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Roselle Catholic's chances to repeat as Tournament of Champions king next winter seemed to deflate when star shooting guard Malachi Richardson transferred several weeks ago to Trenton Catholic.
Promise was blown back up fully Tuesday morning when talented combo guard Isaiah Briscoe enrolled at Roselle Catholic after transferring from St. Benedict's Prep in Newark.
"I think it's absolutely a realistic goal," Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said hours after Briscoe made his expected move official. It was revealed days earlier that the 6-4 standout would likely be headed to the Lions.
Briscoe is a five-star national recruit for the class of 2015, with offers already from the likes of Arizona, Indiana, Syracuse, Ohio State, Michigan, UCLA, Rutgers and Seton Hall. He stars in the off-season with the highly visible Playaz AAU program.
"We'll enter the season with a couple other teams with enough talent to win the whole thing. We'll have to develop over the year, have to take some bumps along the road, as we did last year, and react to those things well," Boff said. "And when push comes to shove, you have to be playing great basketball for six or seven games at the end of the season."
Roselle Catholic's first 30 days of the 2013-14 season will likely be trying without Brisoe, who must sit for that duration per NJSIAA transfer rules. Briscoe, a Union resident, is not making a change in residence, so is ineligible to play immediately.
"That's not a problem," George Briscoe, Isaiah's father, said. "They've got a weight room there and he'll be practicing, so he'll be ready to go. Isaiah's going to be working, he's going to keep grinding."
Briscoe burst onto the New Jersey basketball scene as a surprisingly strong, confident freshman guard and helped guide St. Benedict's through a splendid two-season run. The Gray Bees were a combined 66-5, reaching the ESPN National High School Invitational semifinals in 2012 and the championship game last spring. Briscoe scored 11 points in that 67-65 loss to Montverde of Florida.
Briscoe averaged 14.7 points, 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.25 steals last season for St. Benedict's and scored 946 points in his first two years. He can both incorporate teammates into the flow of the offense with his exceptional ball handling and playmaking sense and can also score in big chunks with his variety of tools.
"I haven't seen him a ton, but I've always liked his scoring consistency," Boff said. "He gets to the rim, gets to the foul line and he's a good shooter. His strength is a plus, his rebounding at his position is huge plus."
Briscoe did not leave St. Benedict's with any ill feelings whatsoever, according to his dad. He enjoyed playing for head coach Mark Taylor and was friendly with his teammates. Isaiah just felt he could enjoy a fuller high school experience at Roselle Catholic, which is only a mile and a half from his home in Union.
"I love Mark, Father Ed (Headmaster Rev. Edwin Leahy). Everybody at Benedict's was good to us," George Briscoe said. "But this wasn't about me. Isaiah wanted a change. We're very happy about this."
The elder Briscoe said his son's academic work is up to par and has no bearing on the move, and that basketball is definitely not the sole reason for the transfer. But, even though St. Benedict's has a strong reputation and finished No. 2 nationally in some polls, it does not participate in the NJSIAA tournament. Roselle Catholic's thrilling run last March through the Non-Public B state tournament and onto the T of C final certainly captured Isaiah's attention.
"I've been following Roselle Catholic a long time," George Briscoe said. "They've come a long way. They went from not being invited to events to hosting their own major events. The program has turned around. And we like the coaches and the people there. Those people are involved."
Along with losing Richardson, Roselle Catholic graduated All-State forward Tyler Roberson (Syracuse), point guard Hakim Saintil (South Alabama) and Kory Highsmith. The Lions return a good deal of young talent in rising sophomore point guard Asante Gist, sophomore combo guard Matt Bullock and junior forward Chris Silva.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS