Payne Tech’s quest to return to the North 2, Group 3 state sectional semifinals took a season-ending hit Tuesday night in a tough 55-52 triple-overtime quarterfinal defeat at Millburn; however, the Lions look loaded with talent if their top underclassmen all return in 2024-2025
“We certainly know that we have some great young talent in our program,” veteran Payne Coach Brad Howard said before his team took on the veteran-led Millers in the memorable N2G3 showdown in a closely-contested battle that fit the fact that it was the No. 5 and No. 4 seeds doing battle for the right to move on. “Our kids continue to put in the work in the off season in order to be the best players they can be.”
Payne Tech finished 17-9 overall and a very respectable 9-3 in the Super Essex Conference’s Liberty Division and its top two players were very impressive 6-5 sophomore center Gerald Edwell (18.4 points and 14.3 rebounds per game) and dynamic 6-3 junior guard Robert Foster (17.7 ppg.).
Edwell is a veritable force on the inside and should continue to develop as one of the top forwards in the SEC over the next two seasons, while Foster also has a wide arsenal in his skill set.
And there is more on the way up for Payne Tech with other key contributors such as 5-11 junior guard Malcolm Lucas and athletic 5-9 freshman guard De-an Armstrong.
Poor foul shooting (7-of-17) ultimately doomed the Lions vs. Millburn, but their talent on the floor was undeniable which bodes well for the Newark school looking ahead to next season regardless of what division they are in as there is much talk about the SEC expanding from five to six different divisions next winter.
Meanwhile, around the SEC-Liberty Division among other teams already closing the book on this season that have key underclassmen who will help boost their teams next year is Caldwell with players to watch such as junior guards Joe Giannetta and Brodie Cook who were integral parts of the rotation for the Chiefs who were 13-12 overall and 6-6 in the Liberty Division.
Irvington (15-12, 5-7) has a couple of top sophomores to watch in guards Jazmir Taylor and Jayden Bermudez, while Columbia (12-13, 7-5) has a prize freshman guard to build around moving forward in Zach Alexander.
North Star Academy (10-17, 4-8), despite its late-season swoon which saw the Newark-based program drop eight of its last nine games, there is junior talent to watch in high-scoring guard Johnny Mayers II (13.2 ppg) and forward Abdul-Waheed Salaam (9.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg).
Despite its own ups and downs, Bloomfield (11-16, 2-10) has a promising group of underclassmen including top guards such as junior Davieon McClain and freshman Sean Perrotta and strong junior forward Talon Bacote.
Among the teams in the SEC’s third division, the Colonial, who have also seen their season end, but have high hopes for next year is Montclair (15-11, 7-6), which should be a title contender in whatever division it finds itself in next season with a number of strong underclassmen, including its leading scorer in junior guard Jahi Whitney (15.5 ppg) and other starters in junior forward Martin Quiroz and sophomore forward Tom Diomedi, while promising sophomores Mez Okaro and Merrick Olkowski are also on the way up.
The Mounties won the Essex County Jayvee Tournament this season and the ECT freshmen championship last winter.
A team in the SEC-Freedom Division which shows promise for the future is Newark Academy under first-year coach Dan Petrillo which finished 14-10 overall and a solid 10-3 in the division and with key players set to return in 2024-2025 such as its second-leading scorer, sophomore Zach Shirodkar (10.3 ppg.) along with sophomore forward Tundi Fagbemi and steady junior guard Jaden Simon.
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