Christian Mortellite comes from a basketball family.

He lives in a football town.

Naturally, the senior plays both sports for Hammonton High School.

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Mortellite played quarterback for the Blue Devils football team as a junior and a senior.

But it's on the basketball court where the 6-foot-4, 211-pound swingman really excels.

He is averaging 27 points for the Blue Devils, who are 7-1 heading into tonight's matchup with Cape-Atlantic League National Division rival St. Augustine Prep (4-1). Tipoff is 7 p.m. at St. Augustine.

The Blue Devils' success is one of the surprises of the winter season.

"Before the season started, if anybody told you Hammonton would start (7-1), you wouldn't have believed it," Mortellite said.

Mortellite's father, Bill, was a standout Hammonton basketball player in the 1980s. His grandfather, C. Allen Rowe, coached the Widener University men's team in Chester, Pa., for 33 years until 1997.

But Hammonton High School is known for its football excellence. Mortellite helped lead the Blue Devils to the South Jersey Group III final as a junior and an upset of neighborhood rival St. Joseph as a senior.

Hammonton boys basketball is an afterthought most seasons, but Mortellite and his teammates are changing that in 2012-13.

"We're playing really good defense," Mortellite said. "We're getting loose balls. We're hustling. We're doing all the little things right. We want to put ourselves on the map."

Basketball is the sport Mortellite plans to play in college. He is considering a number of opportunities, ranging from NCAA Division I schools Colgate and New Jersey Institute of Technology to Division III programs such as Widener, Richard Stockton and the College of Staten Island.

"It was a hard decision," Mortellite said of choosing to play basketball in college, "but basketball is something I started out doing and it's something I don't want to let go."

Mortellite, 17, is the oldest of four children. In a telephone conversation Tuesday night, he spoke about a number of topics including the difference in expectations for the Hammonton basketball and football programs and how his athletic career started.

On how he started playing basketball and football: Basketball was my first sport. I was about 5 years old. Basketball is king in my family because of my dad. I was the first one in my family to play football. I was 6 years old and my dad took me to Hammonton Hawks signups (the town junior football league team), and I've played ever since. I also played baseball until my freshman year and I played hockey up until fifth grade, but it got to be too much.

On what's better, throwing a touchdown pass or sinking a 3-point shot: They're both pretty awesome. It's hard to compare.

On the transition from football to basketball season: It's hard. In football, you're going really hard for a play and then you get in the huddle. In basketball, it's up and down, up and down, up and down. Once the football season ended this year, I worked out with my AAU coaches Wayne Nelson and Tory Cavalieri. They got me going. When basketball season came, I was ready to go.

On the difference between the expectations for the Hammonton football and basketball teams: When I came to Hammonton High School, I knew we were going to be good in football. But from a basketball point of view, you never know.

On the difference between himself as a basketball player this season as opposed to his junior year: I think the biggest difference is in I'm shape this year. Last year it took me a while to get going. I lost some weight over the summer. I worked on my handle. It translated into making me a faster player and a better ball handler. I think I'm just a smarter player.

On what he does to relax away from school and sports: I like to go fishing with my friends. When I have down time, usually in the spring, we get in the truck and go fishing. We go to the Mullica River or the Hammonton Lake. I caught a pretty big catfish this past summer.

On Hammonton's goals for the rest of the season: The big thing for this year is can we knock off a (perennial power). That would push us over the top and show people we're for real.

Contact Michael McGarry:


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