When the powers-that-be at Marist High School decided to hire Ben Gamble as the new boys’ basketball coach last year, they knew that they were getting someone in Gamble who had a history of turning programs around in a hurry.
Gamble, the former long-time assistant coach to legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony, first branched out to become the head coach at the now-defunct Cardinal McCarrick High School in South Amboy and turned that program into an instant success. Gamble then headed to Mater Dei High School in Middletown and made that program a state power overnight.
So when Gamble, a Jersey City native who played for Hurley at St. Anthony, decided he wanted to come back home and take over the Marist program, chances were good that the Royal Knights were poised to become a powerhouse again like they were when Mike Leonardo was the head coach and the Royal Knights were Hudson County royalty year after year.
“I had experience in rebuilding programs,” Gamble said. “At McCarrick, they had won seven games in three years before I got there and we started off 19-0. At Mater Dei, I turned a 10-win team into one that went 26-2. So I’ve been known to turn things around.”
Marist went 10-16 last year, so Gamble knew he had some work to do.
“I kind of knew that the county itself wasn’t the way it used to be and it was pretty open,” Gamble said. “I thought that we would see improvement as the year went on and once team chemistry had developed, we would be fine. I really thought we could be pretty good and could challenge for the county.”
But no one could have ever imagined that the Royal Knights would hit the Hudson County Tournament as the No. 2 seed behind seven-time defending champion Hudson Catholic. And no one could have ever dreamed that the Royal Knights could roll off 14 straight wins.
“No, I didn’t know we’d have a 14-game winning streak,” said Gamble, whose team is 17-5 after having lost to Dwight-Morrow of Englewood in the Prime Time Shootout at Kean University recently. “I was just pretty confident we would improve. If they truly believed in the team concept, then we could be successful.”
The Royal Knights opened the season with a loss to Snyder, then had some tough losses to state-ranked teams like Wildwood Catholic and Ramapo.
“I think the early season schedule helped,” Gamble said. “I think after those first few games, we settled down and became more persistent. I didn’t want us to look good in November and December. I wanted us to wait until February and March. It looks like things have gone that way.”
One of the main reasons why the Royal Knights have become an instant powerhouse has been the play of sophomore guard Mike Jackson. The 6-foot-4 Jackson is the team’s leading scorer at 11.8 points per game – and he comes off the bench.
“He’s a nice shooter,” Gamble said of Jackson. “He’s improved tremendously and it’s good to know that I’ll have him for the next couple of years.”
Another key player has been 6-foot-5 senior forward Angelo Santiago, a transfer from Soffield Academy in Massachusetts. Santiago is averaging 10.4 points and almost four rebounds per game.
“The family moved from New York and contacted us,” Gamble said. “I knew nothing about him at all. He’s been a pleasant addition.”
Junior Armandep Singh has become the team’s point guard. The 6-foot-2 Singh is averaging 9.2 points, four rebounds and three assists per contest. Singh had 14 points in the Royal Knights’ 60-53 win over Irvington in the Dan Finn Classic recently at Marist to earn Player of the Game honors.
Senior R.J. Sheridan is one of the few holdovers from last year’s team. Sheridan, who began his high school career at St. Anthony before that school closed two years ago, is averaging 7.5 points per game.
Fellow senior Marc Bruce is another holdover from the previous regime.
“His role has changed dramatically,” Gamble said. “He’s had to make a big sacrifice for the team.”
Keith Mency is a 6-foot sophomore guard who is averaging 7.3 points per game.
“I like his on-the-ball defense,” Gamble said of Mency. “He gives us a spark and handles the ball well.”
Damiere Fitch, a 6-foot-5 senior, and Manny Exauce, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, give Gamble depth up front. Xavier Edwards is a 6-foot-4 freshman with a ton of potential and can play any position along the front line.
And the Royal Knights captured the regular season title in the HCIAL White Division with an 11-1 league record and are 17-5 overall.
“I’m very happy,” Gamble said. “Our goal is to be playing in championship games. I think we have a good shot.”
Sure looks that way…
The Snyder girls’ track team continues to have a dream season, evidenced by their performance in the recent NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III championships at the Bennett Center in Toms River.
Alicia Campbell won the gold medal in the shot put and placed second in the high jump. Khyla Nalls was fifth in the 400-meter dash. Kanyinsola Oladejo was third in the 55-meter dash and the 4×400-meter relay team of Nalls, Oladejo, Javonia Alston and Siane Streater was sixth…
And the Memorial boys’ distance medley relay team won the overall Group IV gold medal and earned state and national rankings. Steven Ventura (1,200 meters), Elvis Rosas (400 meters), Jacob Gonzalez (800 meters) and superstar Francis Martingale (1,600 meters) ran the race in 10:36.70, which is fifth overall in New Jersey and No. 17 nationally…
The 2019 Hoboken/Demarest Athletic Hall of Fame dinner will take place Saturday, April 13 at the Hoboken Elks on Washington Street, with the meet-and-greet set for 6 p.m., the buffet dinner at 7 p.m. and the ceremony beginning at 8 p.m. Some of the inductees include Jerry Citro, who made national headlines a while back for being a 39-year-old college basketball player at Montclair State; former Hudson Reporter Softball Player of the Year Natalie Lugo; baseball standouts like Danny Perez and the late John Forcum and soccer great Josue Quiros. Long-time volunteer coach and umpire John Madigan will receive the Jerry Molloy Award for public service. For more information, contact Buddy Matthews at 201-424-5435…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (18-4). 2. Marist (17-5). 3. Union City (15-6). 4. St. Peter’s Prep (13-9). 5. Snyder (14-5)….
Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (20-2). 2. Secaucus (18-1). 3. Lincoln (16-4). 4. Hudson Catholic (16-6). 5. Hoboken (15-3). – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com