Hudson Catholic boys’ basketball coachNick Mariniello would much rather not talk about the fact that three key players from the team that won 26 games last year and captured the school’s first county championship since 1975 have now left the school and are playing at other schools.
“We now have kids who want to be here and have bought into what we want to do,” said Mariniello, who has begun his fourth year at the school and also now serves as the athletic director there. “We have kids who are willing to play for their teammates. I never really was concerned about it. We have a better team right now.”
However, it usually is a giant blow when a program loses three quality players like forwards Rakwan Kelly and Michael Young and guard Travis Flagg, all before graduation.
Kelly, who was with the Hawks for three seasons and made Hudson Reporter All-Area as a freshman, is now at Newark Tech. Young, who gained notoriety last year by shattering the backboard at the school and made Hudson Reporter All-Area last year, is now at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark. Flagg, another three-year member of the program, has transferred to Cardozo High School in Queens.
However, Mariniello firmly believes that his team is better off without the departed trio.
“We have a program here,” Mariniello said. “We’ve worked hard to establish that program. Once they decided to leave, we knew we were fine. We have kids who have accepted the process and don’t need instant gratification. We have tremendous chemistry. I really like my team.”
Leading the way for the Hawks is 6-foot-8 senior Reggie Cameron. The sharpshooting Cameron averaged 22 points per game last year and already has scored 35 in an early season win over Lincoln. Cameron, bound for Georgetown next fall and a First Team Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree last season, is the top returning player in the county.
“He’s been fantastic as a leader,” Mariniello said of Cameron. “I’m most impressed with his intensity on defense. He brings it every day in practice and he’s absolutely ready to have a great season.”
Another top returning player is 6-foot-2 Kavon Stewart, who is also off to a solid start. The point guard, already signed with Robert Morris, scored 17 in a win over St. Peter’s Prep in the Hoop Group Shoot-Out last Sunday at West Orange, a game won by the Hawks in a surprising 64-46 rout.
“Kavon is off to a terrific start,” Mariniello said. “He’s more comfortable shooting the ball now. He’s playing with confidence and that’s helped him tremendously. He’s a pleasure to coach. He’s done a great job in the weight room, with his strength and conditioning.”
Senior Kyle McLeggan has definitely been a product of Mariniello’s program, going from a little-used reserve to now a key cog in the Hawks’ offense. McLeggan is averaging 15 points per game in the Hawks’ three victories so far.
“He’s paid his dues,” Mariniello said. “He accepted the process and now he’s reaping the benefits of his perseverance. I’m extremely impressed with his development, but not surprised.”
Mariniello believes that McLeggan has played himself into being an NCAA Division I scholarship player.
Sophomore guard Nassir Barrino, who got some quality playing time last year with the varsity as a freshman, is also back. The 6-foot Barrino, who is a fine shooter as well, is the Hawks’ best on-the-ball defender.
“He has a very bright future,” Mariniello said.
Junior Safee Sabur is also a key piece to the Hawks’ rotation. The 6-foot-5 Sabur was a role player last year, but has seen his playing time increase this season.
Sophomore Adam Traore is a 6-foot-5 sophomore who comes off the bench. Sam Friday is a 6-foot-7 sophomore who is a good rebounder and inside player with a bright promise.
While the Hawks lost three players to transfer, they gained one in 6-foot-2 senior guard Jarred Hall, who comes to McGinley Square from Newark Tech, the school that Kelly transferred to. It’s almost like a trade, Hall for Kelly.
“He’s a talented player, but it’s taking time for him to fit in,” Mariniello said.
Junior Med Fofanna is another player off the bench. He’s also a solid defender and helps on that side of the floor. Fofanna, one of the most original names in Hudson County basketball, is a 5-foot-10 junior.
J.R. Lynch is a 5-foot-5 junior point guard who will spell Stewart at the point from time to time.
Mariniello is impressed with freshman Marion Williams, a 6-foot athletic player who is still trying to find his best position.
“He’ll get some time with us on the varsity before the season is over,” Mariniello said.
So despite it all, Mariniello is pleased with his team. So are the prognosticators who select the state’s Top 20, as Hudson Catholic sits firmly at No. 4 statewide right now.
“I think we’re a better team this year than last year,” Mariniello said. “I’m comfortable with my team. I don’t know what that does in terms of wins and losses, but I’m happy where we are right now.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.