METUCHEN, N.J. — Tyus Battle glides across the gym floor at St. Joseph’s Regional with the perfect combination of grace and determination.
The grace emanates from the effortless strides of the 6-6 shooting guard who hopes to carry his team to another championship in his first — and only season — with the Falcons.
The determination is evident in his eyes and becomes clearer when you speak with Battle, who transferred to St. Joseph after spending the last three years at Gill St. Bernard’s.
Battle is expected to be eligible right away because he moved from Edison to live with his mother in Woodbridge. St. Joseph made an exception to its senior transfer rule because Battle’s brother, Khalif, is a freshman and the school decided it would be less of a hardship for the family if the brothers attended the same school.
“Winning the TOC (Tournament of Champions) title is the ultimate goal. I have been striving for that for the past few years,” said Battle. “Most of the best players coming out of New Jersey have won this title. Winning is the best feeling in the world.”
His fluid strides are interrupted only when he launches a jump shot – a smooth, textbook shooting stroke that ends with the snapping of his wrist and the sound of the net exploding soon after it engulfs the ball.
The combo guard’s standout skill set is wide-ranging. The jumper is often launched off the dribble – add in a lightning-quick first step, deft ball-handling skills and an innate ability to get to the rim, and you have a well-rounded talent.
Battle, who committed to Syracuse in July after de-committing from Michigan, is ranked as the No. 1 player in New Jersey by ESPN and No. 36 overall. He averaged 16.9 points last season and 22.5 per game as a sophomore.
“I’ve always been impressed with his demeanor on the court,” said coach Dave Turco. ”At 6-6, he’s a mismatch. He is able to post up very well and is one of the most explosive players I have ever seen.”
St. Joseph will face rivals such East Brunswick, Old Bridge and Colonia starting in December. The Falcons, who also feature three-star point guard and Ole Miss commit Breein Tyree along with the Battle brothers, are considered the class of the conference, but expectations at St. Joe’s have shifted, and anything shy of a title won’t be considered a success.
While there were lean times just a few short years ago, the trio of Marques Townes, Wade Baldwin and Karl-Anthony Towns, the first overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, won a TOC title in 2014 and set the bar even higher than it had been when NBA players Jay Williams and Andrew Bynum starred for the Falcons.
After missing much of his junior year with an ankle injury, Battle will now play underneath the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year banner that Towns captured in 2014, as well as the jerseys of the others who made it to the NBA from St. Joe’s.
“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Battle said. “But if I play my game, I feel we can accomplish great things.”
Battle has other great things on his agenda, too.
Last year he had a 3.2 GPA, and is committed to excelling in the classroom.
“Basketball stops at one point,” said Battle. “With injuries you never know the future. I’m attacking the books with the same intensity as I attack basketball.”
Battle has also developed a strong interest in connecting with children with special needs, a passion started by frequent visits with his cousin, Antoine, who is autistic.
“At St. Joe’s, we have a class called Social Action where we work with special needs children. I think that will be a great experience,” said Battle.
If all goes as planned, Battle will reap the benefits that come with a great season in the classroom and community, and as the leader of a successful basketball team.
“Of course it would be amazing to win the county and TOC titles,” said Battle. “And on a personal note, I would love to be invited to play in one of the post season all-star games.”