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Tuesday / November 13.
  • Nickens, Bembry Set to Lead New-Look St. Pat’s

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    ELIZABETH, N.J. — The stars have shone brightly at St. Patrick High School over the years.

    Al Harrington, Sam Dalembert, Shaheen Holloway, Derrick Caracter, Corey Fisher, Dexter Strickland, Kyrie Irving, Michael Gilchrist, Derrick Gordon and Dakari Johnson have all come through the small New Jersey Catholic school in recent years.

    But after losing to St. Anthony in last year’s unofficial national championship game at Rutgers, Gilchrist departed for Kentucky, Gordon went to Western Kentucky and the 6-foot-11 Johnson followed head coach Kevin Boyle out the door to Montverde (Fla.) Academy.

    The average high school hoops fan would be hard-pressed to name two or three starters on this year’s St. Patrick team.

    But into that void steps rising juniors Jared Nickens (pictured) and Deandre Bembry, who figure to lead the Celtics into the Chris Chavannes Era, along with a group of talented, young guards.

    “Yeah, I think the whole state is sleeping on us because of a new coach and everything like that,” the 6-foot-6, 170-pound Nickens, who played on the JV last season when the varsity Celtics were No. 1 in the nation for most of the season, told SNY.tv Monday at the school.

    Chavannes, who coached Nickens on JV, said the young man could be the go-to guy on this year’s team.

    “He’s a sleeper,” the coach said. “And I think that’s one of the reasons why we think we’re going to be an interesting team this year.”

    Bembry is a 6-5, 180-pound wing who moved with his mom to Cartaret, N.J., from Charlotte, N.C.

    “Bembry is a highlight player,” Chavannes said. “He’s a high-flying act and he does a lot of things very well. He rebounds it very well. He can post you very well. He shoots it, goes by you. And what an athlete as far as playing above the rim. People enjoy him. He’s a wonderful kid, too.”

    “I’m just trying to fit in where I can,” said Bembry, who holds offers from Villanova, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech and Auburn, among others. “Coach wants me to score with Jared. We’re the two main scorers. We lost a lot last year, so we got to pick it back up this year.”

    St. Pat’s also recently added 6-3 guard Anthony Pate from Toronto, who is rated in the Top 10 in the Class of 2014 in Canada. Pate, who runs with Grassroots Canada, helped Canada earn a bronze medal this summer at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun, Mexico.

    Those players must compensate for the loss of Gilchrist, Gordon and Johnson, as well as 2012 wing Tyrone O’Garro, who transferred to St. Peter's Prep. (He will not have to sit the required 30 days because he moved, according to St. Peter's Prep coach Todd Decker.)
    With the loss of Jarrel Lane and Chris Martin from the backcourt Chavannes is counting on a group of young guards, including Jonathan Williams (2014), Darrian Collins (2013) and Trevis Wiche (2013), along with Da’Shawn Suber (2012).

    “We’re smaller with our guards,” Chavannes said. “But we have a plethora of guards that are very good, very inexperienced. We got a lot of speed.”

    The Celtics beat Gill St. Bernard’s this summer , and went 4-0 last weekend at the Primetime Summer Shootout, including a win over Trenton Catholic.

    Many of the current players have played pickup this summer against Irving, Strickland and other former St. Pat’s standouts, which, in turn, can only make them better.

    Up front, St. Pat’s has 6-9 Jo’el Samuel, a raw, but talented big man, and Chavannes hopes 6-9 Austin Colbert, who’s currently on vacation but has a huge stack of recruiting mail at the school, returns, too.

    Colbert spent part of the summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy going up against the top players in the nation, and said he was undetermined about his future.

    “I’m not really sure,” he said at LeBron. “I’m looking back at enrolling at St. Pat’s. But I’m [also] looking at other schools to see what other options there are out there.”

    Colbert said Boyle was like “a father figure” to whom.

    “He guided me,” Colbert said.

    Chavannes, the former coach at Marist High School, was Boyle’s right-hand man for more than 20 years as St. Pat’s evolved into a national power, winning five New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles.

    Now Chavannes, who is also Vice Principal at the school, is the man. And he’s quickly learned that the head coaching job at St. Pat’s is a full-time gig, with responsibilities related to college recruiting, scheduling, coaching, managing egos, etc.

    “I really appreciate Kevin more than ever now because all the stuff that he had to do, and to have had the success that he had was unbelievable,” Chavannes said. “The pressure from the parents, the kids, the this, the that, whatever. He really did a phenomenal job.”

    Boyle was an outspoken, controversial figure, whereas Chavannes is more softspoken. But he maintains he’s just as competitive.

    “We have the same philosophies in a lot of ways, as far as how we go about our styles of play,” Chavannes said.

    “I’m a very laid back nice guy, smile with the guys, but when we get in the classroom I’m all business. If I’m coaching, I’m all business.”

    One of Chavannes’ mandates for this year is to get the team in better shape. He says the reason they lost to St. Anthony last year was because the Friars, trained by strength coach Omar Jones, were simply in better shape.

    “Developing our bodies was very important because we know right off the bat, we can’t compete with St. Anthony’s if we do not develop strength,” Chavannes said. “That’s the one area that they just physically dominated us last year.”

    The landscape of New Jersey hoops will also change dramatically this year, with St. Patrick moving to South Jersey in the Non-Public B bracket, while St. Anthony remains in North Jersey.

    That puts a premium on a better regular-season record for the Celtics so they get a high seed in the state tournament.

    The coach and the bracket have changed, but the goals remain the same.

    “We feel we can compete right now in the state, and that’s our goal,” Chavannes said. “The kids understand that our objectives have not changed. It’s to go out there and win the state title.”

    As far as the future, Chavannes said St. Patrick does not need Kevin Boyle to stay in business, and that the school will remain open, even if it might have to merge with another local school.

    “We are open this year and there will definitely be a future for St. Patrick,” he said. “The plans are already in the making. I can’t exactly tell you what those plans are, but there are things in the works that will ensure St. Pat’s having a future moving forward beyond this coming season.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.