By Rich Chrampanis
WEST LONG BRANCH – The line snaked around the Ocean First arena on the campus of Monmouth University, all the way to the already filled parking lot. Basketball fans came early to make sure they got a seat to see the Ranney hoops show one more time in the Shore Conference. More than 4,000 basketball fans packed the Hawks home to see the four-year journey of an instant-made basketball power begin its final run.
Four years ago there was a lot of hype surrounding Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis, along with teammates Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino. After Ahmadu Sarnor joined the mix three years ago, this group of five seniors had the daunting task of living up to an incredible amount of hype based on their prowess in the ultra-competitive AAU circuit.
Fast forward to 2019 and Antoine and Lewis are McDonald’s All-Americans ready to become part of the major college basketball conversation at Villanova and Florida. Antoine became the Shore Conference’s all-time leading scorer and Lewis made the prestigious Nike Hoop Summit roster where he’ll wear the Team USA jersey. All of those accolades and statistics are well deserved, but the mission all along was to accomplish Ranney’s lofty team goals.
It started with the Shore Conference, and last year Ranney left no doubt they were the best team in the 46-team mega-league. Last Saturday night was the same story as the Panthers held off an excellent Manasquan squad in a 70-60 victory.
On a night where Warriors senior Brad McCabe delivered a mind-boggling 33-point effort that featured a near-perfect 9-of-10 from 3-point range, it still wasn’t enough to slow down the Ranney machine.
“I think a lot of people obviously expected us to win,” head coach Tahj Holden said following the game. “When you look at the other side of the bracket, we knew Manasquan was good, we knew CBA was good. We had to get here first and then we knew we had to play a good game to win. If we play a C-plus game, we lose this game tonight. We played an ‘A’ game and we got the win.”
Local hoop fans have seen firsthand that Antoine and Lewis are destined to get paid to play the game for a living. In the title game against Manasquan, it was Lewis giving us a glimpse of the future with his 27 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots. His first of numerous dunks saw the future Gator slow down in the open court, plotting his gravity-defying move before twisting in front of the rim for a 360-degree dunk that is usually reserved for the NBA Slam Dunk contest.
Lewis is going to be a fixture on national television for the rest of his career, which could make a Shore Conference final something that isn’t high on his list of games to get hyped for. But Scottie took time alone on the Ranney bench prior to tipoff to get himself ready to battle one more time in Shore Conference play.
“When I get platforms like this, my body gets real jittery, I get real nervous,” Lewis said. “I just had to sit by myself and just think about the game and the importance of it and what I needed to do to help my team win the game.”
Lewis throwing tomahawk jams and taking flight from the free throw line throughout the championship game is what the fans lined up for 90 minutes before tipoff and it’s obvious that he is more than comfortable on the big stage. That’s good because the spotlight on his basketball career is about to be magnified significantly.
“To be in front of the bright lights and everyone’s yelling your name is so much fun,” Lewis said. “If you’re not having fun then don’t step on the floor. I enjoy every minute being on the floor with my four teammates and looking into the crowd and seeing the people that I care about cheering me on.”
Back-to-back Shore Conference championships for Ranney is a huge check mark on the goals of this special group of Panthers. Next up is a state championship and the possibility of a rematch with Roselle Catholic and then the Tournament of Champions to earn the claim as New Jersey’s best basketball team. If they get to the end of the road, there are only six games left for Antoine and Lewis in a Ranney uniform. And that’s why the lines for every one of their final games in the state playoffs will continue to wind around New Jersey gyms.
This article was first published in the Feb. 28-March. 6, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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