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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Winter Sports First Look

THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Sophomore guard Kenny Smith (left) returns to lead Hammonton High School’s boys basketball team this season. Smith and the Blue Devils are expected to be one of the top teams in the Cape Atlantic League this year.

HAMMONTON—Few teams in the Cape Atlantic League (CAL) will enter the 2022-23 season with higher expectations than Hammonton High School’s boys squad, which feels that it can challenge for a league title this winter.

Hammonton brings back many talented players and has added a few new faces that could make the difference this season.

“We’re very excited. We had a solid season last year and bring back a group that should be improved. Adding in the new kids, we really think we can be very competitive,” head coach Joe Martino said.

The optimism is rare for a Hammonton program that has had just six winning seasons since 1952. The Blue Devils have had talent in the past, but struggled against strong competition in the CAL.

“The CAL is always tough, and our schedule isn’t easy, but we have the talent to compete every night,” Martino said.

Martino, entering his 22nd season at his alma mater, shares many coaching duties with lead assistant Christian Mortellite, who is also excited about the Blue Devils prospects this season.

“We’ve looked really good, in practice and in our scrimmages. It may take some time for the new guys to gel with the kids who have been here a while, but I think by the end of the season, we’re going to be one of the best teams [in the CAL],” Mortellite said.

Hammonton brings back a pair of starters from last season, including sophomore guard Kenny Smith, an All-CAL performer as a freshman last season.

Smith averaged nearly 11 points per game last season, a number that will certainly improve this year for the dynamic guard.

“Kenny [Smith] does so much for us. He shoots well, can get to the basket and handles the ball. He’s our fastest player and one of the best defenders,” Martino said.

Also back is senior Tyler Lowe, who will handle the ball and is one of the team’s top passers.

Hammonton plans to play an up-tempo style that will hopefully use its shooters to open up space for its guards to penetrate and score.

Among the top shooters this season are junior Owen Salita, who played mostly junior varsity last season, and a pair of newcomers, Jake Edwards and Nic Johnson.

If those players can become threats from the perimeter, Smith and Christopher Grier should be able to penetrate and reach the basket for easy layups.

While Hammonton will lean on its guards, the Blue Devils also have some talented players in the paint.

Junior Bryce Nicholson joins the varsity full-time this season and has looked good at both ends of the floor during the preseason.

Another junior, Azzir Smith-Bey is a 6-foot-6 transfer from Timber Creek who was limited by an injury last season but is healthy and ready to give Hammonton low post scoring this year.

Maybe to most intriguing player on the roster for the Blue Devils is junior Joey Gillen. Gillen saw limited action last season, but will be a factor this year as a scorer and rebounder.

“He [Gillen] looks great. Just a real big kid who’s aggressive and might make a huge impact for us this year,” Martino said.

Hammonton will need to avoid mistakes like turnovers and poor shot selection, but if the Blue Devils can develop court discipline, and gel as the season progresses, they could be surprise contenders in a top-heavy Cape Atlantic League.

“I know people don’t see us in the mix [for the league title], but I really think that by the end of the year, we’re going to be right there,’ Mortellite said.

Hammonton will get an early-season test in its opener on December 17 at Absegami at 11:30 a.m.


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