It started out as a homecoming in 2013 — a chance for legendary St. Patrick's coach Kevin Boyle to come back to New Jersey and play against some of the best teams the Garden State had to offer with his new squad, Montverde of Florida. By 2014 it was starting to build into a tradition as the Eagles came back to play more New Jersey teams once again.
Now in 2015, it isn't a novelty or a trip down memory lane. For the third year in a row, Roselle Catholic is facing nationally ranked Montverde. And this this time more than any other, it looks like the Lions have a chance to win.
"It's a big game on the schedule, as you would imagine," Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff said. "It's a great opportunity for us to play one of the best teams in the country, and we've done it now a couple years in a row. It's a game we look forward to, as I know coach Boyle and Montverde looks forward to coming to Jersey and playing against some of the top teams up here. So we're excited for it, we're going to go out there and hopefully play our best and hopefully get a win. They've gotten us the last couple times, hopefully this year we can flip it on them."
Roselle Catholic is No. 1 in the NJ.com Top 20 with a resume packed with impressive victories — two wins over No. 3 Patrick School to go with triumphs over No. 2 St. Anthony, No. 4 Linden, No. 10 Paterson Eastside, Blair, St. Benedict's and Gonzaga (D.C.) among others. Isaiah Briscoe is living up to the hype at point guard, Chris Silva has been electric at the paint and around the rim, Tahir Pretlow has been a welcome addition the lineup and Nazreon Reid is showing flashes of incredible potential as a freshman. The Lions are ranked No. 28 in the USA Today Super 25, and they look like legitimate national contenders.
Boyle was actually Briscoe's AAU coach in fourth grade — "Isaiah's probably still mad that I didn't start him fourth grade, so hopefully he doesn't have too many points against us," Boyle joked.
But when he got serious about Briscoe, Boyle compared his ability to draw contact and score at the rim to former St. Patrick's and Villanova star Corey Fisher.
"He's just a terrific offensive player," Boyle said. "He's a guy that, you have a lot of respect for his ability. He's one of those guys that if you let get off early, he could drop a lot of points and take over a game. So you've got to really focus on him. But he's also a talented passer, so you don't want to put too much concern on him where he ends up dropping off passes for dunks."
Roselle Catholic has a McDonald's All American in Briscoe. But Montverde has one, too, in Ben Simmons. This squad may not be as loaded as the ones that have won national championships, but it is still ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today. Projected NBA lottery pick Simmons, an LSU commit, is just one of seven Montverde players standing at least 6-foot-8. Jean Marc Koumadje is 7-foot-5 and committed to Florida State. Doral Moore is a 7-footer headed to Wake Forest, and he may be the one defending Silva. Noah Dickerson is just 6-foot-8 but heading to Florida State as well.
In short, they're really tall. And really good.
Roselle Catholic hopes that the experience of playing Montverde in the past two seasons will be useful on Friday night even if this season's Eagles squad has a much different makeup. Silva went up against Simmons in last season's showdown and managed 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Simmons had 16 points. Luckily for Roselle Catholic, D'Angelo Russell is now lighting up the Big Ten for Ohio State instead of the high school circuit — he led all scorers with 26 points in last season's game. Boyle says he sees a little of Russell in Briscoe, in that they're both supremely confident and can take over games.
The Lions make no bones about it, they want a win in this game. They believe the talent is there, and a victory would have national ramifications. The gladly accept the challenge.
"It's what we want. We take a tremendous amount of pride in putting together the toughest schedule in the state," Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff said. "I think that we did that again this year. Our guys understand and our coaching staff understands that when you put together that type of a schedule, there may be a moment or two when you don't play as well as you'd like and you lose a game. But we also know that playing those type of people should prepare us to play our best basketball at the end of the season."