It’s not uncommon to see Karl Towns, the baby-faced big man who is arguably the top freshman in America, sign an autograph or two. It’s a routine to hear a boisterous crowd cheer over every silky smooth crossover and slash to the basket Quenton DeCosey executes.
These are the sights and sounds of taking in a St. Joseph (Metuchen) basketball game, yet the highly ranked team’s most important contributor is the quiet straight-A student who facilitates one of the region’s most lethal offensive units.
James Long, a 5-foot-11 junior floor general, helped the Falcons improve to 20-1 overall after they held off Our Savior New American (N.Y.), 67-61, in the first contest of the PrimeTime Shootout event on Saturday at Roselle Catholic.
He scored 10 points and played a wonderful point guard, distributing the ball to the Temple-bound DeCosey (17 points) and fellow guard Danny Brix (15).
“I know that Karl and Q are going to get their shots, so I try and get them the ball,” Long said. “I try to play with 110 percent.”
Even without injured forward James Ziemba, a 6-foot-9 Division I prospect, St. Joe’s is running on all cylinders and is entering the Non-Public A state playoffs with confidence.
“I think our chemistry is really working now,” Towns said. “We’re working together as a whole and we’re showing we have the ability to do more as a team.”
Truth be told, this group is scripting possibly the greatest season in program history. Even when former Duke great Jay Williams and current NBA center Andrew Bynum were wearing Falcons uniforms, the team had never been ranked as high as it is now.
St. Joe’s sits fifth in MSG Varsity’s Garden State poll, behind St. Anthony, St. Benedict’s, Gill St. Bernard’s and Teaneck. And it’s no secret Long has been a major reason for tasting such immense success.
“Jimbo is very unselfish,” coach Dave Turco said. “He’d be a 20-point scorer on any other team in New Jersey.
“We need everybody. Our next goal is the county tournament, then the section, then the TOC. We’ve been kind of spoiled, but sitting at 20 wins, if we don’t come away with a championship, we’re going to be disappointed. This team is doing things no other team has done.”
Aside from Long, Brix has enjoyed his time as Long’s sidekick outside the spotlight.
“Danny Brix, it’s unbelievable how important he is,” Turco said of the Division II Stonehill College-bound sharp shooter. “He was a two-year starter even before he transferred into here and he’s the ultimate team player.”
Brix transferred out of Monroe High School following his sophomore campaign and sat out the mandatory 30-day rule, which caused him to miss St. Joe’s first 10 games last winter.
“But ever since then,” Turco shrugged, “he’s been a blessing.”
You won’t find a Falcon who won’t admit Long and Brix are the ones who make the program run.
“They’re the foundation,” Towns said. “They have experience and the knowledge, and it helps guys like me who like to study an opponent beforehand. James is great. He makes us work harder in practice.”
Long admits he has embraced his role as the supporting cast’s leader, and is looking forward to what the future holds.
He is focused on working hard in the classroom, too. While he does not have any Division I offers on the table, Long – a superb student who owns a 4.2 GPA -- hopes some Ivy League schools come knocking on his door.
Based on his steady growth and strong play of late, he won’t have to wait too long.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter