When Deptford boys basketball head coach Brandon Williams first took over the program two years ago, the Deptford alumnus said his first and foremost priority was to help make a positive impact on the lives of the young men who step onto the court for him each season.
“I wanted this job because, with me being from the community and me being a face that the kids recognize, I wanted to be able to make an impact on their lives,” Williams said, in an interview with South Jersey Sports Weekly during the early portion of last season. “I certainly want to get Deptford basketball back to where I know it can be, but I more so wanted to be able to help these kids in a variety of ways that I might not have been able to before.”
Fortunately for Deptford High School, Williams has been able to do both thus far in what’s been a quick two years as head coach for the Spartans.
Deptford finished last season with a 12-2 record in the COVID-shortened season, putting forth a perfect regular season record before suffering back-to-back losses in the first Tri-County Conference Bracket A tournament, thus finishing with a winning record for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Following Deptford’s recent 57-48 win over Timber Creek in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 tournament, Williams and his team snapped the program’s 11-year drought without a playoff victory, having last won against Moorestown during the 2010-11 season.
An undefeated divisional record during the regular season this year also clinched Deptford a second consecutive Tri-County Conference Liberty Division title; but despite all the success over the past two seasons, with more potentially still to come as the state playoffs continue, Williams said this season has felt more like his first season as head coach than last year did.
“Honestly, I felt like this has been my first season,” Williams said. “After everything last year with COVID and everything, this year we got a full 25-game season along with the TCC tournament and the state playoffs, this was my complete, first year … and the biggest thing with us is that it’s a family thing, we’ve gone through all of this together, between the coaches and the kids we have here.”
Much of the team’s on-the-court success has been due to the play of senior Virgil Scruggs and junior Josh Eli, who both played instrumental roles in the team’s recent playoff victory over Timber Creek.
The duo has been relentless on both sides of the ball for Deptford; Scruggs’ 529 points and 92 steals during the regular season were both the most in the Tri-County Conference while Eli’s 9.5 rebounds-per-game and 45 total blocks were both good for second within the conference, while also averaging 19.6 points-per-game as well.
The offensive and defensive talents of both student-athletes this season don’t surprise many, as both are in the midst of their third year as starters in the varsity lineup. The major contributions from Scruggs and Eli — coupled with the efforts from the team’s other top leading scorers in Chris Cooper, Mikey Long and Jordan Frazier — have helped create a strong culture and budding team chemistry on the floor for the Spartans.
After a strong regular season resulted in back-to-back losses in the Tri-County Conference Bracket A tournament last year, Scruggs said the team entered postseason play this year hungry to make some noise.
“It felt real good to get this win,” Scruggs said. “We came up short in the first round of the TCC last year and then we fell short again this year, we just want it more this year. We want to keep striving.”
Scruggs recorded his 1,000th career point for the Spartans near the end of the regular season, as the senior continues to put on the final touches of what’s been a stellar career at Deptford. Looking back, he said he thanks the coaches for having both believed in him and helped him mature, especially over the past two seasons.
“I grew into my game thanks to my coaches,” Scruggs said. “They told me what I need to do and what not to do on the court, I really just grew up thanks to them.”
The chemistry between Eli and Scruggs specifically has been a major reason for the team’s success during Williams’ second season with the Spartans; after graduating three seniors at the end of last season, Eli knew this season that he had to step into a larger role than he had previously. His evolution, and relationship with Scruggs, has meant big things for the Spartans.
“I knew coming in that I had to evolve and step up and be the man this year after we graduated those three seniors last year,” Eli said. “Scruggs and I have been playing together for three years now so that chemistry is great between us after all that time.”