Photo courtesy of Johnnie Photography.
By David Cordova
All season long, the state of New Jersey has had a bunch of tough teams that made waves around the nation with their play. But as playoff time came, more and more teams started to be eliminated. But there was one team that stood tall from beginning to end.
That team was Roselle Catholic. The Lions had a very strong and successful season, winning the Union Conference title, the Union County title, the North Jersey Non Public B sectional title, the New Jersey Group B state title and last, but not least, the ultimate stage, the Tournament of Champions title, making that five titles in a year.
This year’s Tournament of Champions title made it the third in this decade, with the first one coming in 2013, when Roselle had former Syracuse forward Tyler Roberson, who is in the NBA G-League with the Agua Caliente Clippers and Malachi Richardson, who is now in his second season in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors. The second one came in 2015, when they had Isaiah Briscoe, who spent two years at the University of Kentucky and is now playing professionally in Estonia and Chris Silva, a junior at the University of South Carolina.
This year’s team finished 29-4 on the season and finished the season ranked No. 10 in the nation by USA Today and No. 1 in NJ.com’s Top-50 final rankings. Another amazing stat is that the Lions went 27-0 in against competition in the Garden State and went 2-4 against out of state competition, including the close loss against Montverde Academy of Florida, who is also the No. 1 team in the USA Today poll, on February 9th at the Metro Classic at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.
This past Sunday night, they executed their game plan against a good Don Bosco Prep squad, as they won, 61-54, at the CURE Insurance Arena, to conquer their third Tournament of Champions title in six years.
“In terms of the guys here and the other guys in the locker room, I just couldn’t be more proud,” said Roselle Catholic head coach, Dave Boff. “It was a long season. And these guys started right before Thanksgiving, and they had one goal in mind and that was to win the TOC.”
With the outstanding play of the senior frontcourt of 6-foot 11 Nazreon Reid (14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game), who is bound for LSU next fall, and 6-foot-9 Alanzo Frink (11.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game), the opposition always had trouble dealing with their bruising strength and prowess at the rim. At the small forward position, they had 6-foot-6 junior Kahlil Whitney (13.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game), who has plenty of explosion and is being courted by at least 30 Division I schools.
In the backcourt, they had 6-foot-4 senior Ithiel Horton (13.7 points per game), a natural scorer that is bound for the University of Delaware next fall. Then there is 6-foot-2 junior Josh Pierre-Louis (8.8 points per game), a defensive stopper and another player with explosion. And lastly, 5-foot-7 junior Jason Battle (4.2 points and 2.2 assists per game), who is player that is known for his efficient play at the one.
With that crew of players, the Lions built a solid game plan from Day One. “You know, these guys wanted to be the first team in Roselle Catholic history to win all five championships that you can win [in New Jersey], and they did that. We had never won the Union County tournament before, and that was a great feat for us, bringing the first Union County championship home for Roselle Catholic, and once we got that, the focus was solely on winning the TOC, and we tried to keep them in that mindset, you know. We had a couple of roadblocks along the way, in terms of games that we wanted to win that we didn’t, but every time, we just kept focusing on the fact that the ultimate goal was to be down here in Trenton and win the school’s third TOC and really separate ourselves in regards to teams that won three or more Tournament of Champions titles.”
When asked about Frink, he replied, “Zo’s just had an unbelievable year. And really has played outstanding the last few weeks. He’s been in double figures, he’s putting double-doubles almost every single night, but the reality is that all six guys up here, and the guys in the locker room, they all contribute and they’re the reason we’re the TOC champs. This team’s never been about one guy, this team is never about two guys, it’s all about the team.”
In this game against Don Bosco, who was in the title game last year, they started off strong with a 6-0 lead, with 6:22 to go in the first quarter. But then throughout the quarter, the Ironmen caught up to the Lions, with baskets by Ron Harper, Jr. and Michael Concannon. But moments later, Roselle then went up 18-9, with 42 seconds to go off of consecutive points by Reid.
Then in the second quarter, the lead went up to eleven twice, as Roselle led, 24-13, after a basket by Frink with 6:36 to go. Don Bosco countered with a 9-1 run to cut the deficit to three, 25-20, with 3:56 left after baskets by Harper. But baskets by Pierre-Louis and Reid sent the Lions into halftime, leading 30-27.
The third quarter was a close affair, as they were four ties and a couple of lead changes, but it ended with Roselle leading 42-40. The final quarter came and Reid was saddled with foul trouble, but Frink, Reid and Pierre-Louis helped the Lions take a ten-point lead, 54-44, with 3:31 left in the fourth.
They would later extend their lead to fourteen, 60-46, with free throws made by Battle with 46 seconds to go. Even though Harper would make eight straight points towards the end, it would not be enough as Roselle would win the game and the title.
Reid would finish with 22 points and five rebounds and Frink would add 16 points and four rebounds for Roselle Catholic. For Don Bosco, Harper would finish with 33 points.
At that moment, the Lions were champions. They are now third in TOC history amongst teams with multiple titles on the boys side. When asked about how he wanted his legacy to be remembered, Reid, who was the on the previous TOC title-winning as a freshman, replied, “I learned a lot from Coach Boff and the coaching staff, they taught me so much, along with Isaiah, Chris, Alonzo, Matt, Pierre, you know, I learned a lot from them growing up. So, for me to win the TOC, like I did today, with my guys, it shows that the hard work that they did, paid off.”
Added Coach Boff: “I remember an article earlier this year, where one of the kids up here, said that the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is that last year’s team had bouts of selfishness and they had things that they complained about, things other than winning, and this team just wanted to win the TOC from Day One, and to have this many great basketball players that play unselfishly is something to be commendable.”
This year, can and will be easily remembered as the year of the Lions. That is, of Roselle Catholic.