Prep relies on old reliable veterans to return to glory
After losing key players, Marauders go back to players who put program back on map
Last season was a year to remember for the St. Peter’s Prep basketball team. The Marauders won 26 games, won their third straight Hudson County championship, and captured the NJSIAA Non-Public A North sectional championship by defeating Seton Hall Prep at Rutgers University.
It was the first state sectional basketball title for the school since 1984.
As the Marauders moved toward the next season, there was a ton of talented players returning, including the team’s leading scorer, Myles Davis, who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team honors a year ago.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to another successful year. Davis had academic difficulties at Grand and Warren and he was not able to return. He’s now at Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts.
Another talented player, forward Jordan Arthur, decided to leave the school for financial reasons and transferred to Newark Tech.
With another First Team honoree Ronald Roberts off to St. Joseph’s of Philadelphia due to graduation, the departures left the Marauders behind the eight-ball a bit even before the season began. Gone was the state ranking that the program enjoyed for two years. A lot of people thought that head coach Mike Kelly would have to start from scratch.
“I looked at it from a different perspective,” said Kelly, the Jersey City police lieutenant who began his fifth season as the head coach of the Marauders. “It was only a loss if the team doesn’t do as well, if not better than last year. I didn’t look at it as a fallback. I thought we were going to play from a position of strength.”
Kelly knew that he had four other senior returnees who have been part of the program since they strolled through the halls at Grand and Warren for the first time. Three of those seniors have been key contributors since they were freshmen, when they shocked everyone as the No. 8 seed to capture the HCIAA Coviello championship, the first of the Marauders’ three-peat as the county champs.
Point guard Kevin Walker, forward Chase Fluellen, and center Keith Lumpkin were all major players in that first county title. And while all three have been major parts of the Marauders’ success the last two seasons, their roles diminished somewhat due to the emergence of players like Davis and Roberts.
But now, the trio of standouts have to go back to the roles they enjoyed before any of the others ever arrived at Prep.
“It’s a big role difference than what we’ve had the last two years,” Kelly said. “It’s almost like they have to re-learn the game all across the board. Even though they are veteran kids, they were never in a starring role. They were going to have to learn to step up and that’s a big difference.”
The Marauders suffered an early setback to St. Mary’s and quickly people around the state were ready to dismiss the Marauders from the state elite status.
“When we lost to St. Mary’s, I was very happy for Coach [Tom] Lalicato and his team,” Kelly said. “I told our team that night that every team has a different journey and it’s all about winning championships. I thought we could get as far as last year’s team got, but it would be a different journey.”
Since that loss, the Marauders have been solid, including a huge 63-40 win Sunday against defending NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner Trenton Catholic at the Scholarship for Inner-City Basketball Festival at Kean University.
It’s a victory that may propel this Marauder team back to elite status.
StephonWhyatt, the hero of last year’s state sectional win over Seton Hall Prep, scored 21 points against Trenton Catholic, while Walker, who has been downright brilliant from the outset of the season, added 14. Walker is averaging close to 17 points and seven assists per game.
“Kevin is the kid that I’m probably the closest to on the team,” Kelly said. “I’m so happy for him the way he’s playing. He’s getting college feelers now. Things are going the right way for him. I’m as proud of him as I would be my own son.”
Lumpkin, the football standout headed to Rutgers, has returned to prominence down low. He led the Marauders to the county crown when he was a freshman.
Fluellen, the 6-foot-5 swingman, has probably made the best transformation.
“Chase has totally immersed himself in the leadership role,” Kelly said. “He’s taken charge of the entire team. He’s our toughest kid and the heart and soul of the team. When Chase speaks, everyone listens.”
Whyatt has also taken advantage of the departure of the others and become a prime time player.
“He has a heck of a lot of talent,” Kelly said of Whyatt, the nephew of former NBA player and former St. Anthony standout Roshown McLeod, now the head coach at St. Benedict’s Prep. “But he hasn’t totally harnessed that talent yet. He’s demonstrated ability in every aspect of the game and finally last Sunday, he played like a man.”
Sophomore Tre Bell has also emerged as a key player this season. Bell has “been gaining confidence with every game and finds a way to make a key shot,” according to Kelly.
Sophomore Sean Cummings is also a solid contributor. The 6-foot-4 Cummings is the son of former Prep great Gavin Cummings, who was on that 1984 state sectional champion and won an NCAA Division II national title during his college days at the University of Lowell.
“Cummings is getting it done and we would be in deep trouble if we didn’t have him,” Kelly said.
Senior Derek Gotay is a reserve guard.
“I told the kid for four years he would never play and now he’s become one of our best defensive players,” Kelly said of Gotay.
The Marauders are now 5-2 and have a lot of promise for the future, especially after the big win over the defending overall state champs.
“No doubt,” Kelly said. “I think we gained a lot of confidence by getting big wins over North Bergen and Union City on the road without Lumpkin. Now we beat the defending T of C winners with three or four Division I players. I think we can do as much as we did last year, because this team defends so much better than last year’s team. We can make up the difference with what we lost by the way we play defense. It’s all really positive.”
And who knows? Maybe the Marauders are chasing a fourth straight county title come the end of February.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.