June 13, 2018

Summer Men’s Hoops Primed for 30th Year As Packer Hall All-Stars Aim to Defend Title

TURNING 30: Zavon Johnson goes after the ball in action last year in the championship series in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Johnson helped the underdog Packer Hall All-Stars defeat Majeski to earn the title. Johnson and Packer Hall will be back to defend their title in the league, which tips off its 30th year of action next week with opening night slated for June 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League tips off its 30th year of action this week, the core of 20-something players will be looking to knock off a veteran outfit.

Last summer, the Packer Hall All-Stars, a team comprised mainly of relatively grizzled former College of New Jersey players, produced an unlikely title run, as the seventh-seeded squad swept top-seeded and defending champ Majeski Foundation in the best-of-three championship series.

With the 2018 campaign slated to start on June 18 at the Community Park courts, the Packer Hall squad will be in the sights of the other six teams.

“They are loaded up for bear this year, they know they are going to have a target on their backs,” said Evan Moorhead, the league’s commissioner and the Rec Department’s assistant director of recreation.

“They have Nick Brackett and have added both of his brothers, Bobby [former TCNJ star] and former NFL player Brett Brackett. That should be interesting; they are going to have a presence under the boards. Last year’s playoff MVP Khalid Lewis is back for them and they have Zavon Johnson. They are not going to sneak on anybody. I fully expect that they are going to be one of the teams to beat this year.”

Majeski, who is made up of current TCNJ players, has the talent to regain the title despite losing some key players to graduation.

“Joe Montano is their captain this year,” said Moorhead. “They have got Jordan Glover back. Liam Byrne is a good shooter. Randy Walko is a good player; he has a nice inside outside game. Niall Carpenter is a kid who went to Hun and had a good winter for them. They will be strong. They have the benefit of playing together in the winter too which gives them that chemistry.”

The LoyalTees entry figures to be a strong title contender as well, featuring several former Princeton High hoops stars.

“LoyalTees is another group who I think is going to be one of the teams to beat. Davon [Black] is the captain of that group;  he is the one putting the roster together,” said Moorhead.

“It has a strong local flavor with Davon, Lior Levy, and Zahrion Blue. They added Nick Davidson, who was the leading scorer in the league last year. They are going to be very strong. Davon, more than anything, knows what it takes to win. He grew up here; I have respect for a guy that this means something extra to him.”

A fourth squad, Apex Sport, should add some extra spice to the mix.

“Chris Bellofatto is back in the league, he took a one-two year hiatus,” added Moorhead.

“A lot of those guys played with him before. I think Nick Santalucia led the league in scoring three or four years back. Jeff Drezewaircz was the league’s newcomer of the year two years ago. Mitch Phillips was a free agent; he was a guy who graduated from Pennington this year. He is 6’7 and is going to NYU. I think they should be solid because most of those guys have played in the league before.”

The other three teams in the league are Cure Insurance, NJ Spiritwear, and Gomo Health. Cure Insurance is guided by manager Phil Vigliano and should include include some local talent while Spiritwear will feature former Princeton Day School star John McArthur. The Gomo team includes Ryan Johnson, Trey Murrrill, and Karron Johnson Jr., who previously starred for King’s Pizzarama, a title finalist in 2016.

The league’s staying power is being celebrated this summer. “It started in 1989 so our motto is ‘still here,’” said Moorhead.

“We plan to put together another summer Hall of Fame class. It has been a few years and we are due to induct another class into the Hall. We have been playing up the 30th year on our Facebook page a lot. We have been running a lot of old pictures and articles just to reminisce on the golden era, if you will, which is I would say from early ’90s to mid-2000s. We have a rich tradition of history here in the Princeton Summer league, so we like to remind people of that and relive some of that.”

People around town are looking forward to witnessing more history as the games start next week.

“The excitement is brewing. The basketball courts are getting a fresh coat of paint and a makeover this year with all new backboards and rims,” said Moorhead. “We are looking forward to having our great fan support like we always do.”