MONTGOMERY: Boys Basketball Player of the Year

MHS’ Loupos fulfilled expectations

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
   Four years ago, Kris Grundy saw great things on the horizon for James Loupos.
   At the time, Grundy was an assistant coach in the Montgomery High basketball program. He was about to be named the school’s head coach, and he knew he had a player to build around in Loupos, who wasn’t even in high school yet.
   ”Right away, I saw his commitment and desire,” Grundy recalled. “When he was in eighth grade, Chris (Garcia), Kevin Tarca and Connor (Paladino) had just finished their freshman year. The rumor was I was going to get the (head coaching) job and we went to watch James in his eighth grade county tournament. They didn’t even know who he was. They wanted to know why we were there and I told them, that kid right there.
   ”At the time he was lanky and skinny and his hair was out of control. We watched and at the end of it, myself and the three freshmen went to dinner and they could tell he was going to be really good. After his season was over, I went and sat down with him and told him these were the plans we have going forward and I ended it with the quote I have told everybody — that you are going to be the face of Montgomery basketball for the next four years.”
   Loupos had done nothing to disappoint his coach over the last four years. As a sophomore and a junior he was part of state tournament teams that posted first-round upsets on the road. But this year, Loupos and his teammates were looking to do more than just post an early upset.
   ”It was a great accomplishment those other years to get to the states and win a game,” said Loupos, a senior who played all four years on the varsity. “But we were not satisfied with that. With the talent we had, we came in with big expectations. We wanted to make sure we left it all out there and did as much as we could.
   ”We all worked hard in the offseason and prepared well. We did not want to have to wait for a mid-season run or something like that. We wanted to get going from the beginning and not look back.”
   Loupos capped an outstanding career with his best season yet. He averaged 17 points a game to go along with 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. But more than anything else, he brought an intangible to the court that would not allow the Cougars to lose.
   James Loupos is the Princeton Packet Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
   ”If he didn’t have the edge that he has to him or the work ethic that he has, it could have gone the other way,” Grundy said. “But he bought into what we were telling him as a staff. He had the talent and the skill. And when you put that all together you get the first full scholarship kid in the history of the basketball program.”
   Twice during a state tournament run that resulted in the Cougars winning the Central Jersey Group IV title, Loupos went scoreless in the first half. On both occasions he came out in the second half and showed why he will playing at the Division I level next year at the United States Naval Academy.
   Against Rancocas Valley in the CJ IV quarterfinals, Loupos scored 18 points in the second half to rally Montgomery to the win. In the Group IV semifinals against Cherokee, Loupos scored 14 in the second half as a second half rally fell short.
   ”In those two games I told myself, if I don’t step up then my high school career is over,” said Loupos, who finished his career with 925 points. “I didn’t want to let my team down so I made sure I stepped up.”
   Added Grundy: “He’s such a competitive kid. In both of those games I’m sure his mindset was that unless I step up a little bit here this will be the last 16 minutes of my high school career. He didn’t let that happen against Rancocas Valley and unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, none being his fault, we weren’t able to extend the season against Cherokee.”
   Loupos capped his career by helping the Cougars to their best season. They won 24 games, captured a CJ IV title and also won the Skyland Conference Delaware East championship.
   ”It feels like it just flew right by,” Loupos said of his four-year career. “It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that I was a freshman and coach was telling me when you’re a senior all these seats are going to be filled and we’ll be hanging banners. I thought he was pretty crazy at the time, but it is pretty amazing the way it turned out.”
   What made the year even more special was playing with his three senior classmates — Brian Testa, Josh Prevost and Christian Benz — who all played a huge role in the success of the Cougars.
   ”Freshman year we started out with 15 guys and the numbers dwindled,” said Loupos, who will play in the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association All-Star game on Sunday at noon at the Ritacco Center in Toms River. “Now here we are senior year and it is just the four of us. We really formed a tight bond and we just love playing with each other and being part of this team.
   ”The whole season was great, especially in the state tournament. It worked out that we had home-court advantage nearly every single game. It was incredible the support we got from the community and the entire student body. It’s something I will never forget.”
   Now, Loupos will turn his attention to a college career he hopes will be just as special.
   ”I had not thought about it too much until the other night when we lost,” said Loupos, who also played lacrosse as a freshman and sophomore. “It’s weird now knowing that my high school days are over. But I still have four years ahead of me and hopefully I will enjoy my time at the Naval Academy.
   ”It has been a great four years. Coach made basketball his only sport. He gave up football. So we all had to match the dedication he had. I’ve known all those guys since we were little. We’ve grown up together and it was a great way to end our high school careers.”