St. Rose boys’ basketball team has the highest of expectations this season

December 8, 2023 at 7:00 a.m.
Joined by his brother/teammate Jayden (rear) and his parents; St. Rose, Belmar basketball standout Matt Hodge signs his Letter of Intent to play for Villanova next season. The Hodge brothers combined to average 27 points and 14 rebounds while garnering 147 assists and 93 steals in St. Rose's run to the state final last year. Photo from X (Twitter).
Joined by his brother/teammate Jayden (rear) and his parents; St. Rose, Belmar basketball standout Matt Hodge signs his Letter of Intent to play for Villanova next season. The Hodge brothers combined to average 27 points and 14 rebounds while garnering 147 assists and 93 steals in St. Rose's run to the state final last year. Photo from X (Twitter).

By RICH FISHER
Contributing Editor

The way Brian Lynch looks at the upcoming season, there is no denying expectations. 

His St. Rose, Belmar boys’ basketball team has to shoot for it all.

“It’s very clear for us,” the third-year Purple Roses’ coach said. “We need to try and win the Shore Conference and state titles. We don’t have to hide from that. Last year we were kind of uncertain about what we were but this year I think everybody knows that should be the goal. It’s on us to go out and get it.”

Reason for optimism is valid. With an entirely new group of regulars last year, St. Rose finished 24-5, reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, won the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B title, and gave favored Roselle Catholic all it could handle before falling in the state final.

Junior Bryan Ebeling is one of several versatile players that will make the St. Rose, Belmar basketball team tough to beat this season. Photo courtesy of Ebeling family

The top six in the rotation return, bringing with them a cohesion and knowledge of the system that Lynch spent much of last year trying to develop. 

“It’s been night and day, you could see it the way they played this preseason compared to last year’s preseason,” the coach said. “Instead of wasting time on little details, we can get into the big picture stuff. Things move so much quicker, we’re so much further at this point than last year. We played a bunch of showcases in the fall and they were really good.”

It helps that the players, who were new to each other a year ago, now have an instinctive feel for one another.

“Guys know each other’s games,” Lynch said. “You start to figure each other out. It’s like an organism that just develops and grows.”

Leading the returnees are senior forwards Matthew Hodge, who stands 6-foot-8, and 6-6 Gio Panzini.

Hodge averaged 14.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while collecting 30 3-pointers, 96 assists, 36 blocked shots and 42 steals. The versatile Belgium product will play at Villanova – Lynch’s alma mater – next season.

“They’re gonna have five or six guys leave after this year,” the coach said. “He just thinks that he’ll be able to be on that first team. That’s what he was looking for, a high-level team that he could impact as a freshman. I think he made a good decision for himself.”

Panzini averaged 10.2 points and 6.6 rebounds to go along with 19 3-pointers, 25 assists, 26 blocks and 23 steals last season. Lynch is somewhat dismayed he has not been snatched up by a college program yet but noted that due to a knee injury over the summer, his game was somewhat tentative while wearing a bulky brace.

“He’s the most underrated guy on our whole team,” Lynch said. “The best way to describe Gio is he’s got a huge level of toughness and he’s got a huge motor. It’s hard for me to imagine this kid’s not gonna get an offer.”

Rounding out the “Sensational Six” are sophomore forward (and Matt’s brother) Jayden Hodge (12.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 51 assists, 51 steals), and junior guards Evan Romano (7.4 ppg, 22 assists, 18 3-pointers), Bryan Ebeling (9.1 ppg, 39 3-pointers, 3.1 rpg, 40 assists, 37 steals, 10 blocks) and guard Peter Mauro (8.3 ppg, 27 assists, 14 steals). All are versatile and give St. Rose various ways to attack and defend.

Lynch noted that his nephew Avery Lynch, a 6-5 freshman, sophomore Tyler Cameron and senior Luke Roman should also see minutes. Cameron looked particularly good in the fall season while filling in for the injured Ebeling and Mauro.

Everyone is healthy now and St. Rose is ready to roll. Lynch beefed up the schedule to include several nationally ranked teams along with some New Jersey powers. The potential brings excitement along with pressure as the Purple Roses realize everyone is out to beat them.

To help deal with that pressure, Lynch defers to one of the greatest players in the history of his wife’s sport. Kim Clijsters, the world’s No. 1 ranked tennis player in 2003, told her husband what a legend once advised about pressure.

