It’s a new era for Hudson Catholic’s boys’ basketball team, as several members of the nationally ranked squad that won the school’s record seventh straight Hudson County Tournament championship last February have now graduated and are playing major college basketball.
People like two-time Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Jahvon Quinerly (Villanova), Luther Muhammad (Ohio State) and Louis King (Oregon) are now gone, leaving head coach Nick Mariniello the dilemma of trying to replace them.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all,” said Mariniello, who is in his 11th season as the head coach at Hudson Catholic. “It’s enjoyable to coach these young guys. And they’re very young.”
Mariniello likes the makeup of his young team.
“Of our main guys, five are either freshmen or sophomores,” Mariniello said. “I enjoy coaching basketball. The chemistry is good with this team. The camaraderie is very good. I like this team. I don’t know if that is going to equate to wins and losses, but we’re making progress every day.”
As the 2018-2019 season begins, Mariniello has only two seniors in the regular rotation, namely forward Danny Rodriguez, who has already signed a national letter of intent to join North Bergen native Greg Herenda and the FDU program next fall, and guard Jonathan Delgado, who will play college basketball somewhere next fall.
Rodriguez, a 6-foot-5 forward, is making great strides every day.
“His leadership has been tremendous,” Mariniello said of Rodriguez, who averaged six points and grabbed eight rebounds per game last season. “I’m impressed with the way he’s carrying himself. He’s matured as a person. He has very high character. He’s a self-made basketball player because of his work ethic. I think he’s going to have a big season for us.”
Same can be said for Delgado. The 5-foot-10 point guard is doing everything that is expected of a senior leader.
“He’s a coach’s son, so he understands,” Mariniello said of Delgado. “He’s done a good job of understanding his role. He can take and accept criticism.”
Sophomore Shane Dezonie returns from a year ago. The 6-foot-5 Dezonie played a lot last year as a freshman.
“He’s already had interest from some big schools like Seton Hall, Rutgers, Villanova, Cincinnati,” Mariniello said. “I’m going to rely on him a lot. He has point guard skills and can post up other guards. He is a very versatile player. He has to fill the void by being one of our major personalities. Because of his experience playing with the other guys, we’re going to count on him. He’s looked really good [in preseason scrimmages] and I think he’s going to have a big year.”
Sophomore Justin Glover is a 6-foot-1 guard.
“He can shoot the ball,” Mariniello said of Glover. “He’s also a straight A student.”
Mariniello said that all of the Ivy League and Patriot League schools are interested in Glover’s services.
Tristan Jeffries is a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward.
“He’s one of the better athletes on the team,” Mariniello said of Jeffries. “He has tremendous upside. He doesn’t know how good he can be.”
Antonio Sellers is a 6-foot-6 freshman forward. He’s the son of two great former St. Peter’s College players in Keith Sellers and Felicia Harris, who was the former girls’ basketball coach at Hudson Catholic when girls were first admitted to the school.
“He comes from a high pedigree,” Mariniello said of Sellers. “I coached his dad when I was an assistant at St. Peter’s. He’s a very mature kid who has a very high basketball IQ.”
Zion Cruz is a 6-foot-4 freshman guard who may electrify the Joe “Rocky” Pope Memorial Gym this year.
“He’s a very talented young man,” Mariniello said of Cruz, who already has a stint with USA Basketball in his resume. “He’s a major athlete. He has a world of potential.”
Junior Danny Mendez is a 6-foot-1 junior guard who can spell at either guard slot.
Zavion Baker-Miller is a 6-foot-6 junior transfer from Marist who will sit the 30-day mandatory wait period from the NJSIAA disciplinarian committee.
The Hawks opened the season against Union City, then faced Pope John of Sparta before returning home to face local foes Kearny and St. Peter’s Prep. They will play in the Slam Dunk To the Beach in Delaware for the Christmas holidays.
When it’s all put together, the Hawks have a shot to be pretty special this year.
“For me, the wins and losses are great, but when I send a kid to college, I get a huge thrill,” Mariniello said. “That’s the most important thing I do as a coach. To win, you have to be good and lucky. But I’ve turned the page on the past. The future is looking good.”
So is the present, for that matter. The Hawks remain the team to beat in Hudson County this year.