The Immaculate Conception boys basketball team could make some big moves up the county and state tournament ladders this season.

Before the Christmas weekend, the Lions were 4-0, with wins against the likes of East Orange and East Side.

Immaculate head coach John Salmon, whose team was 13-11 last year, believes that a 20-win season will bring along hardware.

"I believe we have a very tough schedule, and 20 games will be an indicator of our improvement over the last year," Salmon said.

The Lions will have a gauntlet of top teams on their schedule, including Seton Hall Prep, Roselle Catholic, St. Peter's Prep, Trenton Catholic and Don Bosco. Immaculate has already won two games out of state, at the American International College Invitational in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Immaculate Conception senior Tavian Pullock (23) returns after being named to the All Super Essex Conference American Division first team last season. Immaculate Conception started the season with a 4-0 mark as they target a 20-win season which is hoped to bring home hardware for the Lions boys basketball team. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Immaculate Conception senior Tavian Pullock (23) returns after being named to the All Super Essex Conference American Division first team last season. Immaculate Conception started the season with a 4-0 mark as they target a 20-win season which is hoped to bring home hardware for the Lions boys basketball team. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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Salmon points to the strengths of the team as speed and guard play.

He added that the team also is very deep and can have different starting fives throughout the season. In a 75-67 win over East Side on Dec. 20, the Lions’ starting five was junior guard T.J. Robinson (6-feet-3), junior center Malachi Arrington (6-10), freshman guard Jaren Barnett (5-9), senior wing Tavian Pullock (6-4) and freshman wing Kole Grandison (6-6).

"We do not have a set starting lineup," Salmon said. "We have a lot of guys who are similar, so it's a matter of riding the hot hand on any particular day."

Despite the 4-0 start, the coach believes his team can play better. "So far we've been up and down," he said. "There are a lot of new parts, but I think we'll get it together. I believe in this group."

Immaculate might very well get one of the top seeds in the Essex County Tournament, but it will be a tough ride to the finals. The Lions reached the county tournament semifinals last season, where they lost to Newark Central, 68-56.

"This may be the toughest the county has been in our eight years, so winning the ECT would be awesome," Salmon said. "Consistent team defense will be the key for us."

Two reasons for optimism this season are the return of Pullock and the arrival through transfer of Robinson, who excelled at Teaneck as a freshman before playing in Maryland as a sophomore.

Pullock was an All Super Essex Conference American Division first-team player last season, averaging 16 points per game. 

Immaculate Conception freshman Jaren Barnett (with ball) is one of the key additions to the Lions this season. Immaculate Conception started the season with a 4-0 mark as they target a 20-win season which is hoped to bring home hardware for the Lions boys basketball team. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Immaculate Conception freshman Jaren Barnett (with ball) is one of the key additions to the Lions this season. Immaculate Conception started the season with a 4-0 mark as they target a 20-win season which is hoped to bring home hardware for the Lions boys basketball team. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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"Tavian has really developed his overall game,” Salmon said. “As a four-year varsity player, we expect a lot out of him. He is our leader." 

The addition of Robinson gives Immaculate a big boost. Before playing a scrimmage for the Lions, he committed to the University of Louisville. He averaged 17 points per game for Teaneck as a freshman.

“T.J. brings a wealth of experience and talent to our squad," the coach said. "He's seen it all. His resume goes along with the top players in New Jersey."

Immaculate also has three senior guards who are quality sharpshooters: Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Rodriguez and Amir Dunlap. "Bryan, Amir and Jordan are our best shooters,” Salmon said. “When they're on, we can knock it down with anyone in our area.”

On the other side of the age spectrum, Salmon has two quality freshmen in Grandison and Barnett. "Both are wise beyond their classification," the coach said. "They will be counted on big time for us this year."

Another transfer this season who will bolster the inside play is Arrington, who came over from Roselle Catholic.

Also expected to contribute are junior guard Ben Price (6 feet) and sophomore wing Aleem Langevine (6-5). 

"Ben is a rugged player whose strength may be his attitude and drive," Salmon said. He added about Langevine: "He may be the best athlete in North Jersey."

Immaculate Conception boys basketball schedule
(Games at 4 p.m. unless noted)

Jan. 1 St. Peter's Prep, New Year Jump Off, at Bergen Catholic, 3 p.m.
Jan. 5 Trenton Catholic at Roselle Catholic, 6 p.m.
Jan. 7 Roselle Catholic at Kean University, 5 p.m.
Jan. 10 at Newark Central, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 Hudson Catholic at Mount St. Dominic, 7 p.m.
Jan. 14 Don Bosco Prep at Caldwell University
Jan. 16 Newark Arts at Paterson Catholic, 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 17 West Side
Jan. 19 at East Side
Jan. 21 Seton Hall Prep at Essex Fest, West Side, 3 p.m.
Jan. 24 East Orange
Jan. 25 at Teaneck, 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Rutgers Prep, 7 p.m.
Jan. 31 at Newark Arts
Feb. 2 at Seton Hall Prep, 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Feb. 5 Brooklyn Collegiate at Atlantic City, noon
Feb. 7 Newark Central
Feb. 9 at West Side, 7 p.m.
Feb. 11 Essex County Tournament, TBA