When a nationally-ranked high school team loses their top player to injury, the competition usually breathes a sigh of relief.
Dexter Strickland did not start his senior year on the right foot at St. Patrick’s High School. Strickland sat out the Celtics’ first game of the season during their trip to the City of Palms Basketball Tournament for a school infraction. He served his penance and is trying to finish his senior year by winning a state championship and a Tournament of Champions victory for the Elizabeth school
Already hampered by a knee injury, the Rahway resident re-injured it against Edison Academy on Jan. 14. “It doesn’t feel right,” said St. Patrick’s Coach Kevin Boyle about his senior standout’s knee. “He had an MRI on it (Jan. 15). We are going to wait and see.”
Despite Strickland’s setback, the Celtics are still the number one team in the state. However, the competition is starting “to smell blood in the water”.
Senior Dean Kowalski and Junior Kevin Boyle Jr. have put in journeyman workmanship, splitting time at the point for the Celtics.
“Dean is five foot and Kevin is five foot nine and they have been going up against some of the best guards in the country and winning,” Boyle said. The undersized point guards have allowed St. Patrick’s to post a 10-2 record without the North Carolina-bound senior.
Boyle Jr. is averaging eight assists per game and Kowalski is making the most of his first significant varsity time after four years at the school. Sophomore Derrick Gordon has also been inserted into the starting lineup in Strickland’s absence.
Don’t shed a tear for the Celtics just yet. Help is on the way.
Junior Kyrie Irving transferred to St. Pat’s from Montclair Kimberley Academy. Irving is the second Essex County import to come to the Elizabethport School in two years. Six foot eight Quintrell Thomas transferred into St. Pat’s from Newark Science High School in 2007, helping St. Pat’s to a Tournament of Champions crown.
What does Irving bring to St. Pat’s?
He scored 1,000 points in two years (an average of 26.5 ppg), and had two of the top scoring totals in New Jersey last season (47 points against University of Newark and 48 against Cedar Grove). He led Montclair Kimberly Academy to a New Jersey Prep B State title. Irving had to sit out the 30 days under the NJSIAA transfer rule for all student athletes.
However, the junior guard was able to practice with the team during the waiting period. Boyle had nothing but raves about his new player’s scoring ability. “He has an excellent shot,” the coach said, adding that Irving can “score off of the right or left hand.” Irving is “able to get fouled,” the coach added, calling his new player “a good finisher, and a great ball handler.” With Strickland’s status uncertain, the Celtics’ new addition will solidify the team’s depth down the stretch.
The Celtics typically run a three guard offense. When Strickland returns, Boyle might run a four guard offense. That is one scary sight for opposing point guards. Irving and Strickland could be the best guard combo in the nation.
Ranked #27 by Rivals Class of 2010, Irving already holds offers from all the local colleges and is being recruited by NCAA heavyweights Wake Forest, Kansas, Pitt, and Memphis.
“Kyrie is going have to have the pick of schools,” said Irving’s new coach. “He is coming to St. Pat’s more on the basketball side.” St. Patrick’s new addition will make his Celtics debut on Thursday against Newark Tech.
Why come to St. Pat’s?
“First is tremendous competition. We play the top programs in the country. Two. It benefits good players to play with other good players,” replied Boyle, the 2007 USA Today Coach of the Year.
Some high school players have a hard transition into college when they are not the focal point of the team and play with players equal to and better than them “What player would not want to play in front of a sellout on Rutgers home court against a team like St. Benedict’s,” the coach asked. The two teams will square off at the RAC on Feb. 4.
In the 1980s cult classic Red Dawn, the Russians finally invaded the US. A shot down U.S. pilot informs the group of 80s rat packers about the state of the county. When asked why the Russians invaded the pilot stated, “They’re the two toughest kids on the block, eventually they are going to fight.” You can’t mention St. Patrick’s without mentioning St. Anthony of Jersey City.
The Friars have not one, but four transfers that will make an immediate impact: juniors 6’8 Ashton Pankey (Archbishop Molly, Queens, N.Y.), 6’8 Devon Collier (All Hallow-Bronx, N.Y.), 6’7 Derrick Williams (Burlington Life Center), and sophomore guard Jayson Johnson (Burlington High School).
“It makes them (St. Anthony) a better and deeper team,” Boyle said of his adversary. “All three forwards have the ability to play at a MAAC school or better.”
In head-to-head matchups, Boyle has seven wins against Hurley’s five. The two teams will face each other again in March. Until that match-up, both teams have a lot of basketball to play. The road might be steep, but Boyle will have his his team ready for any challenge that comes their way.
Elizabeth Schools Sweep Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless
St. Mary’s of Elizabeth 64, Scotch Plains 54
St. Patrick’s 74, East Orange Campus 42
Elizabeth 58, Piscataway 41
Union County Top Ten
- St. Patrick’s 12-2
- Plainfield 11-4
- Union 12-4
- Elizabeth 10-3
- St. Mary’s 9-3
- Rahway 8-3
- Scotch Plains 8-6
- Linden 6-7
- Roselle 9-5
- New Providence 8-3
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