The St. Peter’s Prep basketball team created history this season, when the Marauders captured the NJSIAA Non-Public A North state sectional title, defeating Don Bosco Prep in the title game last week at Rutgers University.
It marked the first time in the school’s history that the Marauders repeated as state sectional champions, having won the title a year ago as well.
The Marauders won 26 games this season, falling just one win shy of the school record for wins in a year.
However, there was a sense of emptiness when the Marauders fell to St. Joseph (Metuchen), 85-72, in the overall Non-Public A state title game last Saturday night in Toms River.
The Marauders lost to St. Joseph last year in the state title game as well.
St. Peter’s head coach Todd Decker had a tough time processing the loss.
“I think it’s just natural, as a player, as a coach, you always want more,” Decker said. “I think that’s just the competitive nature. You never want to go down losing your last game. I told the kids that if they get to college and get to play in the NCAA Tournament, only one team gets to win the last game.”
Decker was asked to look back at the hectic season.
“Reflecting on the season, I’m very proud of the kids,” Decker said. “I was proud what they were able to accomplish. We had some nice wins. We won back-to-back state sectional championships. To do that at St. Peter’s Prep, with the best coach in the country [Bob Hurley] just a few blocks away from us, really says something. I’m very proud of the kids.”
The Marauders had a tough time dealing with St. Joseph 7-foot-1 center Karl Towns, who had 22 points and six blocked shots for the winners. Towns is headed to the University of Kentucky in the fall.
Marques Townes also scored 22 for the winners.
“I feel like we walked out of the gym with our heads held high,” Decker said. “As much as it hurt, we left it all on the floor. They were the better team, no question.”
There is also a sense of relief, because the Marauders return so many talented players next season. Sure, they’re going to miss the seniors, like leading scorer Austin White, who is headed to High Point University, and power forward Vic Jusino, headed to Pace.
“I’m going to really miss the seniors and what they meant to the program,” Decker said. “I loved the relationship I had with the seniors. Each kid has a remarkable story and their legacy is leaving with back-to-back state sectional titles. They definitely left the program in better condition than when they came. It’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
However, the Marauders will return players like point guard Nate Pierre-Louis and forwards Najja Hunter and Veer Singh. Pierre-Louis returned to action after suffering a concussion in the loss to Hudson Catholic in the Hudson County Tournament title game. He’s only a freshman. Singh, who became the team’s go-to scorer down the stretch, and Hunter, whose potential is endless, are both only sophomores.
“I’m very excited for the future,” Decker said. “Next year’s team should be dynamic. I think the young kids all came a long way and all played a major role. They will have a lot more weight on their shoulders in the future.”
Hunter had six points and 10 rebounds against St. Joseph.
“His second half of the season was just tremendous,” Decker said. “He already has about 12 Division I offers. He’s 6-foot-6 and still growing. I am expecting him to continue to get better.”
Kaleb Bishop, a 6-foot-8 freshman, also played a big role down the stretch. Bishop had 10 rebounds in the loss to St. Joseph, playing against Towns.
“The last third of the season, Kaleb was tremendous,” Decker said. “He had a phenomenal game against St. Joe’s. He can finish inside. They’re going to work every day to push each other.”
Having Pierre-Louis return to action after the scary situation in the county title game was huge for Decker and the Marauders.
“It’s tough for a kid when he has to sit out 10 days and he’s away from the team, not able to do anything,” Decker said. “But I give Nate all the credit in the world for coming back and for being as efficient as he was in the big games.”
There have been some rumors that Singh might transfer to a prep school to play at a higher level, like Monteverde Academy in Florida, where former St. Patrick of Elizabeth coach Kevin Boyle now resides, or Blair Academy in northwestern New Jersey.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, the rumors are always going to be out there,” Decker said. “I told Veer that if he gets approached, he can just stop the rumor. I’m very confident in the kid’s love for our school, for the program and the coaching staff. I’ve dealt with it in the past. You hear the rumors all the time. But I know the kid is happy here. There’s no doubt about that.”
It means that Decker will have the benefit of having all four Division I products for the next two seasons at the very least. That’s a very promising future.
“The kids are going to work every day and push each other to get better,” Decker said. “They were already in the weight room Monday, lifting weights. They’re a very tight group who love the game of basketball and understand what it takes to be successful. They’re going to push each other to make each other better.”
So the 2013-14 season ended with a heartbreaking loss. But there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Better times lie ahead.
“Whether you win or lose, if you work hard, good things will happen,” Decker said. “If this group can continue to develop and get better, then they can be very good.”
And that’s something to shoot for in the years to come. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.