The St. Peter’s Prep basketball team was one of the biggest surprises on the Hudson County and New Jersey state scene a year ago, posting a 19-8 record and advancing to the Hudson County Tournament title game as well as the NJSIAA Non-Public A North semifinals, where the Marauders lost by a single point to Bergen Catholic.
The Marauders lost a lot of their size and strength upfront to graduation, but as head coach Alex Mirabel begins his fourth season at Grand and Warren, he has the makings of a powerful team, one that could very well compete for county and state honors once again this season.
“Since we don’t have the same size as we had last year, it makes the game much simpler,” said Mirabel, who has guided his team to lopsided victories this season over Port Richmond of New York, 53-37, and Marist by a final score of 64-43. “We have to run the floor and play defense.”
While the Marauders might have lost a lot to graduation, they made a valuable acquisition to their coaching staff.
When St. Anthony closed its doors forever in June, it left veteran coach Tom Lalicato without a place to spread his vast basketball knowledge.
Lalicato was once dubbed as “Tommy Bell” and “The Bell of St. Mary’s” when he was the long-time head coach at the now defunct St. Mary’s in downtown Jersey City, then moved over to be Bob Hurley’s right hand man with the Friars for the past six seasons.
With the closure of St. Anthony, Lalicato needed a spot to coach – so Mirabel gladly asked Lalicato if he wanted to join the Marauders’ staff.
“Thank God we were able to get Tom Lalicato to help us out,” Mirabel said. “He brought the high tempo defense with him. We now play different zones on defense and have a lot more movement in our offense. We now have a total team concept. It makes the game more fluent and makes everyone move towards the ball.”
Mirabel likes that style, because it’s the way he played when he was an All-County player at Dickinson and then was part of that same fast-paced frenzy when he played for the immortal Charlie Brown and Brown’s son Marc at New Jersey City University.
“That’s the way I played,” said Mirabel, who got his start in basketball playing with the famed AAU Jersey City Bondsmen under the watchful eyes of Donald Copeland, Sr. and then at the Jersey City Boys Club. “It makes life a lot simpler as a coach. Everyone understands their position and their roles. They’re all on the same page.”
Leading the returnees for the Marauders is senior swingman Brendan Thiele.
The 6-foot-5 Thiele had a tremendous season a year ago for the Marauders, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area Second Team honors.
Thiele just recently signed his national letter of intent to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and will play basketball for Army next year.
“He feels very comfortable with his decision and I’m really happy for him,” Mirabel said of Thiele. “It feels like he’s been with me forever. He started as a freshman and now he’s finally playing as a senior.”
And for the first time in Thiele’s basketball life, he’s playing against opponents that are his own age or younger. Every step of Thiele’s career, he has played against older competition.
“He’s bringing the ball up a lot and he’s a playmaker,” Mirabel said. “He’s taken to his role very well. He worked all summer at getting bigger and stronger. He’s one of the most athletic guys in the county. He can run. He can jump out of the gym. You watch him and he kind of ‘wows’ you. He’s just gotten better and better every year.”
There’s never been any question about Thiele’s ability to put the ball in the basket. He’s scored 24 and 27 points respectively in the last two Hudson County Tournament championship games against Hudson Catholic. He averaged close to 13 points per game last season and that number should increase this year, considering he tallied 17 points in the win over Port Richmond and had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the win over Marist.
“He’s comfortable shooting the ball,” Mirabel said. “And we want him to take those shots.”
Another key returnee is football star Shayne Simon. The 6-foot-3 Simon, already signed to go to Notre Dame to play football next year, is a fine basketball player as well, averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per contest last season, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area Third Team accolades. Simon had 12 points and 10 boards against Port Richmond.
“I think Shayne is probably our best all-around player,” Mirabel said. “He’s guarding point guards some times and centers the other. He can shoot threes [3-point shots]. He does it all. He’s just a great athlete. He played football in the state championship game and a week later, he’s scoring 12 points and getting 10 rebounds for us.”
Simon is certainly the front-runner to earn the Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year honors come June, an award that his friend and former teammate Jorge Portorreal collected last year. Portorreal played football and basketball like Simon and currently plays football at Lehigh.
The Marauders didn’t just gain Lalicato from the closure of St. Anthony. They collected two key players in seniors Mark Walker and Dimitris Plexidas. Both former Friars have fit in tremendously with their new surroundings.
“Mark Walker is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached,” Mirabel said of his 6-foot-3 senior who is also a football player and probably will attend college to play football. “He understands his role and loves being with us. He’s a great defender and great finisher. I think it’s a blessing to have someone who was with Coach Hurley and learned from him, because Mark knows so much. He has skill, knowledge and leadership and has stepped up here to become an instant leader.”
Plexidas is a 6-foot-5 forward who had 11 points and six rebounds against Port Richmond and had 12 points and seven rebounds against Marist.
“He’s one of our top players,” Mirabel said. “He’s very strong. He’s a good defender and can also shoot it pretty well. He brings some skill with him from St. Anthony.”
The rest of the roster is filled with underclassmen. Junior Will White is a 5-foot-11 point guard.
“I trust Will to make the right decisions,” Mirabel said. “I have a very good relationship with him. He understands what we need to do.”
Jack Pettit is a 6-foot-1 junior swing player.
“He’s the best shooter on the team,” Mirabel said. “He understands what we want him to do and that’s shoot the ball. He has confidence in his shot.”
Mike Farrell is a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward.
“We have a very good sophomore class,” Mirabel said. “Mike plays inside for us. He’s long and athletic. He runs the floor well, but he can be a banger down low.”
Jaden Caban is a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward.
“He’s a physical presence,” Mirabel said. “He’s also very athletic.”
Cody Simon, the younger brother of Shayne, is a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard. Jake Walsh is a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard.
Two freshmen will get the chance to play right away for the Marauders. Garvin O’Farrell is a 6-foot-6 forward.
“He’s learning the game still, but he has a very bright future,” Mirabel said of O’Farrell.
Ray Ford is a 6-foot guard and as a bit of a rarity, he’s from Jersey City. Most of the athletes on the Marauder roster reside elsewhere.
“He’s going to be real good,” Mirabel said.
The Marauders have a very competitive schedule. They will face Newark East Side at the Metro Classic Showcase this weekend and then head to the Rumson-Fair Haven Showcase to face Barnegat and the host school on Dec. 27 and Dec. 29 respectively. The Marauders’ first big local test will come Jan. 2 when they head to the “Tigers’ Den” at Snyder at 6 p.m. They also have upcoming games against Seton Hall Prep in the Dan Finn Classic at the Jersey City Armory on Jan. 13 and travel to Montvale to take on St. Joseph’s on Jan. 7.
Mirabel likes his team’s chances.
“I think this is the most talented group I’ve had,” Mirabel said. “Adding Tom Lalicato to the staff was huge. I think we have a team that can contend. That’s the goal what we hope to do.”
Chances are that the Marauders will do just that. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.