By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Normally, we would be three weeks into high school basketball season by now.
But as we all know, things are not normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back the start and shortened the length of high school basketball season.
Wildwood Catholic Academy senior Martin Anguelov is using that delay to his benefit.
Anguelov suffered a Jones fracture to the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot while playing in a fall tournament in September. He had surgery in early October and only had a walking boot removed four weeks ago.
Had the season started on time in late December, “I doubt I would have played the first game, no,” Anguelov said. “So this definitely helped me out.”
That delay now has Wildwood Catholic set to begin a season shortened to 15 games on Jan. 26. The Crusaders are scheduled to play at Cape May Tech on opening night. Anguelov, one of the best shooters in South Jersey, is optimistic he’ll be in the starting lineup.
“Right now I’m hopeful and positive that I’ll be able play on the 26th of January,” Anguelov said. “I’m doing good. It’s getting better every day. The bone is healed, so that’s a good sign at this point. I just need to get the strength back in my foot so I can sprint and change direction the way I used to.”
Anguelov has shot 45 percent from three-point range and has already made 233 three-pointers in his career, which began at Lower Cape May before he transferred to Wildwood Catholic in the middle of his sophomore season. He sat out the first four games of last season as part of NJSIAA transfer rules, then started a bit slowly with his new team.
But by the end of the season, Anguelov was playing as well as anyone in the region. He averaged 19.5 points per game in four state playoff games, netting his 1,000th career point in a sectional semifinal victory over Mater Dei. He then produced one of the best all-around games of his career in the Crusaders’ win over Rutgers Prep in the South Jersey title game, mixing 17 points with five rebounds, four assists and even two blocked shots.
Anguelov said he would not be able to play if a game was scheduled for this week.
“I’m limited,” he said. “I’m doing some shooting drills and some jogging. I’m not able to do full-court five-on-five yet. But I’m progressing. I’m doing al ot of dribbling and a lot of drills on the (exercise) bike.”
Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese, while acknowledging the severity of Anguelov’s injury, which was the same one suffered by the Sixers’ Ben Simmons that forced him to miss his entire rookie season, believes the top returning scorer to his team will be ready to go for opening night.
“He’s a tireless worker,” the coach said. “Having this injury obviously set him back but I think he did everything he could possibly do during the time period when he was immobile to get himself ready for the season. He did all kinds of upper-body workouts. Basically, whatever he could do that didn’t impact the foot, he did it. Now that he’s been cleared to start working out, he’s at it every single day. Every opportunity he has, he’s doing all he can to get ready for the season.”
Wildwood Catholic, which also won the Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament for the third straight year in addition to its South Jersey title, enjoyed arguably the best season in program history last winter before COVID-19 shut down the team’s opportunity to play for a state championship.
This season, there will likely be no championships. The NJSIAA has already announced that no state tournament will be held. The organization has given conferences and leagues the opportunity to hold their own playoff tournaments, but at this point the CAL has announced no such plans.
Anguelov, though, still has a lot to play for.
“I’m looking forward to just playing with my team,” he said. “I’m thankful we have games. We can compete and I can be on the floor with my team for one more year.”
Anguelov averaged 10.8 points per game for the season as a junior, taking a reduced role behind seniors Taj Thweatt, who’s now at West Virginia; Jahlil White, who’s now at Temple; and Jacob Hopping, who’s now at the The College of New Jersey.
“Last year was a great experience, mostly because I got to play very tough competition,” Anguelov said. “We got to play against some of the best players in the tri-state area. Playing with Taj and Jahlil, two Division I players, I learned a lot from them and I got used to going up against players like them in practice. It was a great experience all around.”
Anguelov’s role figures to significantly increase this season.
“We’re fortunate to have four seniors who are going to play a big role and be leaders on this team and he’s obviously one of them,” DeWeese said. “I think we saw last year was an adjustment for him to fit into his role and to blend in with the team chemistry and I think this year will be another adjustment for him because his role will be expanding from what it was last year. We’re certainly going to rely on him for much more scoring, for one.”
Anguelov wants to work on carving out that role as quickly as possible.
“I’m doing every I can, everything in my power, to be back as soon as possible and as safely as possible,” Anguelov said. “I can’t wait to play.”