EHT Hoops Coach Cameron Bell: ‘We’re Right on Track’
The song “Mickey” by Toni Basil hit the charts in 1981 and became one of the biggest one-hit wonders of all time. You’re probably singing the lines right now — “hey, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey!”
“Baby Got Back” by Sir-Mix-a-Lot in 1992; “Barbie Girl” by Aqua in 1997, both big-time one-hit wonders.
Don’t put the Egg Harbor Township boys basketball team in that one-hit wonder conversation after the Eagles posted an eye-popping 14-1 record in the abbreviated 2021 season. Coach Cameron Bell believes his team has staying power, and he’s probably right. The Eagles will return their top three guards — D.J. Germann, Isaiah Glenn and Carlos Lopez — next year, and they happen to be the team’s leading scorers. Bell is really high on Glenn, who can be a big-time 3-point shooter and also finds ways to get to the rim and the free-throw line, and Lopez, a junior, eclipsed 1,000 career points in the season finale.
Coach Bell just completed his fifth season at the helm after taking over for George McNally, a very successful coach in his own right, and Bell said he thinks this program is right on track for big things.
He came in with a five-year plan and has stuck to it, and it’s producing results. The Eagles were below .500 in Bell’s first four seasons, but began showing signs of turning things around last season, when after a three-game losing streak to close out January, EHT went 6-3 in February, then beat Toms River North and Williamstown in the state playoffs before falling 57-55 in a gut-wrencher to Cherry Hill East in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals.
This year, the Eagles won the Cape-Atlantic League North division and their only loss came in mid-February to Holy Spirit on the road — sandwiching that loss was a five-game winning streak to start the season and a nine-gamer to close things out. The signature win came in the season finale, when EHT beat St. Joseph Academy, one of the top teams in all of South Jersey, 66-60.
“Really, the five-year plan is pretty much where I thought it would be. We were a little ahead of schedule two years ago when we got the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, that was the year we lost at home to (No. 9) Atlantic City. That was kind of about where I thought we’d be by that point, and last year I expected us to have that great run in the playoffs — I just expected us to be a little better during the regular season. We were a little young so we hit some bumps in the road, but when the playoffs came, I knew what we had, I knew the talent we had and I knew how hard the guys were working,” said Bell, who is a history teacher at the school. “We’ve been building. I know the majority of the kids in this town and I have for a long time between the recreation programs, the travel teams, the school teams — so I knew all the talent that was coming up in a school district this large. So we’re kind of right on track to where I would have anticipated us to be by year No. 5.”
Bell said his biggest challenge early on was convincing really good players to stay at EHT when there are top-flight parochial programs such as Holy Spirit, St. Joseph Academy and St. Augustine Prep just a stone’s throw away. A big keep for Bell, he said, was former forward Isaih Walsh.
“The biggest challenge (early on) was just keeping guys in our district. It really started with my first year with Isaih Walsh, who everybody wanted. Getting him to come here as a freshman was big for us. The younger guys who were under him, who looked up to him, said to themselves, ‘if he’s staying home maybe this is a place we can go,’” Bell said.
“And he started seeing success, and the next class featured J.J. Germann, Rahim Muhammad and Ethan Dodd, which I knew was going to be the lynchpin class for us along with the guys who were there when I took over. (Jordan) Sweeney was a sophomore my first year, Michael Dodd was a sophomore that year, and the following year Carlos Lopez transferred back home to EHT (from Williamstown). Then we had guys like D.J. (Germann), Christian Rando and we have (sophomore guard Jay-Nelly) Reyes, who didn’t play a lot this year but he’s a guy who can play.
“We want guys to stay home. We have a great academic school — EHT is one of the top academic schools around here, and we’re also pretty good at sports as well.”
Bell said the key for he and his staff when it came to building a successful program was communication — with the players, with the parents, among the coaching staff. Everybody has to be on the same page, he said.
“The biggest thing I learned in Year One had nothing to do with Xs and Os, it was all about communication and being open. Communicating with the players, communicating with the parents and getting everybody on board and involved, and making them feel like they were all a part of the program. I wanted us to feel like we were all in this together, and that’s one area I’ve really focused on and gotten a lot better at. I want the players to know that as much as it’s my team, it’s more their team and we’ll go as far as they commit. And as long as we’re all on the same page, we can get where we want to go together,” Bell said. “It’s fantastic having the freshman and junior varsity running the same stuff. The language I speak at the varsity level trickles down; it’s the same language being spoken by everyone, so when a guy comes from freshman or JV to me, I don’t have to spend that extra time trying to get them up to speed. It’s great having everybody on the same page. It’s that idea of having a vertical program, and everything feeds up to the varsity.”
Some in South Jersey may still see EHT as a .500 program but that doesn’t bother Bell. He’s never been lacking in confidence, and he’s eager to show everybody just how good Eagles basketball can be. He believes the 2021 season was just the appetizer.
“As far as confidence goes, I’ve never lacked that. But I’m quiet, I don’t say much. I let the score and the players speak for themselves, but (having success) is a validation of sorts. When you first come in you take a few lumps here and there, and people talk. I don’t pay much attention to it, but we’re all human so we hear it. Especially in this town — I live in this town, I grew up in this town and I know pretty much everyone in this town, so even if people don’t say things directly to me, I hear it. I always believe in my system and what I do. I never question my basketball knowledge, but I’ve been getting better at communicating my vision to everyone, the players and the parents and the community,” he said. “I’m beyond excited (for the future). This year wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t a one-and-done for us. I truly believe that we’re in contention — if not the front-runner — for a Group 4 state title next year. We bring back our top three scorers next year and we have young guys who people don’t really know about but who have been working and biding their time. I’m really excited for the next few years. This isn’t a one-and-done. I have a plan. We started with the five-year plan, and I have another five-year plan that comes in right after that, and then beyond that as well. There is some talent at the lower levels, even all the way down to third and fourth grade, I see all these kids.”
“My mindset was to just come out there and play hard, play as a team and run through our sets. We played a lot of good defense and we just played really hard. We gave it all we had. This was a real good win for us, especially it being my last game,” senior J.J. Germann said after the win over St. Joe. “In past years we may have had some bad seasons, but this year we’re 14-1 and this is a really good win for us. The coaches have changed up some things and our younger guys got a little bit older and matured more.”
“This means everything for the program. We were 13-1 but everybody was saying how our schedule was light and that we weren’t beating good teams. This really shows we can play with anyone and we’re one of the best teams in the CAL. Going into next season (EHT) is going to be one of the top teams, without a doubt. With guys like Isaiah Glenn, Carlos and D.J., they’re going to be really good,” fellow senior Ethan Dodd added after that win. “This feels great. It’s an awesome way to finish my career. I’ll miss playing here, it was an awesome experience just getting that adrenaline rush every time we played a game, playing in front of the home crowd — even though we didn’t get to much this year — I’ll miss it. I’ll miss it all.
“The future for these guys is a state Group 4 title, I’m telling you that right now. This is a special group.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
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