“She told me Billie Jean King made a comment that … if you are feeling pressure, it’s a privilege because it means you are good,” Lynch said.

“I’ll never forget that comment,” he continued. “We shouldn’t back down from the pressure. We should take it as we deserve it, we’ve earned it … Everybody’s coming for us. But I think mentally we’re kind of ready for it.”


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The way Brian Lynch looks at the upcoming season, there is no denying expectations. 

His St. Rose, Belmar boys’ basketball team has to shoot for it all.

“It’s very clear for us,” the third-year Purple Roses’ coach said. “We need to try and win the Shore Conference and state titles. We don’t have to hide from that. Last year we were kind of uncertain about what we were but this year I think everybody knows that should be the goal. It’s on us to go out and get it.”

Reason for optimism is valid. With an entirely new group of regulars last year, St. Rose finished 24-5, reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, won the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B title, and gave favored Roselle Catholic all it could handle before falling in the state final.

Junior Bryan Ebeling is one of several versatile players that will make the St. Rose, Belmar basketball team tough to beat this season. Photo courtesy of Ebeling family

The top six in the rotation return, bringing with them a cohesion and knowledge of the system that Lynch spent much of last year trying to develop. 

“It’s been night and day, you could see it the way they played this preseason compared to last year’s preseason,” the coach said. “Instead of wasting time on little details, we can get into the big picture stuff. Things move so much quicker, we’re so much further at this point than last year. We played a bunch of showcases in the fall and they were really good.”

It helps that the players, who were new to each other a year ago, now have an instinctive feel for one another.

“Guys know each other’s games,” Lynch said. “You start to figure each other out. It’s like an organism that just develops and grows.”

Leading the returnees are senior forwards Matthew Hodge, who stands 6-foot-8, and 6-6 Gio Panzini.

Hodge averaged 14.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while collecting 30 3-pointers, 96 assists, 36 blocked shots and 42 steals. The versatile Belgium product will play at Villanova – Lynch’s alma mater – next season.

“They’re gonna have five or six guys leave after this year,” the coach said. “He just thinks that he’ll be able to be on that first team. That’s what he was looking for, a high-level team that he could impact as a freshman. I think he made a good decision for himself.”

Panzini averaged 10.2 points and 6.6 rebounds to go along with 19 3-pointers, 25 assists, 26 blocks and 23 steals last season. Lynch is somewhat dismayed he has not been snatched up by a college program yet but noted that due to a knee injury over the summer, his game was somewhat tentative while wearing a bulky brace.

“He’s the most underrated guy on our whole team,” Lynch said. “The best way to describe Gio is he’s got a huge level of toughness and he’s got a huge motor. It’s hard for me to imagine this kid’s not gonna get an offer.”

Rounding out the “Sensational Six” are sophomore forward (and Matt’s brother) Jayden Hodge (12.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 51 assists, 51 steals), and junior guards Evan Romano (7.4 ppg, 22 assists, 18 3-pointers), Bryan Ebeling (9.1 ppg, 39 3-pointers, 3.1 rpg, 40 assists, 37 steals, 10 blocks) and guard Peter Mauro (8.3 ppg, 27 assists, 14 steals). All are versatile and give St. Rose various ways to attack and defend.

Lynch noted that his nephew Avery Lynch, a 6-5 freshman, sophomore Tyler Cameron and senior Luke Roman should also see minutes. Cameron looked particularly good in the fall season while filling in for the injured Ebeling and Mauro.

Everyone is healthy now and St. Rose is ready to roll. Lynch beefed up the schedule to include several nationally ranked teams along with some New Jersey powers. The potential brings excitement along with pressure as the Purple Roses realize everyone is out to beat them.

To help deal with that pressure, Lynch defers to one of the greatest players in the history of his wife’s sport. Kim Clijsters, the world’s No. 1 ranked tennis player in 2003, told her husband what a legend once advised about pressure.

“She told me Billie Jean King made a comment that … if you are feeling pressure, it’s a privilege because it means you are good,” Lynch said.

“I’ll never forget that comment,” he continued. “We shouldn’t back down from the pressure. We should take it as we deserve it, we’ve earned it … Everybody’s coming for us. But I think mentally we’re kind of ready for it.”

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