BY ANDREW GARDA
Immaculate Conception High School always features some of the best basketball in the state, both for the boys and girls teams, and this season doesn’t look like it will be any different.
Here is a preview of the two teams.
Boys basketball — The Lions did really well last season, finishing 10-5 overall and 4-0 in the SEC-American, and it’s a shame they didn’t play in any tournaments because they had a lot of talent. After going 1-3 to open the season, the Lions ripped off nine wins in their last 11 games, including victories over Seton Hall Prep, Don Bosco and St. Thomas Aquinas.
The team under Jimmy Salmon always has a tough schedule, beyond the games it has in the top division in North Jersey basketball, and this season looks to be more of the same. Out-of-conference games only matter to the team to sharpen it for division and tournament play, and so as much as the Lions will look to heap on out-of-state teams and powerhouses when they can, it’s teams like Seton Hall Prep (Jan. 2, Feb. 1) and Newark East Side (Dec. 17, Jan. 17) they circle on the schedule.
That said, don’t be shocked if Salmon adds a few out-of-state games now that COVID restrictions have eased a little and out-of-state travel is possible.
On the court, the team is going to have to find points, having lost Zakai Zeigler (304 points, 69 assists, 32 steals), Jayden Brown (292 points, 37 assists, 21 steals) and DiAndre South (219 points, 29 steals, 150 rebounds) to graduation.
On the plus side, they have junior Tavian Pullock returning. While he gained All-American Division Honorable Mention accolades for his play in 2020-21, Pullock’s 54 points and 17 rebounds are drops in the bucket compared to the production of the big three for the Lions last season, so Salmon will have to find points somewhere, something he is not new at having to do, as ICHS graduates top talent every year.
The Lions open at East Side on Friday, Dec. 17, with tipoff at 4 p.m., and with a game at home against Paramus Catholic the next day at 3:30, followed by a home game versus University on Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 4 p.m.
Girls basketball — Head coach Jimmy Kreie is back for another season, looking to build on a year where his team had some hiccups and finished 7-8 but once again did very well in the division (4-2 SEC-American).
Immaculate always has plenty of talent, and this year seniors Tiara Bellamy and Niyah Whitten take over as the main leadership, while younger players such as sophomore Tayla Thomas will also be looked to for production.
It shouldn’t be a problem for Thomas, as the forward scored 151 points as a freshman.
Like the boys, the girls once again find themselves in the tough American Division, facing a University team that went 11-1 in the conference last year, and a West Orange team that notched a 9-3 conference record.
Given the oddball affair that was the 2021 season, it’s hard to read too much into records — too many teams had COVID issues, and not having fans for much of the year definitely hurt some teams that feed off them.
Still, the American always features excellent basketball, and ICHS is always in the thick of a battle for the division and conference titles. They are sure to be in the mix for a county, and state, title when the 2021-22 season rolls to a close.
ICHS opens at home against West Essex on Friday, Dec. 17, before heading on the road for a very tough matchup against University on Dec. 21.