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.
Kentucky-Bound Towns, St. Joe’s Set to Battle Seton Hall-Bound Sanogo, Newark East Side for TOC Title
By JOHN PAVIA
Special to ZAGSBLOGTRENTON, N.J. — The New Jersey high school basketball season will come to a close Monday night in a showdown between St. Joe’s Metuchen and Newark East Side for the Tournament of Champions crown.
The game tips at 8 p.m. at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, N.J.
Kentucky-bound 7-foot-1 Karl-Anthony Towns and St. Joe’s are seeking redemption after losing to Roselle Catholic in last year’s final. They are 29-2 with the two losses coming against top-tier competition from out-of-state. Seton Hall-bound Ismael Sanogo and Newark East Side have a record of 30-1 with this being one of the finest seasons ever put together by a New Jersey public high school.
“They’re [East Side] obviously ranked for a reason,” Towns said after St. Joe’s beat Linden in the TOC semifinals last Thursday. “They’re a great team, [I] watched a little bit of their game. I mean, they know how to play through adversity so there’s two teams right there that know how to play against top competition.”
No public school has won the event since DaJuan Wagner led Camden to the TOC title in 2000. Parochial school powers St. Anthony (12) and St. Patrick’s (5) have won 17 of the previous 25 TOCs dating to its inception in 1989.
St. Joe’s starts four, or potentially five, Division I recruits with Towns, Vanderbilt recruit Wade Baldwin, Canisius commit Raven Owen, the currently uncommitted Marques Townes and promising sophomore guard Breein Tyree.
Newark East Side boasts four of their Division I-caliber players as well starting with Sanogo, South Alabama commit Abdul Lewis and two currently uncommitted seniors Akbar Hoffman and Jamar Gilbert.
The main focus for both teams in this game will be Towns. For St. Joe’s, it’s getting him as many touches as possible due to his ability to score from almost anywhere on the court including from distance. He has deep range beyond the 3-point-line and his length and size gives opponents fits on the other end due to his ability to block shots.
For East Side, they should look to double Towns and keep the ball out of his hands and force St. Joseph’s guards to beat them. East Side’s perimeter defending has been excellent all year and they put the clamps on Isaiah Briscoe from Roselle Catholic in the semifinal last Thursday, holding him to just six points.
Also, Towns fouled out of their last game with over five minutes remaining and St. Joe’s just escaped a monumental comeback from Cincinnati-bound Quadri Moore and Linden with Towns on the bench. If East Side can attack Towns and get him into foul trouble early, they will have a much easier time scoring the basketball and playing more aggressive defense on the perimeter.
Townes spoke about the similarities he sees between Linden and East Side after their semifinal win as they looked ahead to the final.
“I would like to say the big men,” he said. “Quadri is going to Cincinnati and he’s a big presence, can shoot the ball. They [Newark East Side] have Ismael Sanogo and he’s going to Seton Hall. He’s a big presence too. Explosive. He has a little outside jump shot. I guess their big men play is about the same. I know Akbar from Newark East Side and Otis [Livingston from Linden], they both shoot the ball well, but there’s a little size difference. They both can shoot the ball and the guard play is real good.”
Baldwin spoke about the season-long dispute among reporters and journalists on “which team was No. 1″ and that this game would ” finally prove who really is number one.”
Before they even knew who they would face in the TOC final, most of the Newark East Side team mentioned they would rather play Linden in the finals and Lewis provided an interesting reason on why that was his stance.
“They’re [Linden] a public school,” he said. “I look at St. Joe’s as more of an AAU team so I’d rather play against Linden.”
He continued talking about how much being in this final means to his East Side team and to the city of Newark, which Steve Politi wonderfully touched on earlier this week.
“It means a whole lot because like I said before, we’re all from Newark,” Lewis said. “I really wanted to emphasize that. I feel like we’re one of the only real teams in the state of New Jersey. A lot of people go and put a lot of players together and I really don’t consider them a team so it would mean a lot for us to win.”
LIST OF TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS WINNERS
1989 – St. Anthony 62, Elizabeth 55
1990 – Elizabeth 65, St. Anthony 62
1991 – St. Anthony 63, Seton Hall Prep 39
1992 – Shawnee 46, Marist 41
1993 – St. Anthony 84, Middle Township 59
1994 – Orange 64, Paterson Catholic 56
1995 – St. Anthony 47, Shawnee 44
1996 – St. Anthony 65, Shawnee 57 (OT)
1997 – St. Anthony 69, Seton Hall Prep 63
1998 – St. Patrick 62, Seton Hall Prep 49
1999 – Seton Hall Prep 54, Teaneck 45
2000 – Camden 50. Seton Hall Prep 46
2001 – St. Anthony 48, Shabazz 47
2002 – St. Anthony 69, Neptune 49
2003 – St. Patrick 61, Camden Catholic 38
2004 – St. Anthony 67, Bloomfield Tech 55
2005 – Seton Hall Prep 63, St. Patrick 60
2006 – St. Patrick 61, Linden 54
2007 – St. Patrick 85, Bloomfield Tech 61
2008 – St. Anthony 69, Science Park 36
2009 – St. Patrick 59, Science Park 57
2010 – Trenton Catholic 53, Camden Catholic 39
2011 – St. Anthony 61, Plainfield 49
2012 – St. Anthony 66, Plainfield 62
2013 – Roselle Catholic 65, St. Joe’s-Metuchen 49
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.