• Dan Russoman

St. Joseph aiming for CAL title


Senior Ja’son Prevard (1) will be a key player for St. Joseph’s boys basketball team this season. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Most high school basketball coaches would be concerned entering a season after losing the top three scorers from the year prior to graduation.


But Paul Rodio isn’t most coaches.


The eighth-year head coach at St. Joseph Academy is excited about his team this season despite having lost top scorers Marcus Pierce, Jordan Stafford and Dom Thomas.


“We’re going to be really, really good. This might be one of our best teams,” Rodio said.


Since taking over to start the 2014-15 season, Rodio has grown St. Joe into one of the top teams not only in the Cape Atlantic League, but in the entire South Jersey region. The Wildcats were one of the highest-ranked teams in the area last year and expect to be at the top again this winter.


While the Wildcats are without some of their best talent from recent seasons, they return some solid players who should step into more prominent roles this year.


Start with guard Ja’son Prevard who averaged 6.4 points and almost three assists per game last year. Prevard bring an intensity to the floor for the Wildcats as one of the team’s most emotional players.


“Ja’son and I don’t always get along, but he works his butt off and I think he’s got something to prove this year,” Rodio said.


Another player expected to play a key role this year is senior center Darryl McGraw, a 6-foot-9 presence inside.


McGraw battled injuries throughout last season, but has looked sharp in practice this year.


“Darryl [McGraw] can be an impact guy for us, especially on defense where his size makes kids alter their shot,” Rodio said.


Junior Arnaldo Rodriguez should join the starting lineup this season after coming off the bench primarily as a strong perimeter shooting option the last two years.


“He [Rodriguez] looks great. I think he’s going to have a huge year for us and be a really special player,” Rodio said.


Senior Majid Abdur-Rahim also returns to add depth.


“Majid [Abdur-Rahim] is playing very well. He’ll definitely help us a lot,” Rodio said.


While the veterans help form a solid roster for the Wildcats, Rodio will also be looking for a few new faces to provide scoring and defensive support this season.


Back at St. Joseph this year is junior forward Devon Theophile. After earning a few starts for St. Joe as a freshman two seasons ago before playing at Winslow Twp. last year. He averaged 14.6 points per game last season.


“We’re glad to have Devon [Theophile] back. He’s looked very good so far,” Rodio said.


The big forward is a strong rebounder and gives the Wildcats toughness in the paint.


Senior Ian Harvey-Williams scored more than 13 points per game last season at Highland and gives the Wildcats another scoring threat. Yet another transfer, Qiani Bowens, joins St. Joe from Williamstown, where the 5-foot-9 junior averaged a team-high 16.4 points per game last season.


“We’ve added some impact players who are really going to help us a lot. If we don’t play selfishly and limit mistakes, we’re going to be very, very good,” Rodio said.


Also new to St. Joe’s roster this year are Jared DeMara, Jahmeer Cartagena and Darrell Newton.


During his first few years at St. Joseph, Rodio sought to have his team earn respect around the region. By becoming one of the top-ranked teams in the area last year, he achieved that goal. The mission now is to bring home the program’s first CAL title and first sectional championship since 1987.


“That’s our next hurdle, to bring home a championship. I think we’re one of the teams to beat this year in the CAL. We’ve loaded the schedule up this year to help us prepare for the tough games we’re going to play in the postseason, so we’ll see what happens,” Rodio said.


St. Joseph opens its season on December 17 in Ocean City when it takes on Atlantic City at 5:15 p.m.