St. Augustine Prep proved itself to be a boys basketball team with a promising future with its 4-0 start this season.
Just as importantly, the Hermits proved themselves to be an entertaining and fun team to watch right now.
"It's a great group to coach," St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio said. "These kids are wide-eyed, listening to everything. The expectation level isn't off the charts as it usually is here. I don't want to say anything we do is gravy this season. But we're a young team, and we're going to be pretty good next season and the year after."
St. Augustine, a perennial power, is ranked No. 10 in The Press Elite 11 this week. The Hermits will host Middle Township (2-1) in a key Cape-Atlantic League National Division game Friday at 6 p.m.
But the Hermits began the season as an unknown commodity. They were a mixture of few veterans and talented but unproven younger players. The Hermits weren't ranked in the preseason - a rarity for the program.
St. Augustine first attracted attention with a 64-57 win over Pemberton on Dec. 21 in an Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend game at Ocean City High School.
But it's not just that the Hermits are 4-0. It's how they've played. They've had a different leading scorer in three of the four games. The players appear to like each other. It can sometimes be difficult for teams of older and younger players to find good chemistry.
"We're all in it together," senior Nate Segal, of Margate, said. "We don't care who scores. We just want to win."
Segal (11 ppg) and forward Brian Seward (12 ppg) provide the senior leadership. Seward started some games last season, while Segal came off the bench.
"I've played behind a bunch of good players," Segal said. "I'm finally getting my chance, and I want to make the most of it."
Point guard Sa'eed Nelson, a 5-foot-8 sophomore, averages 11.5 ppg and has an uncanny ability to penetrate defenses and get his shot off against taller opponents.
"No matter where Sa'eed went to high school, he was going to be a good player," Rodio said. "But we want him to be the best point guard in South Jersey. We're striving to get him to that point."
Forward Mike Vasturia, 6-5 sophomore, came off the bench last season but is averaging 12 ppg this season.
"He's one of the smartest players I've ever coached," Rodio said.
Freshman Justyn Mutts averages 7. 5 ppg. The 6-6 forward already has wowed fans with several acrobatic drives to the basket.
"He has all kinds of potential," Rodio said.
St. Augustine faces its biggest test of the new season Friday against Middle in a renewal of one of South Jersey's most intense rivalries.
"We've picked it up in practice," Rodio said. "I know what to expect (Friday) I don't know if the (young Hermits) do. We can't express how much respect we have for Middle."
Middle girls lose Legler
The Middle Township girls basketball team will be without standout Lauren Legler for at least six weeks. The senior fractured an ankle and tore its ligaments in a 51-38 win over Notre Dame at the Boardwalk Basketball Classic in Wildwood on Friday. Legler, a 5-9 senior, is one of the Panthers' top players.
"We feel really bad for her," Middle coach John Leahy said. "We all know the time and effort she put in the offseason."
Legler injured herself stepping on an opponent's foot. She is not in a cast.
"There is an outside shot she could be back at the end of February, which is good news," Leahy said. "But it's going to be very much in terms of how she heals."
In their first game without Legler, the Panthers lost to Shawnee 37-29. Shawnee (4-1) is ranked No. 8 in the Elite 11. Middle (3-1) is ranked 11th. The Panthers reached the South Jersey Group II final last season and are expected to contend for the South Jersey and Cape-Atlantic League titles this season.
Leahy said the Panthers haven't changed their goals.
"Hopefully, Lauren will heal quick, and we can pout ourselves in a position to make a run at the end of the season," he said.
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