March 22, 2023

PHS Boys’ Hoops Overcame Shaky Start, Showing Growth in Superb Late Season Run

RISING STAR: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Jahan Owusu goes up for a shot in a game this winter. Junior star guard Owusu emerged as a go-to scorer for the Tigers, tallying a team-high 314 points as PHS went 10-13 and advanced to the Mercer County Invitational final. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When the Princeton High boys’ basketball team started its 2022-23 campaign by losing five of its first six games, it looked like it could be a bleak winter for the squad.

Instead, PHS found a rhythm, advancing to the Mercer County Invitational final and nearly pulling off a big upset in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 4 sectional on the way to posting a 10-13 record.

“We got better each game, by the end of the year, we really got rolling,” said PHS head coach Pat Noone. “Throughout the season, that is what you want. You want them to get better each day and these guys definitely did that. It was a lot fun and it made an enjoyable end of the season run.”

Noone enjoyed his squad’s run to the final of the MCI, the ‘B’ bracket of the Mercer County Tournament, as PHS topped Lawrence 50-33 in the quarterfinals and Hopewell Valley 52-48 in the semis before falling 61-60 in overtime to Hightstown in the final. “Lawrence beat us in the regular season (51-49 on January 24)  and we beat them,” said Noone, whose team had also lost to HoVal 40-31 on January 17 in a regular season meeting. “Hightstown beat us, unfortunately they got us in the end by one in overtime. We had three guys with 13 points, but we had three guys foul out.”

In the first round of the state sectional, 14th-seeded PHS fell 55-54 to third-seeded North Brunswick on a lay-up with seven seconds left in the February 21 contest. Noone viewed the
performance as a microcosm of the campaign, with the Tigers showing improvement after having lost 65-54 to North Brunswick in late January.

“We wanted to slow the pace, we wanted to control our pace against them,” said Noone. “We knew we had to stop them. We put up a hell of a fight. It was a game that was a bit of a story of the year. We did everything we possibly could and we ended up one point short.”

The squad’s senior group of Chris Rinaldi (83 points in 2022-23), Ryan Guy (69 points), Henri Maman (8 points), Shyam Parikh (71 points), and Rohan Chivate (6 points) led the fight throughout the season.

“They were an amazing class, unfortunately for them, in their second year we got shut down with the COVID,” said Noone. “They battled so much. They were a tremendous asset to me and the coaching staff with everything they have done — how they have worked, how they set the tone, how they practiced, and the way they passed down how we do things to the younger guys that they will carry on. The peer-to-peer relationship that they had with these guys was awesome.”

The Tigers got some awesome play from junior star guard Jahan Owusu, who tallied a team-high 314 points.

“From the beginning of the year to the end, Jahan was somebody who got better each day,” said Noone. “He took coaching extremely well and really shined down the stretch, he carried us to a lot of victories. He had 29 against HoVal, he had 31 against Florence (in a 52-47 win on February 7). It was a little struggle for him picking up the style of basketball that we play. Once he got it, he took off running. It was more about instilling confidence. Once he got over the hump and started seeing the ball going in, he got hot.”

In addition to Owusu, junior Jihad Wilder — the team’s second-high scorer with 230 points, along with classmates Remmick Granozio (130 points), Dante DiGiulio (65 points), and Alex Winters (16 points) — made a lot of progress this winter.

“Wilder played a lot of minutes, he can score inside, outside,” said Noone. “He has a lot of talent and has barely scratched the surface so hopefully he will have a good offseason off of this. We have some younger guys that have come on, like Remmick, Dante, and Alex.”

In Noone’s view, those younger guys could do some big things if they focus on work ethic and developing chemistry.

“The future is looking bright but it just like anything else, it comes down to what we do in the offseason and how they jell,” said Noone. “We didn’t jell early but we jelled in the middle of the year and on and you can see that with our wins and how competitive we were.”