Phil Anastasia: Who is top player? Don't ask now

Ron Curry is the leader for the Paul VI Eagles, who have posted two big wins over Bishop Eustace this season.
Ron Curry is the leader for the Paul VI Eagles, who have posted two big wins over Bishop Eustace this season. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)

The playoffs should determine who steps up and separates himself from the other stars.

Posted: February 26, 2012

They have the basketball in their hands.

The clock is running down.

The time is now to bust a move.

That's the way it should be when it comes to awards such as the player of the year in South Jersey boys' basketball.

The regular season is complete. Four top players - Ron Curry of Paul VI, Xavier Lundy of Paulsboro, Tyrell Maloney of Willingboro, and Carson Puriefoy of Bishop Eustace - have made major impacts in division games, conference clashes, and widely anticipated nonleague battles.

All four have led their teams to 20-plus wins. All four have led their teams to spots in the Top 5 in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings. All four have made their share of big plays.

But the player of the year award is won in March, not in December or January or February.

Don't tell me what a guy did in a holiday tournament, or in some showcase in late January, or even in a big regular-season game in late February.

Those games matter. And certainly any evaluation of a top player has to include the big picture: his performance over 10 long weeks, his team's success in the division and conference, his ability to rise up for those special games that spice the regular season.

But it's the state tournament that seals this deal. It's the playoffs that define a team's season, and that create a player's legacy.

Tell me what he did in the crucible of postseason competition. Tell me what he did in the win-or-go-home-for-good (for the seniors, anyway) atmosphere that charges the air along with the roar of those capacity crowds that fill up the wooden bleachers and stand two and three deep in the corners of those overheated gymnasiums.

Look at last season. St. Augustine Prep's Isaiah Morton was just another contender for player of the year honors at the start of the state tournament. By the time Morton hit that step-back three-pointer to seal his team's upset of Seton Hall Prep in the Non-Public A state final, the little guard was a lock for the award.

Will one of this year's Fab Four step up and seize the moment in the same way?

They all are capable. Curry and Puriefoy have been rivals since grammar school. They might have played against each other in high school for the last time on Thursday night - when Curry led Paul VI to a stunning, 62-43 victory - but they also could meet again in the South A championship game.

"We're even," Curry said about the rivalry with Puriefoy.

Curry has led Paul VI to two victories over Bishop Eustace this season. But Puriefoy is more than capable of turning the tables by driving Bishop Eustace deep in the tournament, perhaps all the way to the state title.

Lundy led Paulsboro to an impressive victory over then-No. 1 Paul VI on Feb. 18. But anybody who watched Curry nearly will Paul VI back into contention that afternoon with three consecutive steals in the fourth quarter - two of which were punctuated with breakaway dunks - could see there were two player of the year candidates on the floor.

Maloney hasn't shared the court with any of the other three players this season. But the slick, quick guard has a chance to state his case by leading Willingboro to the first sectional title in program history, as well as the first state title.

The only junior in the group, Lundy might have the clearest path to the award. He already has led Paulsboro to a perfect regular season at 26-0. If he can propel the Red Raiders to the second state title in program history, and first since 1996, his credentials would be tough to top.

But don't count out Curry, Maloney, or Puriefoy. Those guys can play. They also can hear the clock, see the calendar, sense the opportunity.

Who is the player of the year? Ask me again in two weeks.


Phil Anastasia: The Candidates

These four athletes are the top contenders to be the South Jersey player of the year in boys' basketball:

Ron Curry, 6-foot-3 senior guard, Paul VI: He was averaging 16.3 points through Friday. He dad 11 points, six assists, and four steals in a big win Thursday over Bishop Eustace, and scored 18 in a victory over Philadelphia power Roman Catholic. He has signed with James Madison.

Xavier Lundy, 6-5 junior forward, Paulsboro: Averaging 20.4 points, he has led the Red Raiders to an undefeated regular season, 26-0. He is a major force on the backboards and on defense. Recruiting interest is coming from St. Joseph's and La Salle, among other Division I programs.

Tyrell Maloney, 5-9 senior guard, Willingboro: He was averaging 18.6 points through Friday. He scored 25 in a loss to state power Trenton Catholic and 34 with seven three-pointers in a Feb. 18 win over Kingsway. He has topped 30 points four times.

Carson Puriefoy, 6-0 senior guard, Bishop Eustace: Averaging 21.3 points, he has scored in double figures in every game. He scored 33 Tuesday night at Camden and has signed with Stony Brook.

- Phil Anastasia


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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