Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Strickland Hopes to Suit Up for St. Patrick's Opener; City of Palms Loaded With Talent
Dexter Strickland may have tomiss St. Patrick’s season opener in the City of Palms Classic, but he hopes he won’t have to.
The 6-foot-3, North Carolina-bound Strickland is slated to sit out Saturday’s quarterfinal, potentially against John Wall and Word of God Academy, for disciplinary reasons.
But Strickland hopes to persuade Chris Chevannes, a St. Patrick assistant and the Dean of Students, to let him suit up.
“I think I’m going to miss the first game,” Strickland, who sat out the preseason schedule with some minor disciplinary infractions, said by phone. “I’m going to try to talk to the assistant principal to let me play that game. He’s trying to teach me a lesson in life. I’m just going to learn from my mistakes. Hopefully, I can convince him to let me play the first game.”
St. Patrick, No. 4 in the PrepNation.com and USA Today polls, is one of six Top 10 teams in the USA Today poll in the tournament in Fort Myers, Fla., and that doesn’t even include Lance Stephenson and No. 16 Lincoln. [After playing Jefferson Thursday in a PSAL game, the Railsplitters will depart for Friday night’s game with Memphis (Tenn.) Briarcrest.]
Duncanville (Texas),which beat Lincoln by 20 points on ESPN last week and is ranked No. 1 by ESPN Rise and the National Prep Poll and No. 2 by USA Today, is arguably the headliner for the 16-team field.
USA Today’s top-ranked squad, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), and Los Angeles Westchester, which sports a 14-0 Classic record and has won the tournament three times, are also in the field.
The first- and third-place games will be televised live on ESPNU Dec. 23.
“I’ve seen good fields before but nothing like this,” Jamie DeMoney of the National Prep Poll told the News-Press of Florida. “This is a big deal for us to be able to gauge the teams.”
Despite all the talent on the opposing rosters, St. Patrick goes in feeling confident and believing it can win any game.
“I’m really excited,” Strickland said. “I think we have a great chance of winning the whole thing, winning the states, winning this tournament. I think we have another chance of getting to the Tournament of Champions and winning that. I feel real confident.”
The Celtics won back-to-back New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles in 2006 and ’07 when current Villanova sophomore Corey Fisher was the point guard. Last year, St. Anthony, led by six Division I players, reclaimed the title (its 10th) by going undefeated and beating St. Patrick in the Non-Public North B title game at Rutgers.
This season the Celtics added talented junior guard Kyrie Irving, who must sit out 30 days after transferring from Montclair Kimberley. Once Irving and Strickland play together in the backcourt, they should be as good as any tandem in the state, and potentially the nation.
“At that point when we have Dexter and Kyrie and the team we have now, we should be one of the best three or four teams in America,” St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle said.
In the meantime, Kevin Boyle Jr.,Dean Kowalski and Derrick Gordon have led the Celtics to an unbeaten preseason mark. Kowalksi has 27 assists and 4 turnovers in five practice games.
“We played very well in exhibition games,” Boyle said. “We basically won every one very easily. We played Bishop Loughlin and Academy of the New Church (Pa.) and Hillhouse (Conn.) and St. Joe’s Metuchen.”
In the Bishop Loughlin game, 6-7 sophomore Michael Gilchrist had 28 points and 14 rebounds and Kevin Boyle Jr. scored 22 points. Boyle Jr. leads the team in scoring.
The Celtics also won several summer events easily, including the Hoop Group Showcase at Rutgers. Since those events, however, 6-8 junior Markus Kennedy has transferred to Apex Academy in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“In certain matchups, like that first tournament, you could make the case that we’re really going to miss Markus Kennedy,” Boyle said. “But in some ways we’re a better pressing team without Markus….But he’s getting better and better. He was a good rebounder and he was starting to score.”
The frontcourt is manned by Gilchrist, who many believe will end up at Memphis, and George Mason-bound Paris Bennett. Chase Plummer and Josh Daniel, both 6-5, have also played very well off the bench.
The Celtics’ schedule is again loaded. After the City of Palms, St. Patrick heads to the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina, where it will meet New Jersey rival Paterson Catholic.
In February, St. Patrick will play national power St. Benedict’s, Lincoln and Oak Hill.
“They’re winning by 25 or 30 right now without Kyrie and Dexter,” Boyle said. “They can be a special group if they can blend all those guys together. There’s no egos involved. It’s a team that can be legitimately as good as anybody in the country and I think we’ll just be better the following year.”
KEY GAMES IN ST. PATRICK SCHEDULE
Dec. 18-23 — City of Palms Classic, Fla.
Dec. 26-31 — BeachBall Classic, South Carolina
Jan. 22 — Newark Tech (first game Irving can play)
Feb. 4 — St. Benedicts, Rutgers
Feb. 8 — at Pennsbury
Feb. 13 — Lincoln, Fordham
Feb. 14 –Oak Hill, Trenton
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.