That dramatic improvement earned veteran head coach Kevin Bianco The Hudson Reporter Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year honors.
Now, it’s a new season for the Bruins and despite losing top scorer Kayton Darley to graduation, the Bruins look primed to be a major threat in pursuits of both a county and state championship.
“We have the majority of that group returning,” Bianco said after his team steamrolled past Hoboken, 71-55, last Tuesday night to improve to 2-0 on the young season. “We lost our best player in Kayton [a 1,000-point scorer], but we knew we would have a much better defensive group this year. We score a lot, but we defend well.”
Bianco had a sense that his team would enjoy added success this season after winning two league championships over the summer in Hackensack and Teaneck, two very competitive and highly contested summer leagues.
The Bruins also won the Kyle Anderson Celebration of Life title in North Hudson Braddock Park.
“We played a lot of games together,” Bianco said. “We played a lot in the fall as well. We put in a lot of work and now it’s paying off. I think that comes with being confident. The kids believe in themselves. I think it’s now a matter of just being confident.”
No question, the Bruins were confident against the Redwings Tuesday. They looked like a well oiled machine and it was only the second game of the new season.
Leading the way for the Bruins is a trio of diminutive senior guards who could be considered the basketball version of the Smurfs. None of the three come close to standing six feet tall. They’re certainly not going to scare anyone with their size – or lack thereof.
But these three can certainly play – and play well together.
Noel Karameros is a 5-foot-9 senior sharpshooter who can drain long distance shots from the minute he walks into a gym. Karameros, who scored 28 points in the win over Hoboken, including six shots from outside the 3-point arc, has no fear of anything on the court, especially not the wrath of his head coach.
“We’re counting on him to make shots,” Bianco said of Karameros. “He had a tough year last year. He had to sit for a while [after transferring to North Bergen from Xavier in Manhattan] and became eligible in the middle of the season. He played well for a few games, then got banged up with a concussion. But he got better over the summer and helped us win a lot of games in the summer and fall. He found his role.”
It’s safe to say that Karameros is poised to take over the role left with the graduation of Darley, who earned All-Hudson Reporter Third Team honors last season. Karameros’ game is strikingly similar to the type of player that Bianco was when he was a 1,000-point scorer for the Bruins and later William Paterson University.
Zuriel Turcios is the smallest of the Bruin Smurfs, standing only 5-foot-4 – and that might be if he’s standing on a stepstool. Turcios, a standout baseball player in the spring, is the team’s point guard.
“He steps in, takes charges, dives on the floor,” Bianco said of Turcios. “He gets the ball to the right people. He’s the glue of the team. He’s definitely an extension of the coach.”
Gino Randriamora is the third piece to the Bruin backcourt puzzle. Randriamora stands about 5-foot-10, so he’s the tallest of the three.
“He came off the bench last year, but he played a lot,” Bianco said. “He almost singlehandedly beat Hackensack [in the NJSIAA state sectional semifinals]. He makes good decisions with the ball.”
Bianco isn’t worried about the lack of size in his backcourt.
“You play with what you have,” Bianco said. “We have a lot of speed and we make shots. I could move any one of them to the point guard, so we have flexibility back there. But we want to keep the ball in Zuriel’s hands.”
Junior Abdallah El Saleh is the Bruins’ lead guy along the forward line. The 6-foot-3 El Saleh had a great game against Hoboken, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
“He’s one of the most skilled big guys in our league [the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League],” Bianco said. “He uses his body well and has a lot of skill. I expect him to be a major contributor all season.”
Kevin Gardner is a 6-foot-3 junior forward. Gardner had 16 points in the Bruins’ season opening win against Kearny to lead the way, but had to sit it out against the Redwings due to an ankle injury.
“He’s physical, he’s athletic and he’s a quick leaper,” Bianco said. “He can also shoot the ball. We can put five guys on the floor that can all shoot.”
Junior Emmanuel “Timmy” Martinez is a 5-foot-11 forward. How he attained the nickname of Timmy is anyone’s guess.
“He’s a big baseball fan and his favorite player is some guy named Timmy, so the name just stuck with him,” Bianco said. “I’m not afraid to put him in there.”
Junior Justice Morales is a 6-foot forward who is another physical presence.
“He’s a good athlete and good defender,” Bianco said of Morales.
Besian Krasniqi is a 6-foot-2 senior forward.
“He does what we need him to do,” Bianco said.
Senior Diego Hernandez is a lanky 6-foot-2 forward.
“He’s been in the program for four years,” Bianco said. “He’s like another version of Justice. He plays defense and plays hard.”
The Bruins will face a tough schedule this season. They will lock horns with Newark West Side this weekend at Gill St. Bernard’s at the Metro Holiday Classic. They will face Northern Highlands on Dec. 27, before coming home to face their real big local test and nationally ranked Hudson Catholic Jan. 2 in North Bergen.
“We’re looking forward to the challenges,” Bianco said. “We have upgraded our schedule. We also play Hunterdon Central and Linden [in the 2018 Metro Classic at Kean on Feb. 10 at 5 p.m.]. I think last year we overachieved and took a turn in the right direction. I think they all believe in what we’re doing and bought in. If we take care of the basketball and make shots, we’ll be fine. I think we have to continue to be confident in making shots.”
But Bianco counts on the Bruins being a factor in the county and state playoffs once again.
“I think we have what it takes,” Bianco said. “If we continue to play together, I think we can be there. We’ll continue to make a name for the program and the kids can get the notoriety they deserve.”
It’s already happened here.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.