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It is awards season in Shore Conference basketball and to get you ready for the unveiling of those awards, plus the 2023 Shore Sports Network All-Shore Teams this week, Shore Sports Network is going to provide a look at the unofficial finalists for each of its three individual awards for the season: Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

This post includes the top three finalists for the big one: Shore Sports Network Player of the Year. The three finalists not only put up big numbers and exhibited immense talent throughout the season, but did so in some of the biggest games played in the Shore Conference this season. The finalists include one senior, one junior and one sophomore, so while we bid farewell to one of the three, we can all look forward to seeing two of them again in 2024.

Read through the candidates and tell us your pick is for the winner by voting in the poll at the bottom of the post.*

* - The results of the poll will not determine the winner. Shore Sports Network Basketball Editor Matt Manley makes final selections for all awards winners. Still, feel free to exert your influence by voting for your choice.

Finalists listed alphabetically

Darius Adams, So., 6-3, Guard, Manasquan

The only non-senior on last year’s Shore Sports Network All-Shore First Team, Adams was the rare freshman to crack the First Team – a feat that has been reserved for some of the elite players in Shore Conference history, most recently by Bryan Antoine (2016). In one season, Adams went from a First Team guard to a leading candidate for Shore Conference Player of the Year and based on what he showed during his sophomore campaign, the only way he is not in the conversation for the award in either of the next two season would be if he is hurt or he transfers somewhere outside the conference.

Manasquan sophomore Darius Adams. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Manasquan sophomore Darius Adams. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)

So far, he has been a model of durability and a program-defining player for a Manasquan team that has churned out decorated players over the last two decades. Adams would be Manasquan’s second player to win Player of the Year, with 2022 graduate Ben Roy winning the award in both 2020 and 2021 before missing his senior season due to a torn ACL.

During his sophomore campaign, Adams finished third in the Shore Conference with 20.4 points per game while also putting up 7.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Adams was particularly good in Manasquan’s highest-profile games, scoring 26 points at Monmouth University in the Shore Conference Tournament final against Ranney and putting up 22 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks at Rutgers in the Group II championship game vs. Caldwell.

With Adams leading the way, Manasquan beat Ranney for its third Shore Conference championship in four years and its win over Caldwell clinched the Warriors their first ever NJSIAA Group championship.

Isaac Hester, Sr., 6-0, Guard, Ranney

Other than Adams, Hester is the only player in the Shore Conference this season to have earned a First-Team All-Shore selection, which he nabbed as a sophomore in 2021. He is already a two-time All-Shore player, lined up for another honor this season after pulling in a Second-Team nod a year ago.

Ranney senior Isaac Hester. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Ranney senior Isaac Hester. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)

Hester was an automatic 20 points to open the season and with Ranney waiting until mid-January to get senior transfer Jahlil Bethea eligible. He scored at least 21 points in Ranney’s first 14 games, which covered the entirety of Bethea’s absence. His highest-scoring outing during that stretch was a 34-point game in a loss at Point Pleasant Boro.

During the Shore Conference Tournament, Hester had the standout performance. In an SCT quarterfinal win over Toms River North, Hester went off for 33 points on 12-for-17 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. That performance, plus his 23 points in an overtime win over St. Rose in the semifinals, spearheaded Ranney’s run to the SCT championship game. By the end of his senior season, Hester posted averages of 21.9 points (second in the conference), 7.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.96 steals.

Matthew Hodge, Jr., 6-8, Forward, St. Rose

Hodge and his younger brother, Jayden, moved to New Jersey from Belgium and it did not take long for Matt to establish himself as one of the state’s best players. At 6-foot-8, Hodge puts every skill imaginable on display: he brings the ball up, plays in the high and low posts, is a precision passer, can shoot the three, exhibits eye-popping athleticism and has a positive, unflappable personality that rubs off on teammates.

St. Rose junior Matt Hodge. (Photo: Tom Smith |
St. Rose junior Matt Hodge. (Photo: Tom Smith |

That combination played out in a well-rounded average stat line of 14.75 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.75 steals, 1.4 blocks, a field-goal percentage better than 50 percent and a 72-percent free-throw percentage. Arbitrary as the combination may be, he is the only player at the Shore to check off averages of 14-plus points, nine-plus rebounds, 3.5-plus assists, 1.5-plus steals and one or more blocks per game.

Hodge introduced himself to the Shore with a 20-point performance in a win over Manasquan that included six three-pointers, then winning MVP at the Albert E. Martin Buc Holiday Classic in late December. He came up one assist shy of a triple-double vs. St. John Vianney at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase at Brookdale Community College and averaged 20 points in two games vs. the top team in the state (Roselle Catholic).

St. Rose won its first NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B championship in 19 years and reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time ever, with Hodge averaging 17.4 points, 10 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.14 blocks during postseason play.

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