Balent balances bad with the good

By: Lance Manion
   Chris Balent is the type of coach who takes positives out of everything — even heartbreaking losses.
   So four days after his South Brunswick boys basketball team took the top-ranked team in Middlesex County down to the wire, Balent was talking about how much big-game experience his junior-dominated squad gained.
   Sure, St. Joseph defeated South Brunswick 56-55 on Jan. 5, but Balent believes the loss gave his team confidence that it can play with Central Jersey’s elite.
   ""We take positives out of everything," the first-year coach said. ""Whether it’s looking back on the way we executed at a certain point or seeing a player improve there are always positives, but there are always negatives that you’re looking to correct, too."
   Against St. Joseph, the Vikings rallied from a 45-38 fourth-quarter deficit but lost despite four players finishing in double figures. Nick Fazio led the way with 15 points, Devon Young added 13, while Martin and Malcolm Soaries each finished with 12 as South Brunswick suffered its second straight Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division defeat.
   "I was happy with the effort," Balent said, "but not the result."
   South Brunswick rebounded Tuesday with a 49-38 home win over Old Bridge in another GMC Red Division affair. Devon Young continued his recent surge with 12 points for the Vikings, who pulled away with a 16-6 second-quarter run.
   The victory improved South Brunswick to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Red Division, but Balent says his team is still a work in progress.
   "It’s still a learning process," said Balent, a former assistant under John Castaldo at The College of New Jersey. "It’s a learning process from the players’ standpoint and it’s a learning process from the coaches’ standpoint, too. They’re adjusting to new terminology, a new practice setup, different communication with the coaching staff and we’re still trying to gauge every player’s talents and where they fit in our system."
   The season is a month old, but Balent said he’s not sure how long it will take for his team to gel.
   "To be honest, I don’t know how long it takes," he said. "The difficult part is really we haven’t played with our full squad for all but three games. Injuries have taken a toll on us, but a lot of coaches can probably say the same thing."
   Kory Kelly has been the most snakebit of the bunch. The 6-5 junior gave a glimpse of his star potential when he scored 13 points in a 48-40 win over Notre Dame on Dec. 30, but has been sidelined with a hand injury ever since.
   Still, Balent believes his team has the potential to not only play with, but be mentioned among Central Jersey’s elite.
   "The only game we really didn’t show up in was (the loss against) East Brunswick," Balent said. "Other than that you’re looking at a one-point loss to St. Joseph that came down to the final possession and an overtime loss to Penn Charter. We’re (5-3), but we’re not that far off from (7-1)."