Could this be Saintel's breakout year?

"I've got a lot to prove," says Junior Saintel, who is drawing college interest. PHIL ANASTASIA / Staff
"I've got a lot to prove," says Junior Saintel, who is drawing college interest. PHIL ANASTASIA / Staff
Posted: December 21, 2013

When Junior Saintel was a freshman, the word on him was that he was one of the most talented players at his age in South Jersey.

When he was a sophomore, same thing.

Junior, same thing.

"Now I'm a senior and it's time to show what I can do," Saintel said during a recent scrimmage.

At 6-foot-7 with silky moves, a strong handle and serious hops - he threw down a thunderous dunk on an alley-oop in a matchup with Wildwood Catholic during a tri-scrimmage on Tuesday night - the Holy Spirit swingman has the makings of one of South Jersey's best players.

He just needs to put it all together, game after game, over the long course of the season.

"In one of our last games last year in the [Cape-Atlantic League] tournament, he had like 25 points, eight or 10 boards, and five or six blocks," Holy Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie said. "That's what he's capable of doing. That's what we need him to do."

Saintel is a three-year starter for the Spartans. He averaged 12.2 points last season as Holy Spirit stumbled a bit to a 16-11 record despite having one of the most talented rosters in the Cape-Atlantic League.

"It was disappointing," Saintel said of the Spartans' 2012-13 season. "It was a learning experience. We're going to be much better this season."

Gillespie believes Saintel is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential as a player. He thinks Saintel will blossom at the next level, when he matures physically and benefits from a couple of years in a college weight-training program.

"People are going to say, 'He should be playing at a higher level,' " Gillespie predicted.

Saintel has offers from Central Connecticut and Maryland-Baltimore County. He also has drawn interest from programs such as Florida International, Central Florida, Robert Morris, and Drexel.

Saintel said he has worked hard in the offseason to build strength and improve all aspects of his game.

"I've got a lot to prove," Saintel said. "I'm working hard to make this the best year that I can. I believe I can be in the running for South Jersey player of the year."

Saintel showed flashes of his potential in the tri-scrimmage against Paul VI, the No. 1 team in The Inquirer's preseason South Jersey rankings, and No. 12 Wildwood Catholic.

He scored in the paint and on the perimeter, ran the floor as a guard does, blocked shots as a center does, and showed a deft interior passing touch.

Gillespie said Saintel, who lives in Mays Landing, has been doing much of the same stuff for the last two seasons - but only in spurts.

"We need him to do that consistently," Gillespie said.

Holy Spirit is No. 4 in the preseason rankings and could challenge No. 2 Atlantic City in the Cape-Atlantic League American Division.

The Spartans also will be in the mix in a loaded Non-Public South A field that also includes Paul VI, No. 6 Bishop Eustace, No. 7 Camden Catholic, and two-time champion St. Joseph of Metuchen.

Gillespie said the Spartans' fate is tied to their senior leader: They will reach their potential as a team if Saintel realizes his potential as a player.

"He needs to be a player of the year-type player for us," Gillespie said. "He's capable of that. If he does that, we'll be a really good team."


panastasia@phillynews.com

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