When the boys’ high school basketball season began in earnest a few weeks ago, St. Peter’s Prep head coach Alex Mirabel didn’t know what to expect.
After all, it’s not every day that a program loses two All-County players, two 1,000-point scorers in a single swoop.
After all, having one 1,000-point scorer at St. Peter’s Prep is a rarity. Only nine players in the school’s rich and storied tradition have reached the prestigious milestone.
So having two depart from Grand and Warren at the same time could be potentially devastating.
But that’s what happened when Hudson Reporter All-Area performers Brendan Thiele and Shayne Simon graduated last June. Thiele, now playing at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Simon, the Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year now playing football at Notre Dame, left a gaping hole in Mirabel’s lineup.
Thiele was Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team and Simon was Hudson Reporter All-Area Second Team. Needless to say, they were two gigantic losses.
But the losses didn’t end there. Mark Walker became a gigantic member of the Marauders in his brief stint after transferring from St. Anthony. Walker was a Third Team Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree last season. The same can be said for Dimitris Plexidas, who also played a key role with the Marauders last season.
That’s a lot of talent to lose in one single commencement exercise.
Those four players were key reasons why the Marauders were 22-6 last season, advanced to both the Hudson County Tournament and the NJSIAA Non-Public A North championship games and earned Mirabel Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year honors.
But they were all gone on to their respective colleges and Mirabel was left holding the pieces of what looked like a tattered program.
“I was personally proud of those guys,” Mirabel said. “Brendan and Shayne had tremendous careers and each scored 1,000 points. The other guys were also key contributors. We had a huge turnaround. We have a much younger group this year. We do bring back two starters from last year. We have a lot of guys who have JV [junior varsity] experience who have moved up. We’re definitely a guard-oriented team and not as athletic as we have been. We have guys who want to play, guys who are committed and put their time in.”
Mirabel also suffered major losses when football players Cody Simon and Tahjmel Bullock decided not to return to basketball to concentrate on their gridiron skills. Both Simon, the younger brother of Shayne who is projected as a big-time college football recruit, and Bullock, the heir apparent to take over as the Marauders’ starting quarterback come next fall, have decided to walk away from basketball. They both would have been key cogs in Mirabel’s rotation this season.
“We’re very pleased with the commitment and how hard they play,” Mirabel said of his current roster. “The athleticism is not where it used to be, but the kids are playing hard. We have a bunch of tough, scrappy kids. I have to give the guards leeway and trust that they will make plays.”
Added Mirabel, “You can’t replace guys who score 1,000 points. They come around once every 15 years. But we’re locked in with the guys we have.”
Mirabel is watching his young, scrappy, aggressive team take shape as the season progresses. And the Marauders already have a signature win.
In just the third game of the season, the Marauders somehow managed to upset Hudson Catholic, the state’s No. 7-ranked team, 45-44, to send shockwaves through the entire state. St. Peter’s had not defeated Hudson Catholic in any game since 2010, a stretch of 14 straight, and dropped the last three Hudson County Tournament title games to the Hawks, contributing to Hudson Catholic’s seven straight Hudson County championships.
Although the Marauders dropped their next game to Newark West Side, 56-46, at the Hearts 2 Hands Invitational at Gill St. Bernard’s in Peapack-Gladstone, the Marauders were 3-1 at press time, not a bad start at all for a team that was decimated by graduation.
Leading the way for the Marauders is senior point guard Will White. The 5-foot-10 White averaged seven points and four assists per game last year and has displayed a ton of leadership in the early going.
“We needed him to take more of a leadership role,” Mirabel said. “With the younger guys, Will has to be the one to score a little more. I think it’s going to be a big year for him, much like it was for players like Jorge [Portorreal, the former Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year now playing football at Lehigh University] and Shayne. Will understands what he needs to do.”
Senior Jack Pettit moves into the role vacated by the loss of Thiele. The 6-foot Pettit is a good shooter and defender.
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Mirabel said of Pettit. “He’s an old school type. He provides great leadership. He’s definitely become a better shooter. We have to find ways to get him the ball.”
The biggest addition has been freshman do-everything Mark Armstrong, who is the son of another Mark Armstrong who was a standout performer at Grand and Warren and helped to lead the Marauders to a Non-Public A North state sectional title in 1984. So far, the younger Armstrong is proving to be an old chip off the block, as he scored 18 points, including the game-winning shot against Hudson Catholic and also had 18 against Hudson County foe North Bergen.
“Potentially, he could be dangerous,” Mirabel said. “He’s a very good player. He’s very athletic and finishes around the basket well. Potentially, he could be one of the best younger players Prep has ever had. He can shoot and handle the ball. There’s a lot to like about his talent.”
Ray Ford is a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward who also has a nice shooting stroke.
“He also finishes around the basket,” Mirabel said of Ford. “He’s very good on the fast break.”
Junior Mike Farrell is a 6-foot-5 forward.
“He’s gotten bigger and stronger since last year,” Mirabel said of Farrell. “He’s a good rebounder and a great defensive player. He’s a tough kid.”
Sophomore Gavin O’Farrell is a 6-foot-6 forward. It’s amazing how the Marauders have both a Farrell and an O’Farrell in their lineup. The Irish-American crowd must be applauding.
“He’s a big body who has a lot of potential,” Mirabel said of O’Farrell. “He’s going to get a lot of minutes.”
Senior Courtney Hymes is a 6-foot-3 forward.
“He’s a strong kid who could play either forward slot,” Mirabel said. “He’s a banger. He’s one of our top on-the-ball defenders.”
Senior Ahmaz Athias is a 6-foot-2 swing player. Athias had 15 points in a win over North Bergen and 15 in the loss to Newark West Side.
“He’s been battling a handful of injuries,” Mirabel said. “He didn’t play at all last year. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be in the mix. He’s the fastest guy we have and another good finisher. With him in the lineup, we’re a different team, a much better team.”
The Marauders were poised to head to Rumson-Fair Haven for their holiday tournament before press time. But they are well on their way to having a solid season.
“I think we played enough summer league and fall league games together to get ready,” Mirabel said. “They know what to expect from me. They have to play hard every possession. The key is their toughness level. That has to be high to be successful. But I expect this team to be competitive and compete with everyone we have on the schedule.”
So far so good.