BY Jerry Carino
It's no accident Stonehill College men's basketball is a consistent contender in Division II. The Skyhawks have mined New Jersey's high schools for years.
"We've gone to New Jersey for a lot of guys because of the toughness that they bring," Stonehill coach Chris Kraus said. "The high school level in New Jersey is as good as anywhere in the country. Those kids are used to playing against a certain talent level. You want them because they're going to be ready. The guys we have now are great examples of that."
Cole, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, is averaging 12.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
"He's one of the best rebounders in our league (the Northeast-10), and this year he's taken on more of a scoring role for us," Kraus said. "He has been very, very consistent."
Cole is the Skyhawks' lone senior and a four-year starter who played a key role on Stonehill's Division II Final Four team his freshman season. A former quarterback who led New Providence's football team to a sectional title, Cole brings a multi-sport athlete's competitiveness to the table.
"He has that football player's mentality -- put the pads on and let's go," Kraus said. "He tries to hit first."
Brix, a junior guard, brought a winner's mentality after helping St. Joseph-Metuchen High School capture the NJSIAA Non-Public A title as a senior there. He is averaging 5.9 points per game and shooting 56 percent from the field -- an astounding number for a guard.
"Danny, especially over the last couple of weeks, has really figured out his game," Kraus said. "He makes great decisions with the ball in his hands, knows defenses, understands when to attack versus when to move."
Kraus will call on Brix for defensive stopper assignments, something the latter knows a thing or two about.
"At St. Joes, he got the toughest matchup defensively," Kraus said. "He's been a great defender for us."
Walsh, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, was known as a rebounding machine at Manasquan High. Now he's rounding out his game nicely, averaging 5.3 points and 4.0 boards.
"He's starting to get a lot more confidence and comfortable playing at this level," Kraus said. "He's one of those high-motor guys -- constantly going after it, always fighting and scrapping."
That doesn't mean he's only a grinder. Walsh has hit 12 3-pointers and is connecting on a respectable 33 percent of downtown looks.
"He's shooting the ball well, can play inside or out," Kraus said. "He's a potential mismatch problem."
The Northeast-10 is one of the better Division II conferences, and Stonehill, which is located in Massachusetts, is 5-4 in league play with a rotation of mostly underclassmen.
"We're definitely on the right path, the direction to get the program back to where it should be," Kraus said.
That path has a direct connection to the Garden State.