By Tim Morris
There’s no surer sign a program is here to stay than when it can withstand the loss of talented players and not have to start all over.
Last winter was a groundbreaking one for Howell High School’s boys basketball team, as it scored the program’s first state playoff win and also qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament.
However, the team graduated more than 90 percent of its offense and rebounding. To make matters worse, head coach Patrick Ramsay had only one player who played in every game the year before: senior guard Matt Morton.
Steve Palumbo, a senior forward, and sophomore guard Alex Morton were the only returnees, and they saw limited action.
To say least, the 2015-16 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year. However, it has been anything but that, as Howell has managed to remain a competitive club that has the chance to back up last season with another tournament-bound campaign.
Through the first 17 games of the season, the Rebels are 8-9 and 4-5 in the tough Shore Conference A North Division and have been one of the Shore’s surprise teams.
Ramsay, now in his third year at Howell, is reaping the rewards on what he started in his first year.
“What has made the difference thus far is that we have built a program and my kids have bought into it,” Ramsay said. “My coaches (Mike Sinisi, Rich Yuro and Tyler Palagonia) and I have worked very hard to accomplish this. Hopefully, all our hard work will continue to surprise people and carry over next year and the years to follow.
“We are a work in progress and with every game, no matter who we play, we feel we can get a ‘W.’ ”
Ramsay made a point to note the building process began with players who preceded this year’s group.
“The kids who I have coached, who have graduated, are responsible for laying the foundation,” he said. “They want to see Howell be turned into a competitive program year in and year out.
“They were role models in showing the younger classes that working hard and being committed is the only way to get better. The younger kids saw that and saw the success last year’s team had.”
That has motivated this year’s Rebels to not be the team that took a couple of steps backward.
“We have stepped up as a team this season,” Ramsay said. “We play 10 kids and on any given night, any one of those kids can lead the way. We have had eight different players lead the team in scoring throughout the season and five different kids score at least 20 or more points thus far.
“We are replacing the scoring from last year by committee.”
Palumbo, Matt Morton and sophomore Brandon Wilson are averaging between 10 and 11 points each to pace the Rebels’ scoring. Palumbo and Morton are the leading 3-point shooters.
Connor MacLeod, the only other senior on the Rebels; juniors Jordan Jones, Dan Cacciatore, Tyler Hoops and Bobby Cavallero; and sophomore Eddie Morales round out the club. They present their coach with depth and flexibility.
This week, Nasiem Brantley, a sophomore transfer from Georgia, becomes eligible and is expected to contribute.
As far as expectations for the rest of the season, while maintaining the postseason tournaments (Shore Conference and NJSIAA Central Jersey) are always the goal, Ramsay’s concern is the here and now.
“We are focused on improving every day,” he said. “It’s a game-by-game process, but we are taking steps in the right direction.
“The success we have had up to this point in the season can be contributed to the players. They have bought into the program. They worked hard in the offseason and are continuing to work hard in season to turn this into a successful program. We have a lot of unselfish players who put the program first. We have competitive kids who hate losing and put the team first.”