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VIDEO: Wildwood Catholic’s fabulous freshman

Marianna Papazoglou and the Wildwood Catholic girls basketball team will face Holy Cross in the opening round of the state tournament.

Wildwood Catholic freshman Marianna Papazoglou is averaging 22.3 points per game through the first four games of her high school career.

WILDWOOD – The first time Steve DiPatri saw Marianna Papazoglou play was when the now Wildwood Catholic High School freshman was in the fifth grade. She attended a skills clinic for youth players that DiPatri organized.

“The thing I remember most is that she was the first one there and the last one to leave,” the Crusader coach recalled. “You could tell how special was then as a fifth-grader.”

Papazoglou is now displaying those special talents at the high school level.

A 5-10 forward, Papazoglou has taken the Cape-Atlantic League by storm so far this season. She’s averaging 22.3 points and approximately 10 rebounds and five assists through four games after netting 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 48-24 win over Bridgeton in a Battle at the Boards showcase game at the Boardwalk Basketball Classic on Saturday.

DiPatri, who coached a handful of Division I players during his previous coaching stint at Sacred Heart, ranks Papazoglou among the very best players he’s had at the time they entered the program.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some very talented players and Marianna certainly ranks among the top one percent of those players coming into high school,” he said. “She has a skill set and a personal demeanor and the work ethic to continue to develop to the point where she’s going to leave her mark not just at Wildwood Catholic, but also in Cape May County, and in the Cape-Atlantic League and in South Jersey.”

When she first started playing the game, Papazoglou was often the tallest player on the floor. That naturally made coaches push her into the post, where she often dominated against smaller competition.

But as she grew older, Papazoglou began playing AAU basketball and going to a personal trainer for basketball in Wayne Nelson, a former overseas professional player who’s currently the boys basketball coach at Winslow Township High School. Papazoglou quickly developed more and improved ball handling skills. Her outside shooting prowess has improved to the point that she’s now a viable threat from three-point range. That was on display in a close loss to Middle Township last week, when she sank four three-point shots and poured in 33 points.

“When I started playing AAU and going to a personal trainer, that was really helpful for my off-the-dribble moves,” Papazoglou said. “It has me moving better as a player. I think it helps my team, too, because when the guards get in trouble and I can help them get the ball up the floor.”

Thanks to her vast experience with high-level AAU teams such as the Philadelphia Rebels and the South Jersey Starz, Papazoglou has been able to adjust quickly to the rigors of high school basketball.

“High school is definitely a different level of basketball,” Papazoglou said. “It’s more of a challenge and you have to be more disciplined. If you don’t execute like your coach says, it’s much more of a big deal than it was in middle school.”

DiPatri believes can galvanize Wildwood Catholic’s program as it moves forward.

“Her ability to pass and find open players, as well as score and lead, is years ahead of any other freshman I’ve ever seen,” DiPatri said. “But not only is she a great player, she’s a great person. Her parents do a great job keeping her grounded.

“She’s a servant leader as well. She’s constantly checking on her teammates to make sure they are involved and feel involved.”

Papazoglou is one of four freshmen in the regular rotation for Wildwood Catholic. She’s looking forward to see what she and her teammates can accomplish.

“It’s really fun,” Papazoglou said. “There are a lot more opportunities to play in high school basketball and it’s great to get to play with new people and that you get to know more people. Our team is all expecting the same thing. We want to help each other and we want to learn and develop more skills.”

Wildwood Catholic’s Erin Connolly (right) and a Bridgeton player collide while in pursuit of a loose ball during Saturday’s Boardwalk Basketball Classic game.

Wildwood Catholic’s Lauren McCallion passes to a teammate out of the high post during Saturday’s game against Bridgeton.