For the past four summers, St. Peter’s Prep head basketball coach Alex Mirabel has honed his coaching skills by working with the national program of the Dominican Republic.
This summer, his dedication and devotion is paying off, because Mirabel has been selected to be the head coach of the Dominican Republic’s 17-and-under national team.
It’s a gigantic honor for the long-time Jersey City resident and former New Jersey City University standout player.
In fact, Mirabel is already in the Dominican Republic, working with 18 of the best basketball players in that country, preparing for international play that begins later this month.
The Dominican Republic will be part of the eight-country field in the tourney known as Central Baskets, which will be played in Puerto Rico July 24 through 28. The other nations playing include El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Ecuador, along with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
The top three finishers in that tournament move on to the Pre-World Cup and then the eventual top prize, the World Cup, later this summer.
Mirabel has had his 18 players going through two-a-day practice sessions to prepare for the tourney.
“Some of them are used to it,” Mirabel said in a phone interview from the D.R. “I’m trying to read the players. We’re going hard in the early practices. I think we look great. We just haven’t finalized the roster yet.”
One of the players vying for a spot is 6-foot-9 Rafael Castro, who hails from Dover.
“He’s a mix between a shooting guard and a small forward,” Mirabel said. “He’s going to be really good. He’s very tough.”
Mirabel has to slice his roster down to 12 before the Central Baskets tourney begins.
Mirabel said that there are some differences he has to deal with coaching on the international level.
“Well, it’s a different game,” Mirabel said. “There’s a 24-second shot clock, so the game is more physical and much quicker. We have to stress ball movement. It’s a different tempo, so you have to create tempo with defense. What I’ve learned coaching the last four years is that you have to be able to move the ball. It’s a lot like college ball. It’s much different than New Jersey high school basketball. It’s a lot quicker.”
Mirabel said that it has been a huge help that the players from the D.R. know who Mirabel is, because of his experience with the national team in the past four summers.
“They know who I am,” Mirabel said. “They are very familiar with me. But it is different being the head coach now than being an assistant. I’m trying to give them a little bit of leeway.”
Although Mirabel has to spend most of the next month away from his wife Rosanna and daughter Gianna, who just celebrated her first birthday last week, Mirabel is spending his time in a villa in the Dominican Republic. However, practicing twice a day doesn’t give much time to enjoy the comforts.
“It’s been tough being away from my family,” said Mirabel, whose wife is expecting their second child later this year. “I’m blessed to have a wife who understands my life. She is making the sacrifice.”
Mirabel has also left St. Peter’s Prep’s summer league team in the hands of Frank Peralta, an assistant coach at Prep during the season. Fellow assistants Chubby James and Nick Fargo also help in Mirabel’s absence.
One of the players to watch on Mirabel’s Dominican Republic team is 6-foot-3 Jean Montero, who lives in the D.R. year round.
“He’s one of the top young players in the world,” Mirabel said. “He’s legit and fun to watch.”
Montero is considered so much of a prospect that he’s already enrolled in the NBA Academy, even though he’s only 17. Chances are that Montero will be a major college basketball player in the future.
“This is a huge challenge for me,” Mirabel said. “I’m coaching kids from all over. I have to make them think that they’re playing for something big. Once they get passed the initial phase, we’ll be on the right track.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com