Newcomers lead Redbirds into 2021-22 basketball campaign

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Allentown High School boys basketball player Garrick Harrill drives to the hoop for a layup during a game against Colts Neck on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. Allentown is 1-2 to begin the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Allentown High School boys basketball player Walter Zhao races up the floor and dishes a pass to a teammate for a layup during a game against Colts Neck on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. Colts Neck defeated Allentown 57-45.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Allentown High School boys basketball player Ryan Kozlosky receives the inbound pass and is guarded by Colts Neck's Tyler Spencer during a game played on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. Kozlosky scored a team-high 12 points in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Allentown High School boys basketball player Danny Doran knocks down a free-throw attempt during a game against Colts Neck on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Allentown High School boys basketball player Garrick Harrill drives to the hoop for a layup during a game against Colts Neck on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. Allentown is 1-2 to begin the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Allentown High School boys basketball player Walter Zhao races up the floor and dishes a pass to a teammate for a layup during a game against Colts Neck on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. Colts Neck defeated Allentown 57-45.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Allentown High School boys basketball player Ryan Kozlosky receives the inbound pass and is guarded by Colts Neck's Tyler Spencer during a game played on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. Kozlosky scored a team-high 12 points in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Allentown High School boys basketball player Danny Doran knocks down a free-throw attempt during a game against Colts Neck on Dec. 22 in Colts Neck. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

ALLENTOWN – Third-year coach Walter Kelly and his Allentown High School boys basketball players are excited for the opportunity to be back on the court and playing a full season during the winter of 2021-22.

Allentown went 7-5 in 2020-21 during a season that was significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

A host of newcomers will lead the charge in 2021-22. The Redbirds will lean on juniors Ryan Kozlosky and Ray Gooley, who both return with varsity experience. Kozlosky and Gooley each averaged more than 5 points per game a year ago.

A year ago, Kozlosky connected on six three-point field goals, while adding 14 assists and 12 steals.

Joining Kozlosky and Gooley will be a group of juniors and sophomores who will be playing at the varsity level for the first time.

Walter Zhao, Leo Bassi, Danny Doran, Garrick Harrill and Slade Harrill have had some success through the team’s first three games.

“This is a young group,” said Kelly. “A majority of them were junior varsity players last year. We only have two players back with varsity experience. As a coach, I am trying to build confidence and take things one day at a time.”

Through three games, the Redbirds were 1-2. After losing to Ewing High School in their season opener, the Redbirds defeated West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North on Dec. 21 in Allentown.

A 14-point performance by Bassi, supported by 13-point all-around games from Kozlosky and Gooley, led Allentown to a 63-56 victory over the Knights.

“We were able to build off playing well in the fourth quarter against Ewing,” Kelly said of the victory over West Windsor-Plainsboro North. “We had very few turnovers and were getting a lot of rebounds.”

Kozlosky was averaging more than 14 ppg. through three games and added six assists. Gooley was playing well in the frontcourt and was averaging 12 ppg. while adding 17 rebounds.

Allentown, which plays in the Colonial Valley Conference, was trying for a second straight victory when the Redbirds made the trip across Monmouth County to take on Colts Neck High School of the Shore Conference in a non-conference game on Dec. 22.

Colts Neck started the game on a 12-2 run in the first four minutes, but the Redbirds finished the first quarter on a 15-2 run to take a 17-14 lead into the second quarter. Allentown led 20-16 with 5:54 left to play in the second quarter.

Kelly’s switch with Zhao coming in for Doran to play point guard allowed Allentown to pressure Colts Neck more on defense and to force the Cougars into several missed shots and turnovers.

“We played a match-up zone and they missed a lot of shots and we were able to capitalize on it,” Kelly said.

Allentown led Colts Neck, 26-25, at halftime, but Colts Neck began the third quarter on a 10-2 run and never looked back en route to a 57-45 victory.

As the Redbirds prepare for their CVC competition, Kelly wants to see more of a “sense of urgency” from his players. The coach said when players do things like boxing out to get a rebound and diving on the floor for a loose ball those actions can help them win games.

“You have to do the necessary things to win games,” Kelly said. “We have a lot to work on. We have to believe and trust the process.”

Allentown is scheduled to play Donald M. Payne Sr. School of Technology from Newark in the Holiday Jubilee at Neptune High School on Dec. 27.