Carter leads rebuilt Jaguars as they contend in A South



Jackson Memorial High School’s boys basketball team will get a clear idea by the end of this week whether its rebuilt lineup will contend for another Shore Conference A South Division championship as expected.

Eric Carter, a 6-foot-8 forward who has committed to the University of Delaware, is leading an otherwise new team to a 5-1 start thus far, including a 58- 42 loss to Manchester Township High School in the WOBM Christmas Classic finals. The Jaguars opened their season with a 49-40 division victory over Brick Memorial High School and most recently earned a nondivisional triumph over Freehold Township High School, 61-49, on Jan. 4.

“I thought we showed some real resolve,” said coach Joe Fagan after his team broke away from a halftime tie against Freehold Township, a team it had also beaten in the WOBM semifinals, 51-47. “That team plays hard, pressed the whole game and [forced turnovers]. They kept plugging away, and we turned it on in the second half.”

Whether that progress can continue in what Fagan calls a “huge week” will unfold with division games on the road against Brick Township High School on Jan. 7 and Southern Regional High School on Jan. 10 before a return to the Boardwalk Classic in Long Branch, where the Jaguars play at 5 p.m. on Jan. 11 against Point Pleasant Beach High School, regarded as a top team in the Shore. Jackson Memorial opened the WOBM tournament with a 40-28 victory over Brick Township.

“We’re trying to jell. When we do, we’ll be a dangerous club,” said Carter, who averages 14 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. “In the first couple of games, we’ve played good, but not to our full potential. But as the season progresses, we’ll do well. By the end of the year, we’ll be one of the top teams.”

It’s a strange twist this season from a year ago, Fagan said, as the team has gone from being underrated last season to a “tad overrated” for this season as a top 10 ranked squad in some polls. Last season, Jackson Memorial had a 20-win season for the third year in a row and finished second in A South behind Toms River High School North after winning back-to-back titles the previous two seasons.

“Our execution on offense is not like in the past. Our defense is sporadically good. We haven’t put together a whole game,” said Fagan, whose team is shooting 53 percent.

Seven seniors graduated off last year’s team, including point guard Salam Simon, guard Pete Hetzel, brothers Mike and Nick Specht, and guard Elliott Bell.

“It’s a little bit different because the guys I had been playing with, we’d played together growing up,” Carter said. “It’s a different game this season, and they have to buy into the system.”

Carter is glad his college decision was made the day before his birthday on Sept. 27, and he said the experience was “at times overwhelming,” as he visited Fairfield University, Towson University and Iona College, as well as a home visit with Drexel University.

“I think I’m a lot more relaxed, and can play my games and not worry about it,” Carter said, as he’d see many college recruiters in the stands while playing in AAU showcases and find his cell phone filled with messages.

Marcus Ademiola, a 6-foot-3 senior forward who saw a little spot action, is back and in the starting lineup, along with 6-foot- 6 junior forward Jesse Hill, who has emerged as a solid starter averaging 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. Ademiola comes off a solid A South championship season on the football team, and he needs to raise his game as a complementary player in the frontcourt to Carter and Hill.

Hill is one of three transfers from Monsignor Donovan High School, along with C.J. Blue, a starting guard who is scoring 6.8 points per game, and 6-foot-1 reserve forward Jim Markham. How well and how quickly they mesh with the rest of the team will determine how far the Jaguars go in their likely return to the Shore Conference and NJSIAA tournaments.

Gino Palumbo, a junior guard who scores 4.4 points per game, is the other starter.

Other key reserves are junior guard Ed Landi and senior guard Ricky Aviles, who Fagan hopes returns soon from an injury.