In years past, legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Hurley would refrain from singing praises about his St. Anthony basketball teams in the preseason. Hurley would much rather prefer to make people believe that his teams weren’t really that good, even though they were perennially atop the statewide and national rankings.
One might think that Hurley would have a reason to downgrade his team this season, considering the Friars graduated so many players from last year’s 28-2 team that lost to Roselle Catholic in the NJSIAA Parochial B championship game, including four players who are now playing NCAA Division I college basketball.
But apparently, that’s not the case at all. Hurley likes the way the Friars are playing – right out of the gate.
“We won the Jersey City Recreation summer league, then won the Paterson fall league, a real good league with some pretty good schools there,” Hurley said. “We’re not so much inexperienced, because we’ve played together so much in those leagues. It’s weird, because they might not have a lot of varsity experience, but they have game experience. We’re pretty solid right now. The amount of games we played in the summer and fall really helped us.”
Added Hurley, “You really can’t raise the bar when you’re supposed to be good. With a team like this, it’s a lot easier on all of us, because we can just go about our business. I think we’re going to be okay from the beginning of the season.”
There it is, an admission that Hurley has a good team when the season begins this weekend against Doane Academy of Burlington, N.J.
Leading the returnees is senior Tarin Smith, who will man the starting point guard slot this season. The 6-foot-1 Smith has been getting late attention from some major colleges like Providence and Boston College.
“He’s one of the best guards in the state,” Hurley said. “He’s very athletic. He led us in the fall league. There’s nothing wrong with the recruiting process. He’s just been a late bloomer.”
There’s another distinction that Smith holds. He’s currently No. 1 in the St. Anthony Class of 2014, so he’s also getting attention from Ivy League schools like Penn and Princeton.
Senior Cheddi Mosely is a 6-foot-3 guard who has already committed to Boston University.
“He was hurt for most of the season last year,” Hurley said. “But he can really shoot it. He’s going to offset the loss of Hallice Cooke [currently at Oregon State].”
Imagine that. The Friars have a backcourt that is being recruited by schools such as Penn, Princeton, and Boston University. Now, that’s never happened before.
Mosely has a younger brother, 6-foot-2 sophomore Jagan, who will also see considerable playing time this season.
“He’s athletic as any sophomore we’ve ever had,” Hurley said.
Shaquille McFarland, who played considerable minutes as a sophomore for the Friars before transferring to Lincoln of New York last year, has returned. The 6-foot McFarland is “a very good defensive player,” according to Hurley.
“He’s your typical physical St. Anthony guard,” Hurley said of McFarland.
Senior Eddie Dominguez is a 6-foot-3 guard off the bench for the Friars.
“He’s a great shooter,” Hurley said. “We have a couple kids this year who can really shoot the ball.”
That’s a stretch from last year’s squad, which had major deficiencies shooting the ball last year despite winning 28 of 30 games. The Friars won last year on incredible defense and guile.
“We’re a very different team than last year,” Hurley said. “Our finesse level is much better.”
Junior Markis McDuffie is a 6-foot-7 forward who is also getting major recognition.
“He reminds people of Kevin Durant [the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star] because he’s so long and lean and can shoot the ball,” Hurley said. “He really has huge potential. He’s projected to grow to 6-foot-10. He’s more of a perimeter player. He’s going to challenge Tarin as to who are best player is.”
Of course, the major colleges are already recruiting McDuffie as well.
Sophomore Taurean Thompson spent all of last season with the Friar varsity as a freshman and that experience has paid off for the 6-foot-8 forward.
“He’s a little more physical,” Hurley said. “We do have two finesse players at forward with our three guards. He can put it on the floor and go to the basket.”
Junior Mohammed Bindary, a 6-foot-8 forward who transferred to St. Anthony from Bayonne, is another key performer up front.
Sophomore Idris Joyner is a 6-foot-3 sophomore who will be in the regular rotation as well.
Needless to say, it has been a pleasurable preseason for the nation’s premier high school basketball coach.
“It’s always enjoyable when the expectations aren’t too high,” Hurley said. “We do have our own expectations.”
It’s hard to think that the Friars could be that much better than last year when they won 28 games a year ago. But the Friars finished a little shy of the ultimate goal, namely a state championship and the Tournament of Champions title that they won the previous two years. Maybe this year will represent a return to glory for the fabulous Friars, who appear to be fabulous from the outset this season. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.