There’s a sparkling new gym inside of the newly opened Phillipsburg High School. The Stateliners boys basketball team is more than ready to grace it with what could be a breakout year.
The much anticipated season will kick off Friday night as Phillipsburg hosts Hillsborough as the fresh hardwood, roomy bleachers and slick scoreboard will all get their first live game action.
“We came into the gym in the fall and when I first walked in, it was stunning,” head coach Eric Jacobs said. “It takes you a few seconds to take it all in.”
The newness still hasn’t worn off on his players.
“Oh my God, yeah, it’s a big upgrade from what we had last year,” senior guard Dave Yale said. “It really adds another element to it. It’s a beautiful facility, it really sparks you.”
“It’s one of the sweetest things,” junior forward Jayshawn Grant said. “Every day I come to practice, I’m looking forward to playing in this amazing gym. I love it.”
While the new digs are surely an improvement from last year’s situation at the Pit, the product on the court may be in for an upgrade as well.
Coming off a 9-16 season, the Stateliners enjoyed plenty of success over the summer, making it to Sunday in both the Stellar and SportsFest tournaments for the first time in program history. They return their entire roster from last season, and with another year’s worth of mental and physical growth under their belt, they’re ready to make some noise.
Phillipsburg's new gym.(Sue Beyer | For lehighvalleylive.com)
“I can’t wait,” junior guard/forward Chris Mann said. “We’ve been preparing really hard the whole offseason. We blended and worked together and that really helped us.”
Mann led Phillipsburg a year ago with 17.3 points per game. At 6-foot-6, he is a dynamic scorer that can cut through the lane for a dunk or step outside and drain a three.
But since Mann broke onto the scene last year, his coach has also seen him getting his teammates involved more often and setting them up by driving and dishing.
“He’s become much more aware. He’s matured as an offensive player,” Jacobs said. “He’s a dedicated basketball player that really wants to go as far as you can go with his tools.”
Junior point guard Jermaine Knight (5.9 ppg) has played well the preseason while the 6-foot-1 Yale will be another scoring threat after averaging 7.9 and 8.4 points per game over the last two years. Grant (6.2 ppg), along with senior forwards Zach Troxell (5.6 ppg) and Jacob Ferguson (6.6 ppg) will make an impact down low as the Stateliners will have plenty of depth to stay sharp.
There’s also the experience factor.
“The games we lost by a couple points last year, we were winning those games this summer,” Jacobs said. “We kept on saying, ‘we would have lost that game last year.’ Obviously the kids are getting better talent-wise and improving as a team, but we just feel like the maturity level and physical maturity has really made a big difference.”
While it may not have the biggest size, Phillipsburg’s strength should be in its transition game, using its speed to run the floor and score in the open court. Its man-to-man defense has also improved since Jacobs took over at the helm last year.
“We can definitely score,” Yale said. “If we put that together with our defense, which is getting better each day in practice, we’re going to be a really dangerous team.”
“We just need to focus on rebounding,” Mann said. “If we can get rebounds, we can out-run anyone.”
Yale and Grant expressed that while the Stateliners were putting in the work last year in search of wins, they knew that everything would be building towards this year. If last year’s growing process came with nine wins and an Easton Rotary Holiday Classic championship, followed by more program-firsts during the summer, it’s no wonder why P’burg is so anxious to break in its new home with a bang.
“Expectations are much higher this year,” Jacobs said. “I think they kind of realize, they sense that we’re a program on the rise. That’s been my goal since I got here, to make basketball kind of on the same track as wrestling and football here at the school. I think we’re on the right track.”
Greg Joyce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GJoyce9. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.