East witness to star-studded basketball showdown

Nate Mulberg ('10)/ Eastside Staff

quintrell.jpgThe crowd, some of which was standing, that filled the Cherry Hill East’s DiBart Gymnasium for the Cherry Hill East Invitational was buzzing in anticipation for over an hour before tip-off. The fans were not disappointed, as they were treated to an acrobatic display rarely witnessed at the high school level, punctuated by several crowd pleasing dunks.

All fans in attendance knew that this game was not just an ordinary one, which could explain why there were more fans in attendance than seats available.

Two of New Jersey’s best “Saint” school basketball teams – the St. Patrick Celtics and the St. Augustine Hermits – squared off in the annual Cherry Hill East Invitational on February 17. Not only was this an important regular season game in preparing both squads for the upcoming state playoffs, it was also a showcase of some of New Jersey’s premier high school talent.                          

St. Patrick, ranked 3 in the state by www.NJHoops.com and 14 in the latest USA today Super 25, is known for its basketball program that seems to give birth to numerous talented basketball players year after year. Most notably, Samuel Dalembert of the Philadelphia 76ers and Al Harrington of the Golden State Warriors both came out of St. Pat’s. Two of its current stars, Dexter Strickland (6’3, 175 pounds) and Quintrell Thomas (6’8, 225 pounds), stand out above the rest. According to www.Rivals.com, Thomas and Strickland are indeed stars. They have Strickland ranked as the sixteenth best junior in the country and Thomas ranked as the one-hundred-forty-sixth best senior.

Both have a presence about them that all gifted players seem to have. When arriving at the gymnasium prior to the game, Strickland and Thomas walked side by side noticing the many fans in the crowd that turned to look their way.

Despite losing to the Celtics 79-63, the Hermits showed some impressive ability as a team and individually. The Hermits were led by Billy Gilberson, a 6’4 junior; Josh Thompson, a 6’4 senior; and Isaiah Morton, the 5’8 freshman who averages 17.1 ppg and is a cousin of well-known NBA player Sebastian Telfair.

Gilberson led the way for the Hermits with a game-high 24 points, as Wagner College-bound Josh Thompson scored a modest 13, along with his monstrous one-handed dunk with two minutes remaining in the first quarter. Although he seemed to have an off night with only 8 points, Morton impressed with his nifty ball handling moves. He made numerous passes that resembled those of his cousin Sebastian Telfair.                              

“He’s so smooth with the ball and with his moves,” said John Basak (’10), a fan in the crowd.

Thanks to Thompson, Gilberson, and Morton, the Hermits were able to keep it close as they were down 20-19 through one quarter of play. However, with the leadership of St. Pat’s stars Thomas and Strickland, the Celtics were able to pull away.

The North Carolina-bound Strickland scored 18 points in the first half en-route to a team-high 23, while the Kansas-bound Thomas scored 21, in addition to his impressive four dunks. Both compiled numerous highlight reel plays that had the crowd going wild.

Early in the first quarter, Strickland threw up a contested lay-up that hit off the top of the backboard. Out of nowhere came Thomas who grabbed the ball as it bounced off the backboard and slam dunked it with authority.

“It was the ugliest shot by Dexter [Strickland], but an amazing shot by Quintrell [Thomas],” said Jake Greenberg (’10), an avid Dexter Strickland fan.

Soon after, point guard Kevin Boyle Jr., St. Pat Coach Kevin Boyle’s son, threw an alley-oop to Strickland who flew in from the corner of the court to the basket like he was Superman.

“I’ve never seen someone jump that high,” said Brett Morris (’10), another fan in the crowd who was referring to that spectacular play.

As if this wasn’t enough excitement, on the following possession for St. Pat’s, Strickland went up for a lay-up and was met by St. Augustine’s Thompson, who blocked the shot. This sent the crowd and an excited Hermit bench into an absolute whirlpool of screams.

Later on in the game, St. Pat’s 6’5 freshman Michael Gilchrist got in on the fun when he also made a spectacular dunk. Fellow freshman Isaiah Morton went in for the steal on a fast break as Gilchrist dodged him by bouncing the ball behind his back and then strongly slamming the ball down. He finished the game with 4 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.

To finish off the contest with a buzz, 6’8 St. Pat’s sophomore Marcus Kennedy put down the game’s last dunk in the final minutes of the game.

St. Pat’s size played an integral part in their blowout of St. Augustine, as they dominated the boards with a 34-18 advantage. Having an average team height of 6’3 surely helps.

“I’ve never seen a high school team with three guys at 6’8. They are unstoppable; seriously, they are,” said Basak.

With a team that has the talent to be one of the best high school teams in the nation, St. Pats is nearly that: unstoppable.