When the high school basketball season began in November, Lincoln girls’ basketball coach Tommy Best knew that he had the makings of a solid squad.
But did Best ever think that his team could win 25 games, win the Hudson County Tournament title, the first county crown in 30 years, then go on to reach the NJSIAA state sectional final?
“No, I didn’t,” Best said. “I knew we could be one of the better teams in the county. But to get to the sectional final? We were still very young and pretty much had a new team. All coaches are positive about winning, but I never thought this was possible. The team just grew with each game, gained experience and became more confident.”
After the Lions upset Bayonne in the Hudson County Tournament championship game two weeks ago, they then set their sights on the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs.
“We had a nice seed in our section [No. 2 seed] and everyone was coming up to me, asking if we had a shot,” Best said. “I knew that the girls were working hard and believed in themselves.”
So the Lions defeated city rival Snyder in the opening round, managed to squeak by Newark Tech, 65-64, in double overtime, then took care of Ridgefield Park, 58-50, in the sectional semifinals.
“We were on a nice little ride,” Best said. “We beat some very good teams.”
However, nothing could have prepared the Lions for what lay ahead in the sectional title game, namely the state’s No. 1 team and No. 18 in the nation, perennial power Shabazz.
“In previous years, they were a Group III school,” Best said of Shabazz. “Last year, they were in Central Jersey Group II. This year, they managed to get in our bracket. If people didn’t know Shabazz, they’re just in a different level than us. I knew that if we kept going and going in the state tournament, we were going to have to run into them and sure enough, that’s what happened.”
Shabazz devastated the Lions, winning the state sectional title by a final score of 72-32. If there was any consolation, Shabazz won all four of its state tournament games by an average of 55 points, so the Lions held their own, so to speak.
“We told the girls that the game took nothing away from what they accomplished,” Best said. “We told them to reflect on it for about five minutes, then start thinking of next season. I think we all want to be better, no question. We’re going to work on that.”
The Lions ended their season with a 26-4 record, the best the program has enjoyed in ages.
“I told people we would be good, but not this good,” Best said. “I never thought this was possible.”
One of the biggest reasons for the Lions’ success was the play of junior forward Breana Bey, who averaged 22 points per game, tops in the county.
But Best credited the play of freshman Kiante Johnson and senior point guard Timiah Calamito as major reasons for the Lions’ great season.
“Kiante is going to have a nice future,” Best said. “She was a big surprise.”
Calamito was the floor general.
“All coaches need a point guard,” Best said. “She was the one who kept us together. She always defended the other team’s best player and gave us other options on offense. She’s going to be tough to replace. The process of replacing her has already begun.”
Considering that the program was in shambles last year, with a grade-changing scandal hovering over its head and pressure to remove Best as head coach, it was a redeeming season.
“It’s so gratifying to have a great year,” Best said. “All the things I went through and the team went through, it was a lot. It probably would have broken a lot of teams, but it didn’t break this team.”…
Congratulations to Alexander “Lenny” Richardson of St. Peter’s Prep, who won the 145-pound NJSIAA state wrestling championship Sunday in Atlantic City, defeating Ken Theobald of Toms River South via a 54-second pin.
Richardson becomes only the fourth Hudson County wrestler to ever win a state championship, joining John Bott of North Bergen (1983), David Cordoba of Kearny (1999) and James Fox of St. Peter’s Prep (2011).
It also means that Richardson becomes the first state wrestling champion to ever come from Jersey City.
The county almost had two state champions, but North Bergen’s Eric McMullen lost in the 195-pound title match to Razohnn Gross of Don Bosco Prep by a 5-3 decision.
Richardson’s teammate Tony Pafumi finished third at 170 pounds, while Luis Gonzalez of North Bergen finished fourth at 113 pounds.
Anthony Giraldo of North Bergen placed fifth at 120 pounds, giving the Bruins three state medal winners for the second time in school history.
Francisco Colom finished eighth at 152 pounds for the Marauders, giving them three state medal winners as well.
Needless to say, it was a solid year for Hudson County wrestling, capped by Richardson’s state title, one that was predicted last week by Prep head coach Anthony Verdi.
In last week’s Athlete of the Week feature about Richardson, Verdi was quoted as saying: “I can see him standing on top of the podium Sunday. He has that much talent.” Bingo, right on target, even though Richardson was considered an underdog entering the tourney…
The accolades keep coming in for St. Anthony senior Kyle Anderson, who was named last week to the USA Basketball Junior National Select Team, which will take on the World Select Team in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon April 7.
Anderson is the lone New Jersey player selected for the 10-player junior national team, a team that will be coached by former St. Patrick of Elizabeth head coach Kevin Boyle.
Anderson has been totally unconscious as a player, especially after forward Jimmy Hall was dismissed from the Friars. Since Hall was removed, Anderson has become more of an inside player and has scored 34, 35 and 28 points in consecutive games….
Since the sectional final showdown between St. Anthony and Hudson Catholic was scheduled to be played Thursday night after press time, we’ll have in-depth coverage in next week’s editions of The Hudson Reporter…
The Jersey City Board of Education is seriously giving consideration to a proposal that would name the Caven Point Athletic Complex in honor of the late Ed “The Faa” Ford. It would be a fitting gesture to honor the memory of Ford, who literally lived at the complex for the last few years of his life, which ended last April, ironically in his trailer located at the complex…--Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com.