Marist boys’ hoops looking for memorable last stand; Secaucus girls involved in fight; top fives

The Marist boys’ basketball team is trying to keep a stiff upper lip after the announcement that the school will close at the end of the current school year. From left are Keith Mency, Emanuel Toha, head coach Ben Gamble, Mike Jackson and Muhamed “Momo” Sidibe.
The Marist boys’ basketball team is trying to keep a stiff upper lip after the announcement that the school will close at the end of the current school year. From left are Keith Mency, Emanuel Toha, head coach Ben Gamble, Mike Jackson and Muhamed “Momo” Sidibe.

It was the end of October when the rumor mill started to swell that Marist High School was going to shut its doors forever at the conclusion of the current school year.

At the time, boys’ basketball coach Ben Gamble, the veteran who was lured back to Hudson County last year with the idea that Marist would be around for at least a handful of years, was trying to downplay the talk and concentrate on the task at hand.

“The only thing we can do is go forward,” Gamble said. “I do have the most experience with situations like this.”

Well, Gamble was the head coach at Archbishop McCarrick in South Amboy when that school closed. And Gamble was an assistant coach with the legendary Hall of Famer Bob Hurley for years at St. Anthony and that school has since closed. And Gamble was also the head coach at Mater Dei in south Jersey when it was rumored that it was about to close.

“We just have to get the kids to concentrate on the season,” Gamble said. “And hope it’s not going to happen.”

However, it’s now official that the powers-that-be at Marist have decided to shut the doors come June. It’s a done deal now. No need to address rumors. It’s going to happen. Once again, Gamble is going to be without a coaching gig.

But it’s not about to stop Gamble from doing what he does best – namely coach basketball. And Gamble is poised to lead the Royal Knights to a place in the history books, after just missing last year, losing to Union City in the Hudson County Tournament finale.

“I’m just coming in and try to do my job every day,” Gamble said. “It’s going to be a big challenge to keep them focused. We want to go out on top. We want to go out as a champion.”

It is a strong possibility with the team Gamble has.

Gamble said that his entire roster improved over the summer, so that was promising.

Leading the seniors is Emanuel Toha, the 6-foor-2 transfer from Cristo Rey in Newark who just recently scored the 1,000th point of his high school career. Toha was one of nine New Jersey players recently receiving nomination for the McDonald’s All-American game, so that would be a fitting way to close out his career.

“He brings a lot of intangibles,” Gamble said of Toha. “He’s keeping us glued together. He’s the most mature kid that I have on my team.”

Toha has a handful of college offers to consider once the season is over. He’s averaging 16 points per game, proving just how well he fits in with his new teammates.

Sharpshooting junior Mike Jackson returns after a brilliant sophomore season for the Royal Knights, earning Hudson Reporter Second Team All-Area honors. The 6-foot-3 Jackson can shoot the lights out of the gym and he also just scored the 1,000th point of his career last week. Jackson will have the distinction of being the last 1,000-point scorer in the rich and storied tradition at Marist.

“[Former St. Anthony McDonald’s All-American and former Rutgers/University of Florida standout] Mike Rosario was the best shooter I remember,” Gamble said. “But Mike is pretty close. He’s right there with Terry [Dehere], Mike [Rosario] and Donald Copeland [another former Friar star who played for Seton Hall]. I was around those guys, so I know. Mike can knock down shots.”

Jackson averaged 16 points per game last year and he’s doing better this season with a better cast around him. After nine games, Jackson is tossing in 18 points per contest and he has more 3-pointers (31) than 2-pointers (24), an absolute oddity that proves Jackson’s shooting range. Jackson has been on fire of late, scoring 27 in a huge win over Don Bosco Prep and 26 in a win over McNair Academic in his last two outings.

Junior point guard Keith Mency has also returned. The 6-foot-1 Mency does a little bit of everything for the Royal Knights, averaging 13 points, 5.4 assists and four steals per outing.

“We rely on him a lot,” Gamble said of Mency, who was the sixth man on last year’s team. “He can score, he can shoot, he can defend. I think he’s one of the most underrated shooters around.”

Sophomore forward Donovan Long was a junior varsity player last year, but the 6-foot-5 Long has made his presence felt with the varsity this year.

“He’s developed nicely,” Gamble said. “He’s had his moments in practice, dunking on his teammates. I think he’s one of the better sophomores in the state.”

That says a lot, considering that there are three incredible sophomores in Gamble’s own county, namely Zion Cruz of Hudson Catholic, Mark Armstrong of St. Peter’s Prep and Maurice Odum of Union City.

Six-foot-five Muhamed “Momo” Sibide is another front line performer for the Knights.

“He’s long and wirey,” Gamble said. “He’s one of the better defensive players around. He is our best energy guy.”

Junior Tarik DaCosta is a 6-foot off guard who comes off the bench.

“He’s physically strong and a very good defensive player,” Gamble said.

Junior Hassan Jackson (no relation to Mike) is a 6-foot-3 transfer from St. Thomas Aquinas in New York.

“He had a very good summer for us,” Gamble said of Jackson, who plays both guard and forward. “He can drive the ball to the basket and he’s a good shooter.”

Diamond Agyeman-Budu [formerly known as Diamond King] is a 6-foot-3 junior forward.

“He’s a very athletic kid,” Gamble said. “He’s a good fit.”

Junior Cross Bandy is a 5-foot-10 junior point guard from St. Raymond’s in New York. “He’s very smooth and quick.”

Jaeshawn Felder, another transfer from St. Raymond’s, is a 6-foot-1 junior. It’s a shame that these kids came to Marist only to have the school now close, so they will have to search for another school in June, if not sooner.

The Knights just received a huge boost this week, when Adam Silas, a 6-foot-3 point guard sophomore who transferred in from St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, became eligible after sitting the 30-day period mandated by the NJSIAA for all transfers without a change of address. Silas is an electric player who is going to make the Knights even better.

“He’s very good offensively,” Gamble said. “He can score from the point guard position.”

Just what the Royal Knights needed, more talent. It looks as if Marist is poised to go out with a bang.

“We just have to keep out the outside distractions,” Gamble said. “We have a better than average shot in the county and we’ll see about the state. There are some things I can’t control.”

Like Marist closing its doors forever. It’s a done deal. So Gamble wants to make his final season extremely memorable…

An unfortunate incident took place last week when the highly-touted Secaucus girls’ team got into an altercation with rival Lyndhurst.

With two minutes left in the second quarter and Secaucus holding an 18-16 lead, a loose ball and subsequent jump-ball scenario led to a scrum that led to some pushes and shoves, finally punches being thrown, some hair pulling and overall heated emotions.

In restoring a sense of calm, game officials decided to halt play at that spot. There were at least five ejections in the game, which meant that those girls will have to sit out the next two games once an official disciplinary ruling is made by the NJSIAA or the NJIC, the league that the two schools are members in.

And if Secaucus loses three girls to ejections, it could mean the Patriots would be disqualified from the upcoming state playoffs, according to NJSIAA rules.

Nothing official has been ruled on the incident until further review. Secaucus athletic director Charlie Voorhees and NJIC executive director Stan Fryczynski both reserved comment until all parties get together to review the incident…

Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (7-4). 2. St. Peter’s Prep (9-1). 3. Marist (8-1). 4. Memorial (7-2). 5. Snyder (7-4).…

Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (11-1). 2. Hudson Catholic (9-1). 3. Secaucus (8-1). 4. Lincoln (5-2). 5. Union City (6-3). – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com