The trick to watching Jacquey Mendez play basketball is to locate him on the floor.
As a sophomore, he was running around trying to cover the top offensive player on the other team. Last year he could be found bringing the ball up and distributing, while also clamping down on the opposition’s offensive threat.
And this season?
How about a little bit of everything.
“What makes him really special this year is he’s now ‘The Man,’” coach John Myers said. “We have this very young team of very, very talented sophomores. His responsibility now is to run the team, be the leader, be the guy that keeps those kids up. Also be the guy who does whatever is needed in a particular game. Whether it’s to defend the best player, have 15 rebounds, score 20. It just depends on the game. He’s done a really nice job handling that.”
Mendez’s talents have made Bordentown one of Burlington County’s surprise teams this year, to everyone but the coach and his star. After winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title in Mendez’s sophomore year, the Scotties graduated high-scoring Myron Gordon and Dante Gipson. Last season, Bordentown went 20-9 and lost two more point producers in Manny Ansong and Darnill Brown.
With doom and gloom forecasted, Mendez has elevated his game and the Scotties were 8-3 as of Jan. 19. Mendez was the team’s leading scorer (16.5 points per game), rebounder (7.0) and assist man (3.2), and was second on the team to Jordan Martin in steals with 29.
“My junior year I learned more about the role of scoring, going to the basket more,” Mendez said. “I’m not really a shooter, I like going more toward the basket, getting to the free throw line and being more of a defensive player. This year I’m getting to the basket more, and looking for more assists. I’m sharing the rock with my teammates and knocking down the shots when I have them.”
And with sophomores Martin, Gavin Shiver and Roshon Van Kline chipping in along with junior Jaedan Sheehan and senior Amani Harris-Morales, Bordentown is right where Myers expected it to be.
“My expectations, as opposed to what other people thought we would be, are night and day,” the coach said. “I’ve always thought this team would be good, because I knew the young talent and some of the kids we were getting back, and who Jacquey was.
“But over the course of four years, you lose a Myron Gordon and a Dante Gipson and you lose a Darnill Brown and a Manny Ansong, and obviously everybody thinks it’s over. We didn’t play particularly well in the summer, we were .500 at Moody Park but I still saw it. Our three losses are to three top 20 teams in South Jersey. Every single one of them, if you saw the film, you’d be like ‘If you were more experienced, you would have won.’”
That being said, Myers feels a few titles are not out of reach. His team leader certainly agrees.
“I did see this team being pretty good,” Mendez said. “I see us going to another sectional championship and coming out with a W. When we go on the court before a game I feel like teams look at us like an underdog, like they’re gonna run right over us. But when that tip-off begins; our young sophomores show up and teams learn not to underestimate us anymore.”
‘I want to win a sectional championship and win our division. I want to have fun, but I still want to win.’
They certainly don’t underestimate Mendez, who averaged 14.8 points last year while handing out 62 assists. Not bad for someone who started out as a baseball guy in Trenton’s Chambersburg Little League.
“I moved to Bordentown in fourth grade but continued to play sports in Trenton,” he said. “I loved baseball most of all. But I began to get more aggressive and my mom took me to football. Then I took that aggressiveness into basketball. Baseball was getting too competitive for me, and I felt like I would have a better chance playing basketball and football in high school.”
He was right, as Mendez has been a star in both sports, and also runs track in the spring to stay in shape. He is getting looked at by Division III coaches in both sports and feels he will probably opt for football. Lloyd is certain he could excel at basketball if he took that route.
Right now, however, the coach is happy to have him on the Scotties.
“This is one of the hardest playing teams I’ve ever had in 20 years,” Myers said. “We play hard, hard, hard, and you could probably equate that back to Jacquey. He and Amani Harris-Morales—that dude’s been playing out of his mind, he plays stupid hard, never takes anything off. But neither does Jacquey. It’s probably the combination of both of them.”
It is a tone that Mendez takes pride in setting.
“They see what kind of aggressiveness I play with,” he said. “No matter what the score is up on the scoreboard, if we’re winning by 20 or losing by 20, you always have to play with 100 percent effort and give a 100 percent effort and they’re all taking that attitude this year.”
Energy and hustle aside, Mendez also brings stellar ability to the floor. Myers noted he is shooting close to 70 percent from inside the 3-point line; but if needed, he will pop from behind the arc. If the Scotties are trailing at halftime, he could go off for 18 after the break. If he scored 16 in the first half to help them to a lead, Mendez will focus on keeping that lead and not worry about his points.
“I like having different responsibilities,” he said. “I’m more of a defensive guy but I can put numbers up on the board. I like doing different things every year, it teaches me how to be a better player. Playing with all those great players, I learned something new from every one of them.”
And if Mendez does play football in college, he wants to make the most of his final season in shorts and sneakers.
“It is about fun at the end of the day, but I still want to accomplish things,” he said. “I want to go farther than before, I want to win a sectional championship and win our division. I want to have fun, but I still want to win.”