Steve Fagan is the head women’s basketball coach at Felician University in nearby Rutherford. He’s spent the last 12 years trying to find the best players available to assist his NCAA Division II program.
Fagan knows that a hotbed for basketball talent is in Hudson County, so he generally keeps a keen eye on what’s going on locally.
“I kept track about what was going on in high school,” Fagan said. “I’ve always looked at what goes on in Hudson County. Without a doubt, I try to keep the local talent here. That’s the direction I want the program to go.”
So two years ago, Fagan started the recruiting process with Haylee Ramirez, the 1,000-point scorer out of Hudson Catholic and a three-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree, culminating in a First Team selection in 2017-2018.
“We first went after Haylee Ramirez,” Fagan said, stating that he made the recruitment of Ramirez, a native of North Bergen, a top priority. “You just need to have her on the court. She does all the little things. She plays with a passion.”
Ramirez was impressed with the way Fagan approached her and was equally impressed with Felician.
“I didn’t want to go to a big school,” Ramirez said. “I always dreamed of playing college basketball, back since I was a little girl, so this was like a dream come true. Felician was a good opportunity for me. And I was only 15 minutes away from home.”
Once Fagan secured the services of Ramirez, he then went after Briana Lee, a do-everything talent out of little known METS Charter in Jersey City, where Lee helped to put that program on the map in 2017-2018, averaging 23.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, five steals and three blocks per game for a team that went 25-3 and won a round in the NJSIAA state playoffs.
Lee was a Hudson Reporter All-Area Second Team honoree in 2017-18, the same year that Ramirez earned First Team honors. Lee soon transferred to Irvington High School, where she played most of her senior year.
“Without a doubt, Briana is a special talent,” Fagan said. “She can do a variety of things. She sees the game so well. She understands the game. She can play multiple positions.”
Fagan realized that securing Lee’s services would be a coup for his program.
For some reason, Lee didn’t have a plethora of offers to choose from, despite scoring almost 700 points her junior year at METS and tallying more than 1,000-points in her brief two-year stint at the tiny Jersey City school that was located in the former St. Paul of the Cross grammar school in the Jersey City Heights.
“I only had three offers,” Lee said. “I was a little disappointed, but I liked Felician, because it was close to home and a small school.”
The final piece to Fagan’s local puzzle came from former Hudson Catholic point guard Tania Scott, who when she walked out of the McGinley Square school, she was the all-time leading girls’ basketball scorer in the school’s brief history.
Like Ramirez, Scott was a member of the Hudson Reporter All-Area Second Team in 2016-2017. She was the first-ever 1,000-point scorer in girls’ basketball at Hudson Catholic, a mark that Ramirez also achieved a year later.
After Hudson Catholic, Scott went to Union County College and led that team to the National Junior College (JUCO) national championships in Kansas City two years in a row. Scott helped Union CC to a No. 2 national ranking. A talented point guard, Scott needed a four-year school to finish her college education, so Felician fit the bill.
“She had all these [JUCO] games under her belt,” Fagan said. “She has the ability to make the other players better. She has the experience that she can teach the younger kids. It’s becoming unusual these days to have a pure point guard, but that’s what she is. She played very well on the JUCO level.”
Scott, who had two years of college eligibility remaining, also liked how small Felician was.
“I never wanted to go to a big school,” Scott said. “I had a school in California recruiting me and I remember saying, ‘I’m not going all the way to California to go to school. My Mom [Tamika Fogg] just knew I was going to Felician. It was easier for her to come to games. I liked the atmosphere.”
And sure enough, here were three local talents, three 1,000-point scorers, three All-Area performers, all coming together as scholarship players at the same school.
It’s extremely rare, but Fagan liked the way they all played – the Hudson County way.
“All three bring a passion to the game,” Fagan said. “The compilation is pretty special.”
Although the results haven’t been stellar, all three are starting for the Falcons this season. Lee is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game. In just her fourth collegiate game, Lee collected 21 rebounds – just one shy of the school record. She’s been named the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Rookie of the Week four times already this season.
Scott is the team’s point guard and she’s scoring 6.8 points and three assists per contest. Ramirez is the team’s off-guard and she’s averaging 6.2 points and two rebounds per game.
Incredibly, Lee did not know Ramirez or Scott before coming to Felician.
“I felt I could bond with Tania,” Lee said. “I didn’t know if I would like Haylee, but we started talking and I found out that she’s goofy like me. You always need good goofy people. They’re now my best friends.”
But now the three are inseparable and leading the Felician women’s basketball program to a bright future.
“It’s all about being comfortable at the collegiate level,” Fagan said. “Right now, the whole team is trying to feel their way. We have so many underclassmen. But without a doubt, we’re going to keep getting better. They want to. They want to get better.”
“We’ll be better next year,” Lee said. “We’re going to come back next year and it will be crazy around here. Right now, it’s pretty wild. I honestly didn’t know I would come in and start right away. But this has been a great experience for a freshman.”
“I always have them to talk to,” Ramirez said. “I rely on them a lot. It’s been a great experience this year, better than what I expected.”
Scott has only one more season of college basketball left, so she wants to elevate the program.
“I want see this program develop,” Scott said. “I know that it means a lot to the coaches than we’re all have addictive personable. We’re really young. We have to grow up a little still. I know being from Jersey City means a lot, because we stick together.”
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow him on Twitter @ogsmar and tune into the Hudson County Sports podcast on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. This week’s special guest is Jersey City basketball legend Mike O’Koren.