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Former Rutgers standout leading basketball renaissance in Salem City

PITMAN - Jahki Coates and Amare Smith are well aware of Salem City’s signature.

The duo helped lead the Rams’ football program to its first sectional title since 1983 and proceeded to capture the school’s first-ever regional championship at Rutgers University last December. Coates scored 28 total touchdowns as Salem’s signal-caller and Smith was among state leaders with 19 sacks on defense.

Football is the driving force that unites the town. On the contrary, basketball has remained an afterthought.

After all, the program has celebrated only one winning season in the past decade.

Until now.

Coates and Smith, along with first-year head coach Anthony Farmer, are leading the Salem High School boys basketball team to new heights. The pair’s toughness and winning pedigree on the gridiron has translated to the hardwood.

“Coming from a winning program to a building program, it helps a lot,” Coates said. “You bring four to five football guys onto the court with the winning mentality already, knowing how to win games, knowing how to finish games, it helps out. That all comes from practice and being able to gain trust throughout the season.”

The Rams thundered past Pitman, 64-48, in a Tri-County Conference Classic Division matchup on Tuesday night. The victory extended Salem’s active winning streak to 11 games. It’s the Rams longest winning streak in over 10 years.

“It’s a good win,” Farmer said. “It’s not easy to continue winning no matter who you play (or) where you go.”

The first-year head coach has an extensive basketball resume that justifies his identification as an all-time South Jersey great. The 2005 St. Augustine Prep graduate led the Hermits to a NJSIAA Non-Public A state title in 2004 and accumulated 1,709 career points before continuing his academic and athletic career at Rutgers University.

While in Middlesex County, Farmer was named to the 2005-06 Big East Conference Men’s Basketball All-Freshman Team and eventually received the Abe Suydam Award honoring him as the Most Valuable Player of the 2007-08 Scarlet Knights men’s basketball team.

The Millville native proceeded to play professionally overseas in France and Hungry before venturing down the coaching avenue. Farmer accumulated a 33-44 record in three seasons at Middle Township before hopping in the driver’s seat at Salem.

“It helps shape and mold you,” Farmer said of his experiences. “Just the journey alone — so many life lessons, so many great minds, so many great players, so many great people that you run across. We always talk about in our program that we want our guys to become better men. That’s what it’s about. We try to teach life lessons through basketball.”

A balanced effort on Tuesday helped Salem pull away in the second half. Keith Brown and Millville transfer Zyahir Pickett led the way with 15 points apiece. Farmer’s son, Anthony Farmer, Jr., added 13 and finished 9-for-11 from the free throw line. Myles Rodgers tallied eight points and Smith contributed six with his established presence in the paint.

Senior Aiden Ewe led Pitman with a game-high 17 points. Freshman standout Elijah Crispin, the son of Pitman’s all-time leading scorer and current Rowan University head coach Joe Crispin, added 10 points in the setback.

Smith felt the hard-fought victory was a testament to Salem City’s grit.

“We deserve it,” Smith said. “We practice hard every day, we work hard every day. It’s some ups and downs, but we just keep going.”

Farmer, Jr. has paced the Rams with a team-high scoring average of 12.0 points per game. The sophomore played junior varsity at St. Augustine last winter and has quickly adjusted at his new school with the help of his father’s expertise, insight and trust.

“It’s just a blessing to come to school with him every morning and go home with him every night,” Farmer, Jr. said. “He’s been there and done that. He’s been at the highest level. It just makes my life a whole lot easier because I know what to expect and he knows what he expects from me. It makes me work a lot harder.”

Farmer, Jr. is also enjoying the time spent with his new teammates developing lifelong friendships and inseparable bonds.

Oh, and winning.

“I love it,” Farmer, Jr. said. “It’s fun. 11 games straight. Salem basketball’s not really known for that so to come down here and make an impact right away, it’s unexplainable.”

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