Meet Justin Harper, the Wildwood Catholic senior who is enjoying a great season

For a senior who averages a double-double every night, it’s hard to believe Justin Harper has been flying under the radar.

The 6-foot-3 guard has made a name for himself in the Cape-Atlantic League. But outside of CAL, Wildwood’s prominent Catholic is relatively unknown.

Maybe it’s the team’s lack of success.

Maybe it’s that he’s only been playing basketball since the eighth grade.

One thing is for sure, Harper belongs in the conversation when it comes to the best players in South Jersey.

“I’m biased. But dollar for dollar, he’s the best player in the Cape-Atlantic League,” Wildwood Catholic first-year coach Will Wareham said. He wants to improve.”

Averaging 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, Harper is just beginning to realize his potential. He moved from Bridgeton to Vineland in the eighth grade, football being his favorite sport before the move.

“All I’ve been around since I moved in has been basketball players,” he said. “It is my happiness”.

Harper attended Vineland as a freshman and sophomore, seeing varsity time but playing in only a handful of games. He transferred to Wildwood Catholic last season, but was limited to 11 games.

It’s been a great winter, with Harper finally getting the chance to show off her array of skills.

“He’s a relentless offensive player who is strong on the ball and can play inside or out,” Ocean City coach John Bruno said. “He can dominate a game with his scoring ability and he can lead his team at times.”

Heading into Tuesday’s Cape Atlantic League Tournament opener against Oakcrest, Harper has 16 double-doubles, including a streak of seven in a row. Included were games of 21 points and 17 rebounds against Egg Harbor Township, 32 and 21 against Holy Spirit, and 29 and 16 against Williamstown.

Harper scored a career-high 37 in a win over St. Joseph (Hamm.) and has been limited to scoring in single figures just twice in 24 games. His 21 boards against Holy Spirit were also a career high.

“He’s a tough, gutsy player who never loses plays on either side of the ball,” Egg Harbor Township coach Cameron Bell said. “He is the heart and soul of Wildwood Catholic.”

Harper models his game after Los Angeles Clippers standout Paul George, saying he can “shoot the ball, get to the basket, create my own shot.”

“I expected to have a big role, to be a leader in my senior year,” Harper added. “There’s a lot of wear and tear on my body, but I do the best I can in every game.”

Wareham likes Harper’s mental toughness as well as what he brings to the field athletically. He believes that his leader will become a point guard at the collegiate level.

“His level of toughness and how much he wants to improve has made him successful,” Wareham said. “He played four games as a sophomore and finished with a shorter season last year.

“He is on his third coach in three years, but he really wants to improve. He will call me and ask me about basketball terminology; he asks about stains on the floor, what can we do to get the guys to open shots. His skill set continues to improve and his best asset is the ability to distribute the ball.”

While his high school career is coming to an end, his basketball career is just beginning. Harper said he has drawn interest from Division II and III college programs and definitely wants to play at the next level.

Said Wareham: “He’s getting better every game.”

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Kevin Minnick covers South Jersey men’s basketball. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @kminnicksports