Phil Anastasia: Gold brings his tenacity to Cherry Hill East basketball

Cherry Hill East's Jake Gurkin , flanked by Lenape's Cory Jett (left) and Marquis Perry, pulls down one of his 16 rebounds.
Cherry Hill East's Jake Gurkin , flanked by Lenape's Cory Jett (left) and Marquis Perry, pulls down one of his 16 rebounds. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 04, 2012

Baseball may be Jesse Gold's favorite sport.

Or perhaps football.

Definitely not basketball.

"It's my third sport," Gold said after leading Cherry Hill East to a 57-46 victory over Lenape on Tuesday in an Olympic American clash of unbeaten top-10 teams.

Gold brings more will than skill to the basketball court. But he has a three-sport athlete's competitive fire that has helped forge the Cougars into a surprisingly tough and tenacious team.

Cherry Hill East (7-0 overall, 1-0 conference), ranked No. 5 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, didn't beat No. 7 Lenape (5-1, 0-1) with three-point shooting or transition offense. The Cougars committed more than a few turnovers and missed a bunch of foul shots, too.

But they played sturdy, aggressive defense, held their own on the backboards, and scrambled for more than their share of loose balls. They answered every Lenape charge with one of their own.

"They don't back down," Cherry Hill East first-year coach Dave Allen said of his players. "If the other team makes a run, they come back."

Things have changed for Cherry Hill East. John Valore retired after 35 years as head coach. Chris Santo graduated last year after setting school records for points and rebounds.

This is a different kind of team, with a new coach in Allen, a fearless freshman in guard Jake Silpe (11 points, four assists, three steals), and three senior leaders who have given the Cougars a hard edge.

Senior forward Jake Gurkin led the way Tuesday with the first triple-double of his career: 16 points, 16 rebounds, 10 blocked shots. He was a man in the paint.

Senior guard Marc Schlessel scored in double figures for the seventh consecutive game, with 16 points. He got the Cougars started with a basket on the first possession, off a feed from Gold, and was 4 for 4 from the foul line in an otherwise ragged fourth quarter.

Gold's contribution was less evident on the stat sheet, although the 5-foot-10 guard generated seven assists, four points, and three steals.

"I'm not the best shooter, not the best ball handler, not the best passer," Gold said. "I try to be a leader and play hard-nosed defense. I'm competitive. I want to win."

Gold was part of a standout senior class of football players who put the Cougars back on the map this season with a 7-3 record. As a quarterback, Gold scored the winning points on a conversion run in probably the wildest game of the season, a 57-56 victory over Cherokee in double overtime.

He has brought the same steely-eyed scrappiness to the basketball court.

"It was a little tough on the body, a little tough on the mind," Gold said of the transition from football to basketball. "But I love to play with these guys so much, it made it so much easier."

Gold said he's able to play basketball with a loose, confident attitude because he's not worried about scoring points, or impressing college scouts.

"In baseball, I want to get two hits, or in football, I want to throw a couple of touchdown passes," Gold said. "I always want to try to be a team player in every sport, but it's easier for me in basketball because I don't care how I play. I just want to win."

Cherry Hill East might be the surprise team of the young season, with a 10-point victory at then-No. 1 Bishop Eustace and an impressive triumph over a deep and talented Lenape squad.

The Cougars don't rely on the three-point shot as much as they have in the past, and their zone defense is more of a trapping matchup than a passive 2-3. They are sharing the ball and playing with an attitude.

Credit the new coach, the precocious freshman, and the pair of senior stars who seem determined to make the most of their final season.

Credit the football/baseball standout who is making a major impact on the basketball court, too.

"He's such a tough, hard-nosed kid," Allen said of Gold. "His attitude pervades the whole team."

Lenape 14 10 8 14 – 46

Cherry Hill East 15 13 11 18 – 57

L: Kyle Robostello 15, Evan Ward 10, Avery Brown 2, Tabu Gaither 8, Sawyer Hand 4, Kendall Green 3, Arkemus Baskerville 2, Marquis Perry 2.

CHE: Marc Schlessel 16, Jake Gurkin 16, Jesse Gold 4, Gary Hettinger 10, Jake Silpe 11.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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