A Tough Schedule and Quality Returning Talent Bodes Well for Camden Catholic

A Tough Schedule and Quality Returning Talent Bodes Well for Camden Catholic

Camden Catholic has long had one of the top boys’ basketball programs in South Jersey and this year is no different.

The Irish were a consensus preseason Top 10 team and despite two early losses, appear to be somebody nobody will want to deal with when the state tournament arrives in late February.

Just like last year, the Irish have a murderous schedule and may take their lumps in a few games, but having one of the hardest schedules in South Jersey should help toughen the Irish up.

It sure did last season. Camden Catholic lost six games in the regular season but when the playoffs arrived, the Irish were on their game.

They ended up winning their first sectional championship since 2010, beating St. Joseph Metuchen, 44-39 in the championship.

The Irish’s season ended the next game when the fell to Don Bosco Prep, 61-54 in the state Non-Public A state championship.

Camden Catholic finished with a 23-7 record and there are plenty of experienced veterans back form the team.

Headlining the unit is 6-6 senior Baba Ajike, who averaged nearly 15 points and eight rebounds last season and 6-6 senior Uche Okafor, who averaged 9.4 points and 8.5 rebounds.

The Irish have been bolstered by senior point guard Valen Tejada, who is originally from the South Jersey area, but lived in Norway during his first three years of high school.

Corbett has been needed even more because senior guard Pat Corbett, who was a key member of last year’s title team, suffered an ankle injury in preseason. Corbett isn’t supposed to return until sometime in January.

The Irish have been bolstered by the addition of 6-7 sophomore Zach Hicks, who has been a consistent double-figure scorer in the early part of the season. Another strong addition has been sophomore guard Lucas Dunn, one of the top defenders on the team.

The Irish entered the week with a 3-2 record. The third win, which was Saturday’s 40-26 win at Washington Township, gave sixth-year coach Matt Crawford the 100th of his career, making him 100-46.

The two losses in the early going were to two of the better teams in South Jersey. Camden Catholic fell 47-37 to Haddonfield and 55-52 to Olympic Conference National Division rival Paul VI. The loss to Paul VI was especially excruciating since the Irish owned a 13-point lead midway through the second quarter and lost the game on a three-pointer at the buzzer by Paul VI’s Jordany Pierre.

Just like last year, Crawford hopes the difficult schedule pays dividends for the postseason.

“I think the reason we had so much success at the end of last year is we were so battle-tested,” Crawford said. “We learned from getting beat up by teams like Atlantic City and Camden and it wasn’t fun at the time, but it gets you better.” Look for more of the same this season, for a Camden Catholic team that should eventually prove its preseason Top 10 South Jersey spot was deserved.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo courtesy of Marc Narducci

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