A North state sectional championship. Team leaders Trevis Wyche (St. Peter’s College), Sean Cummings and Matt Halchak all graduated, leaving the Marauders with a major void in leadership.
“Any time you lose three kids like that and the leaders that they were is hard to make up,” Decker said. “But I think the seniors we have will provide that leadership and set the tone. Our summer process gave us time to jell and grow together. It gave all the new faces a chance to step up and play major roles.”
We’ll have more on the new faces in a bit.
“Our goal is to get better as a team,” Decker said. “We have our own expectations and destinations. If we can get better as a team, the rest will take care of itself. We don’t have any entitlement to anything. We had some success last year, but we have to work for it this year.”
Leading the returnees is senior guard Austin White, who has already given a verbal commitment to High Point University, a Division I school in North Carolina. The 6-foot White has to be more of an offensive force this season.
“We need him to do a lot of things,” Decker said. “He came on strong during the second half of last season and had a strong offseason. If he plays the game at a higher level, he can affect the game in every way possible. He’s strong. He gets into the lane. He can create a shot every time down the floor. We’ve been working on him in the offseason to make every other player better. He’s been leading with his actions.”
Another key returnee is 6-foot-8 senior forward Vic Jusino, who has also given a verbal commitment to Division II Pace University for next fall. Jusino enjoyed a fruitful summer playing for the Puerto Rican National team. He’s been a two-year starter for the Marauders.
Austin Roche is a 6-foot-5 senior forward who is perhaps the strongest player on the Marauder roster, bench pressing 330 pounds. Roche, a physical presence, will try to walk on at Villanova next fall.
The Marauders have two other key seniors in 6-foot-3 forward Sean Ryan and 6-foot-5 forward Jordan Whitehead. Both figure prominently in the mix.
Junior Jordan Harris is a talented point guard who is battling for playing time.
Now, the litany of newcomers and it’s hard to decide where to start.
Sophomore Najaa Hunter is a 6-foot-5 forward who has already received offers from Rutgers and Seton Hall.
“He’ll play major minutes at three different positions,” Decker said. “I expect him to have a good year. He can change the game in so many ways.”
Kaleb Bishop is a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward.
“He has an unbelievable physique for someone his age,” Decker said. “He’s going to be battling for playing time all year and he will be a part of the rotation. By February and March, he’s going to be a different player.”
But the last two newcomers are probably the most exciting additions to the Marauder roster in a very long time.
Veer Singh is a 6-foot-8 sophomore, a transfer from Georgia. He might be the best player of Indian descent anywhere.
“I knew nothing about him,” Decker said. “He came with his family on a tour of the school. I gave him my card and the next thing I know, lo and behold, he’s transferring here. When I first met him, I saw that he had this confidence and swagger. Then I saw him play and he has a shot that is as pure as day. He’s a straight A student and the most unselfish player. The attention on him has blown up now with all the colleges coming to see him. He already has at least 20 offers.”
Singh will get more. He’s as talented of a player there is in Hudson County, the most diverse player the county has seen since former St. Anthony All-American Kyle Anderson. Singh is that good.
And then there’s freshman Nate Pierre-Louis, who has earned the distinction by two scouting services as the No. 1 freshman in the state. Another touting sheet calls Pierre-Louis the best freshman in the nation. Yet, he hasn’t played a single game.
Pierre-Louis is a 6-foot-2 point guard with all the skills.
“He’s a great kid who is happy to be a part of our team,” Decker said. “He deals with all the expectations well. For a 14-year-old kid to have those labels put on him, it’s tough. There are good and bad things that come with it. But he has a mature physique, a mature approach and he’s going to play right away.”
Now you see the reason why Decker is a happy man. He has a roster packed with talent, one that should be playing into March for possible state honors.
“I feel very fortunate to have this team,” Decker said. “Our schedule is very challenging and tough. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Marauders open with Memorial, then face state-ranked Paterson Eastside in the Hoop Group Tip-Off Tournament over the weekend.
“We have to be ready,” Decker said.
Chances are that they will be more than prepared. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.