The Bayonne High School girls’ basketball team enjoyed a spectacular campaign a year ago, posting a 24-5 record, just one season after being a miserable 9-16.
It was a great turnaround year for veteran head coach James Turner, who remarkably is in his 13th season after Hudson County Hall of Fame coach Jeff Stabile retired.
But there was a sense of disappointment in the Bees’ hive. Even with the stellar record, Bayonne had nothing to show for their hoop prowess.
“There are no second place trophies,” said Turner, whose team lost to Hudson Catholic in the Hudson County Tournament finals and fell to Franklin Township in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group IV finale. “We don’t want a pat on the back, with people saying, ‘Nice job.’ No, that’s not what we want.”
Added Turner, “It burned in me for a long time. We had to play Hudson Catholic a third time last year. We beat them the first two times, but then we lost in the county finals. It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a season. I always believed that. And then in the state finals, I felt the girls were ready. We put together a good game plan. But coming off the bus, I knew that we weren’t ready and that they were going to take advantage of our weaknesses.”
The end result was a 32-point loss to Franklin Township. End of season, time to go home. The 24 wins were nice, but it basically got the Bees nothing.
“It is what it is,” Turner said.
Turner decided that he had to work a little harder. He went to coaching clinics galore and studied others’ mannerisms.
“We had to get a new style,” Turner said. “It keeps coaching fun. It made things interesting.”
But Turner felt that his team still didn’t get any love from opposing coaches, no attention from the statewide media, no admiration from other players. Yes, dare say, the Bees were getting no respect, no respect at all, becoming the regular Rodney Dangerfields of New Jersey girls’ high school basketball.
“Every year, Hudson County doesn’t get the respect from the rest of the state,” Turner said. “I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is every year. We don’t get the respect we deserve.”
So this year, Turner devised a much tougher independent schedule before the Bees faced their familiar Hudson County foes. Turner booked games against prep schools like Pingry and Gill St. Bernards, faced off with Newark Collegiate and went to the Len Sepanak Tournament at Westfield, knocking off Ridge and the host school in the process.
All totaled, the Bees won their first 10 games of the 2019-2020 season. They moved all the way up to No. 14 in the entire state. Respect was being restored.
“We had this stigma that the players in Bayonne and in Hudson County just weren’t that good,” Turner said. “We had to change that a little.”
And the change came from within. The Bees had to take care of their own business.
“We just needed to come to play every night,” Turner said. “Each girl had to do their job. We have a great group of girls. Each one brings a certain set of values. We have a good defense and force teams to take bad shots. We also do a great job of rebounding. The girls have bought into the defensive scheme. I think it helped having a veteran team as we do.”
Leading the veterans is senior forward Makoye Diawara. The 6-foot-1 Diawara earned Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team last year, when she averaged 17 points and 16 rebounds per game. Diawara, already committed to play at NCAA Division I Norfolk State next season, is rapidly approaching the 1,000th point and the 1,000th rebound of her brilliant career.
“She has turned up her game about two notches,” Turner said of Diawara. “She has aspirations to be the Player of the Year. She also wants to win every game and will do whatever she needs to do. She really has become a better player than last year. She’s worked on not picking up sloppy fouls. She’s really concerned about leaving her legacy and whether she will be remembered with the all-time greats here. She’s putting in the extra work and has excellent work ethic. I’m really impressed with what she’s done.”
Diawara is averaging 23.3 points and 18.8 rebounds per game this season. She had 19 points and 19 rebounds in a 57-37 win over Kearny last week. Diawara chose Norfolk State, because she wants to enter the medical field and the school offers a special five-year program.
The other super Bee is 5-foot-6 sophomore point guard Eniya Scott. The brilliant Scott also earned Reporter All-Area First Team honors last season as a freshman. She has picked up right where she left off, filling up the statistic sheet every night. Scott is averaging 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 5.5 steals and even one block per contest.
“One of the points of her game is finding people in transition,” Turner said of Scott. “She’s pushing the ball up the floor and she’s really strong, so she’s making a lot of plays.”
Scott is also an honor student and she’s giving back to Bayonne, coaching a Pee-Wee co-ed team.
“I think that’s helped her a lot,” Turner said of Scott. “I think she’s able to see the game in a different way.”
Having two All-Area First Team players is a gigantic advantage, especially in Hudson County. Diawara and Scott make a deadly 1-2 punch.
“I’m very blessed,” Turner said. “Eniya came in last year and she brought a star-studded skill package. Makoye once had no footwork, but we worked with her and the maturation process was remarkable. You really don’t get to see two kids of this talent, especially in a public school. We also have good players around them.”
Mary Grace Lavin is a 5-foot-8 senior who once played at St. Dominic Academy. But Lavin is fitting in nicely in Bayonne.
“She’s come in and she helps Makoye on the boards,” Turner said of Lavin, who is averaging 8.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. “She’s been a really good addition.”
Senior Jada Phillips is a 5-foot-9 forward.
“She is a solid outside shooter and brings defensive toughness every game,” Turner said. “She puts pressure on the other team’s wing players. We’re happy to have her.”
Jolyssa Moody is a 5-foot-7 sophomore who once starred in the Bayonne Recreation league.
“She has a nice outside shot and helps Eniya with her ball handling,” Turner said.
Freshman Christina Centeno is a 5-foot-6 guard who also can stick the outside shot with her left-handed form. Junior Logine Moustafa is a 5-foot-10 forward who was from Bayonne, moved to Chicago and then came back again.
Junior Tamia Phillips is a 5-foot-9 defensive stopper who proves that having two sisters are better than one. Junior Sam Galano is a 5-foot-10 forward who improves daily.
And the Bees have 11 wins in 12 games and a state ranking. Respect may come in the form of county and/or state championships.
“When you do things to your capability, then good things can happen,” Turner said. “I’d much rather lose now than later on.”
The Bees may not lose again all season. Things can happen.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog about the Mets’ mess at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and tune into the Hudson County Sports podcast on YouTube. This week’s guest is Hudson County’s all-time leading scorer boys’ and girls’ basketball in former St. Peter’s College standout Kim McDonough Huaranga, the current athletic director at Harrison High School.