Tyus Battle’s freshman year on the Gill St. Bernard’s boys basketball team was most notable for what he didn’t do. He didn’t force things, show off or alienate older teammates.
Sounds basic, but it’s more complicated when you are one of the highest-rated players in the country. Battle knew his role, handled it well, and now the wunderkind guard has a new assignment: Do as much as you possibly can.
After a season’s apprenticeship under former Gill standout Jaren Sina, Battle is stepping into the spotlight. All eyes in Somerset County and beyond will be trained on the sophomore.
“I’m going to have to take on that leadership role Jaren had last year, just because other guys on the team haven’t played varsity,” Battle said. “It’s something I really have to work on.”
Chances are his game will do the talking. The 6-foot-5 Battle averaged 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals per game as a ninth-grader, but his attractiveness as a college prospect goes way beyond the numbers.
“He has things you can’t teach,” Gill coach Mergin Sina said. “He’s long, athletic, explosive. I don’t like to talk about high school players down the road, but I really believe this kid has a shot to be a pro—that’s how good he is.”
Ohio State, Indiana, Villanova and Syracuse are among the heavy hitters courting Battle, an Edison resident whose dad Gary earned All-America status at New Haven. Louisville coach Rick Pitino is expected to drop by Gill’s practice any day.
Battle also will be getting extra attention from defenses.
“I’ve been preparing for that, conditioning-wise, running every day,” he said. “You have to stay aggressive.”
He experienced an eye-opening weekend at USA basketball headquarters in Colorado this fall, rubbing shoulders with some of the nation’s elite up-and-comers.
“It was great,” Battle said. “You’re competing against the best so you see where you stand, what you have to get better at.”
He worked on his shooting and put on 15 pounds of muscle, but there’s no way to prepare for the attention that awaits.
“He’s a great teammate,” Mergin Sina said. “This year will be a step up for him in terms of being able to lead. Obviously he’s the most talented kid. Everybody knows he’s the guy.”
There were seven head-coaching changes in the area during the offseason. The most high-profile change is at Immaculata, where longtime assistant Ryan McKeever replaces Mike Frauenheim, who resigned after a successful run that included two Non-Public A titles.
Tim Palek, who coached under his brother Paul at Wayne Hills and Montville and whose father formerly coached at Bloomfield, replaced Brad Greenman at Bernards after serving as an assistant there last winter.
At Delaware Valley Anthony Culcasi, an alum who spent the past 14 years coaching and officiating in the Delaware Valley recreation league, steps in for the retired Willie Leonardi.
At North Plainfield Reggie Sainte-Rose, who previously had served as an assistant at St. Joseph-Montvale, swapped positions with former varsity coach Dave Hooker after leading the middle-school team to an unbeaten season.
Manville hired Charles Brown, who previously held the top posts at North Hunterdon and Piscataway. Wardlaw-Hartridge hired Eugene Maxwell, who successfully guided Summit for 13 years. South Plainfield promoted four-year assistant Matt Connell to replace Justin Chiera.
Tourneys with a cause
Montgomery is hosting the Coaches vs. Cancer Shootout Jan. 11. Matchups include Watchung Hills vs. South Brunswick, North Hunterdon vs. Mendham, Bound Brook vs. Raritan, Hunterdon Central vs. Morristown, Hillsborough vs. Linden and Montgomery vs. Elizabeth.
Roselle Catholic is hosting “Hoops for the Troops” Jan. 2-3, with proceeds to benefit Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, which helps provide assistance to those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the tripleheaders, Plainfield faces Ridge Jan. 2 at 6:30 p.m. and Rutgers Prep takes on Marist Jan. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Games to Watch
December: Scotch Plains-Fanwood at Westfield, Dec. 21; Gill St. Bernard’s vs. Hun at West Orange, Dec. 22; Spotswood at Bound Brook, Dec. 27.
January: Plainfield vs. Ridge at Roselle Catholic, Jan. 2; Westfield at Union Catholic, Jan. 10; Rutgers Prep at Bridgewater-Raritan, Jan. 11; New Providence at Governor Livingston, Jan. 11; Hillsborough vs. Linden at Montgomery, Jan. 11; Montgomery at Ridge, Jan. 16; Gill St. Bernard’s at Hillsborough, Jan. 18; Hillsborough at Ridge, Jan. 23.
February: Bound Brook at Rutgers Prep, Feb. 12; Hillsborough at Montgomery, Feb. 13; Ridge at Gill St. Bernard’s, Feb. 18; Hunterdon Central at North Hunterdon, Feb. 18; Somerville at Immaculata, Feb. 18.
First Team: Tyus Battle (Gill St. Bernard’s); Kevin Doolan (Ridge); Justin Kovacevich (Montgomery); Jalen Parham (Hillsborough); Devine Eke (Union Catholic).
Second Team: Matt Hornich (Hillsborough); Levi Holmes (Rutgers Prep); Nick Brooks (Rutgers Prep); Vincent Pace (Bridgewater-Raritan); Ashton Lofton (Union Catholic).
Third Team: Jeff Dzierzawiec (Hunterdon Central); Derek Lyons (Ridge); Clarence Hoover (Plainfield); Elijah Murray-Tucker (Piscataway); Rob Imbalzano (Governor Livingston).