Jamil Wilkins (2) waves to the audience moments after Egg Harbor Township defeated Lenape, 41-36, in the South Jersey Group 4 final at Lenape High School in Medford, New Jersey on Tuesday, February 28, 2023. Joshua Guirguis/D2 Sports Network
MEDFORD (N.J.) - It started with a direct message via Twitter.
Cameron Bell vowed that the Egg Harbor Township boys' basketball team would be back in the sectional title hunt this season. Bell sent the message after the Eagles fell to Lenape in last year's South Jersey Group 4 semifinals.
His belief in his program stemmed from the return of point guard D.J. Germann.
"We'll be back next season. D.J. Germann is the real deal," Bell wrote.
Germann and teammate Jay-Nelly Reyes were the only two returning starters from last season's sectional semifinalist team. With the arrivals of Holy Spirit transfer Jamil Wilkins, football captain Christian Rando and Keion Elliot's return home from Las Vegas, the Eagles' starting lineup showed promise, but left questions to be answered.
As it turned out, Germann, and a few others, were the real deal. In the process, doubts were erased.
Bell's message proved to be true as Egg Harbor Township exceeded last season's finish and earned its first sectional title in school history with a 41-36 triumph over Lenape in the South Jersey Group 4 final on Tuesday night.
"The first to do anything will always be remembered," Bell said. "We will go down in the history of Egg Harbor Township forever. It means everything to me, personally, as an alumni, as someone who purposely moved back to Egg Harbor Township to be a role model and example for young African Americans in Egg Harbor. And really for everybody.
"I love that town. I love that town more than it probably deserves, but I am EHT, and it means the world to me."
Bell's direct message wasn't the last interaction to relate to the Eagles' journey.
Following a blowout loss to Camden Catholic at the Seagull Classic earlier this season, Bell voiced his thoughts on his team's uncharacteristic play during a conversation over dinner in the coaches' room following the setback.
It felt like a case of identity theft for Egg Harbor Township. Bell wasn't sure what team walked off the bus that day, but he knew the outcome didn't define their season and the performance wasn't a representation of who they were.
If anything, it laid the foundation for who they would become.
"That was the only game all year where we just weren't ourselves," Bell said. "Some people criticized me for the way I coached down the stretch of the game, but I wanted to say to them it was January 9th, not February 9th. I needed them on that court because I needed them to battle through adversity.
"I think I proved my point, and they proved their point. They turned the page immediately and kept fighting after that game."
The Eagles responded with wins in 19 of their next 22 contests. Egg Harbor Township also extended its current win streak to nine games with the redemption victory over the top-seeded Indians.
The departure from Lenape after a 14-point loss in the playoffs last season left the junior class and their coaches restless.
Germann couldn't forget. He responded with a team-high 15 points, four rebounds and four steals to reverse the outcome on Tuesday.
"This means a lot coming in losing last year and then coming back and getting revenge," Germann said. "That drove us a lot. We couldn't stop thinking about it and we just kept working harder and harder.
"This is exactly what I envisioned in my head. People didn't really believe in us, but I believed in us 100 percent. That we would come back and be in the same position that we were last year but be better."
Egg Harbor Township's D.J. Germann (1) dribbles as Lenape's James Wright (15) defends in the South Jersey Group 4 final played at Lenape High School in Medford, New Jersey on Tuesday, February 28, 2023. Joshua Guirguis/D2 Sports Network
Reyes charted 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. The senior delivered a 3-pointer on an assist from Germann to establish a 34-29 cushion with about four and a half minutes left to play. The Indians were unable to narrow the deficit to less than five points.
Wilkins finished with seven points, two rebounds and two assists. Rando led Egg Harbor Township with eight rebounds.
"They ended our season last year, but guess what, we got practice tomorrow," Reyes said.
Lenape concluded its campaign with a 22-8 record and repeated as the Olympic Conference American Division champion.
Tye Dorset scored 12 of his game-high 16 points in the second half. Medford Tech transfer Myles Primas added 10 first-half points and James Wright contributed six.
"I'm super proud," Lenape coach Matt Wolf said. "I told the seniors and then the whole group how proud I was of them. They had one hell of a season. If it weren't for COVID, we'd have four division titles in four years. It doesn't take away what they've accomplished and I'm super proud of them."
Egg Harbor Township (27-5) will advance to play Trenton in the NJSIAA Group 4 state semifinals at Central Regional High School in Berkeley Township on Thursday at 7 pm.
Reyes was right.
The Eagles are guaranteed another day of practice.
And they will enjoy each minute of the experience.
"This is such a great group," Bell said. "They love each other. They've been friends since they were in elementary school. Even though Jamil went to Holy Spirit and when Keion graduated eighth grade he moved to Vegas, but they always stayed in touch, and they've always stayed together. Even though Christian didn't play last year, he played his freshman and sophomore year, we knew they were all coming back. They truly love each other."