When you have seven seniors returning from a team that won 14 games last year and made it to the Hudson County Tournament semifinals, then there’s obviously a reason for optimism.
Such is the case with the Marist boys’ basketball team, who opened their season last Friday with a resounding win over Lincoln.
Veteran head coach Tony Romano knows that this team is probably the best he’s had since he took over the reins with the Royal Knights four years ago.
“It makes it a lot easier when you have so many kids back,” said Romano, who was the longtime head coach at the now-defunct St. Aloysius in Jersey City. “They know the routine. It’s a valuable thing to have so many good seniors. It’s very rare.”
Romano was encouraged by the way his team performed at the Jersey City Recreation Summer League at Hamilton Park, as well as participating in a team camp at Fordham University.
“We got a lot of games in against good competition,” Romano said. “It’s a big help, playing some of the New York schools. We did pretty well in both.”
Romano said that the team did a lot of weight training and conditioning to get ready for the challenge of the coming season.
“We’ve been known as a finesse team,” Romano said. “I think now we can play a little tougher and play more physical. Last year, I don’t think we had an identity, but we do now.”
Leading the way for the Royal Knights is 6-foot-10 senior forward Manny Suarez, who made a major impact last season after transferring to Marist from Cliffside Park. Suarez averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots per game last season.
“His best games were against the better teams,” Romano said. “I’m looking forward to him having an excellent season.”
Suarez has already signed his national letter of intent to attend Fordham next fall.
“He feels comfortable on the perimeter and has a good shot,” Romano said. “But we definitely want him to stay inside where he can do so many things. He just gives us another dimension by being able to step outside and hit that shot with some nice range. He can bring out the opponent’s big player from the basket.”
Another key player for the Royal Knights is 5-foot-10 senior point guard Jaron Smith.
“Jaron knows his role,” Romano said. “We’re looking for him to run the offense, but also look to score. He is a very good ball handler.”
Senior Tony White, a 5-foot-10 shooting guard, is another key returnee for the Royal Knights.
“We brought him up from the JV [junior varsity] perhaps a third of the way into the season last year and he became a clutch player for us by the end of the year,” Romano said. “He’s a very good 3-point shooter and free throw shooter. He’s just a clutch player.”
Senior Devyn Ransom is a 6-foot-4 swingman.
“He’s one of our most talented players,” Romano said. “He can score inside and has a nice mid-range jumper. He really flourished over the summer.”
Six-foot senior Aaron Smith, a standout three-sport standout at the school, playing football and baseball as well, is another guard.
“He’s a big time defender and good going to the basket,” Romano said.
Daryl Black, a 6-foot-3 forward and another member of the Royal Knights’ football team that went to the NJSIAA state playoffs, is another contributor.
“Daryl is a good skill player and a great all-around athlete,” Romano said.
Romano is high on 6-foot-5 sophomore Goree Venable, who will get into the mix.
“He’s improving daily,” Romano said. “He’s improved tremendously. He’s good with his back to the basket and making those shots. He also has a great set of hands.”
Sophomore Jose Santos is the backup to Jaron Smith at point guard.
Junior Lindsey Jean-Baptiste is a 6-foot guard who also can hit the long range shot. FreshmanMike Samuels is a 6-foot-3 forward who is going to be a great player.
“He has a great basketball body,” Romano said. “He has great skills as a rebounder and shot blocker.”
Brenden Hurtado is a 5-foot-11 junior who has to sit out the 30 days after transferring to Marist from Port Richmond High School on Staten Island.
So the ingredients for a great season are there for Romano and the Royal Knights.
“Absolutely, toward the end of last season, we started to jell and we carried that through the summer,” Romano said. “We should be in the mix.”
As long as Suarez has a great season.
“There aren’t too many kids who can do what he does,” Romano said. “He has tremendous skill sets and allows us to do a lot of things.”…
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Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.