By Phil Anastasia
Basketball practice starts Monday.
That's Dec. 2.
That's the latest starting date I can remember.
That's a function of late-as-possible Thanksgiving, plus a new rule that prohibits basketball teams from starting until the Monday after Thanksgiving instead of the day after the holiday -- the better to save few bucks on heating bills and custodial costs.
Anyway, in honor of the start of practice, here's an early-bird special -- a pre-preseason Top 10 in South Jersey boys' basketball.
1. Paul VI (26-4 last season)
The Eagles return four of five starters from a team that won the Olympic National title and advanced to the NP South A final, throwing a serious scare into St. Joe Metuchen. Senior forward Jay Howard was first-team All-South Jersey last season. Senior forward Matt Risse and seniors guards Ivan Robinson and DeVahnte Mosley also are top returners.
2. Atlantic City (30-2)
Senior guard Isaiah Graves and senior forward Dennis White are veterans of teams that won the last two Group 4 state titles. Senior guard Tashad Reynolds and sophomore guard Lamar Thomas played major minutes in big games last season. This team will miss leadership of graduated Dayshawn Reynolds.
3. Holy Spirit (16-11)
The Spartans return four starters and should get a lift from the return of point guard Uuhmad Collier, who started as a sophomore but sat out last season with an injury. Senior swingman Junior Sanitel is one of South Jersey's most talented players. Senior forward John Midi, junior guard John Middleton, junior forward Jordan Taylor and soph forward Leon Daniels are other top returners.
4. Pitman (24-6)
Villanova recruit Tim Delaney, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, leads the way along with Lafayette recruit Eric Stafford, a senior swingman. Senior guard Darnell Foreman is another top returner for the Panthers.
5. Haddonfield (25-4)
The Bulldogs return three starters, led by junior guards Nick and Rob DePersia. Senior center Abby Bah is another returning starter and senior forward Ted Stavetski and junior forward Jake Robinson saw major minutes last season. Bah, Robinson and Stavetski are football players who will play in SJ 2 title game on Saturday, so this team could take a little while to hit its stride.
6. Bishop Eustace (18-10)
The Crusaders took a hit when senior guard Dvonne Trumbo transferred out of state. But they still return senior guard Flo DaSilva, a University of the Sciences recruit, along with junior forwards Brandan Cazan and Connor McLaughlin as well as sophomore guard Mike Cohen.
7. Camden Catholic (20-8)
New coach Matt Crawford should have a solid team led by senior guards Rob Brosh and Tom Organ as well as junior big men Brendan Crawford and Demola Onifade, a 6-foot-9 athlete from Nigeria.
8. Rancocas Valley (25-3)
The Red Devils took a big hit when junior guard Ned Ogoemesim, who averaged a team-high 15.4 points last season, transferred to Life Center Academy. Junior guard Shaun Bradley was lost as well as he suffered a knee injury in football. But RV still returns Bloomsburg recruit Nick Davidson, a 6-foot-6 senior, at center as well as senior guard Vince Anfield and junior swingman Niall Carpenter. This was a top 3 team before the loss of Ogoemesim.
9. Camden (21-11)
New coach John Valore might be without senior guard Tavaris Headen until February 1, if not for the entire season. The Panthers return other top players such as sophomores Brad Hawkins and Jamal Holloway and junior guards Rasool Hinson and Will McCants.
10. Wildwood Catholic (22-6)
Seniors Eddie McWade, Jordan Robertson and Clinton Freeman return for a team that should be one of the strongest in the Cape-Alantic League this season.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Cherokee, Eastern, Lenape, Paulsboro, Pemberton, St. Augustine Prep, Schalick.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter