By Wayne Witkowski
Mater Dei Prep’s boys’ basketball season ended earlier than fans hoped, but coach Ben Gamble was pleased with the 26-4 campaign.
“I’m very happy. We set several goals and attained all but the state championship,” Gamble said.
The Seraphs saw their season end in a 61-34 loss to The Patrick School — the No. 1 ranked team in the state — in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association South Jersey, Non-Public B quarterfinals. Brandon Wilson led the Seraphs in that game with eight points, and Elijah Mitchell fired in six.
“I at least wanted to see us in the semifinals of the state tournament, where we were last year, but Patrick School is a big obstacle to get by,” Gamble said.
Mater Dei, which also lost to Patrick School by a 65-42 score in an early regular-season game, won 16 straight leading up to the rematch. That included beating Marlboro High School, 54-41, for its second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship, as Gamble made liberal use of his bench.
“That [has] not done a lot, except for [Christian Brothers Academy],” Gamble said of the repeat, as the Seraphs were led by 14 points from Kyle Cardaci, a transfer from Holmdel High School who became eligible in mid-January, and 12 points from Mitchell.
Mater Dei shared the Shore Conference B Central Division championship honors with Ranney School — a split in their two regular season games that left them each at 13-1 in the division.
“We let that one get away,” Gamble said, referring to a 58-56 loss the first time the two teams played. Ranney mounted a 24-18 comeback in the fourth quarter of that game. Mater Dei won the second game, 76-72.
Mater Dei had a different look on the defensive end, playing less man-to-man than a year ago and utilizing gimmick zones.
“I learned from coach [Bob] Hurley, don’t be stubborn [to changes] to put your team in the best position to succeed,” Gamble said, referring to his coach from when he played at Saint Anthony High School.
“We were not as solid this year in man-to-man,” Gamble said. “But our offense was better, averaging 70 points a game (69.7 points per game to be exact). We had a lot of weapons. And when Kyle Cardaci became eligible, we had different looks, a deep threat. We were a little more diverse than last year.”
Mitchell and 1,000-point scorer Elijah Barnes, who was a team leader, head the players graduating this spring. Barnes averaged 15.2 points and sevens rebounds. He has verbally committed to Princeton University. Mitchell averaged 8.3 points and five rebounds.
Eddie Lewis and Marvin Pierre, who both also excelled for the football team, contributed their athleticism to the basketball team.
One solid post player returns in 6-foot-8 junior Adam Afifi, whose family migrated from Egypt. He averaged 6.8 points and four rebounds.
The backcourt returns and the three starters there are getting recruited by colleges. Kenny Jones is being recruited by Ivy League, Atlantic 10 and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) schools. Cardaci has gotten an offer from NCAA Division II program Merrimack College. Yasin Pretlow has been recruited heavily by Division I program Western Kentucky University, as well as MAAC and Northeast Conference schools.
Jones was a runaway team leader in assists with 142 — nearly 10 a game — and had 64 steals (Mitchell led the team with 67). He scored 11.1 points a game.
Cardaci, in his short season, struck for a team-best 40 3-point baskets and averaged 10.7 points. Pretlow scored a shade under 10 points per outing.
“With those three guys, that’s 50 to 55 points a game next season,” Gamble said. “Defensively, we’ll mix it up again, using some box-and-one and triangle-and-two to throw teams off.”
Kyle Devaney and Brandon Wilson are ready to break out next season as seniors.
“We have a good core group coming back,” Gamble said. “The future looks good.”