It has definitely been a different type of preseason for Bayonne High School’s veteran girls’ basketball coach James Turner.
Oh, Turner has been the defending Hudson County Tournament champion before, having won five county crowns in his tenure. And the program has sat atop the county’s collective perch several times in the past, having captured 16 HCIAA crowns under Hall of Fame coach Jeff Stabile.
No, this season has been so totally different because of the restrictions placed upon the Bees – not to mention everyone else for that matter – because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been doing screening and taking temperatures,” Turner said. “I think it’s going to be tough, because in coaching, everything is based on time. For example, I like to get to the gym an hour before a game. Now, that’s not going to happen. We have to be dressed when we get on the bus. We have no locker room to meet in. In some cases, the two teams will be right next to each other, so there’s no privacy to go over halftime adjustments. It changes the landscape of the whole game.”
What also changes the game for the Bees is that for the first time in the last three seasons, they will be without their main post performer, namely two-time All-Hudson County selection Makoye Diawara.
The dominant power forward, who averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds per game last season, has taken her talents to NCAA Division I Norfolk State University.
But Turner doesn’t think the loss of Diawara will be a dramatic one for the Bees.
“Every year starts a new year,” Turner said. “Sure, we come in as the defending champs, but last year is last year. Quoting Bill Parcells, ‘Go by what I see, not what I remember.’ We’re not trying to replace Makoye. I’m not going to sugar coat it. She afforded our shooters a lot of confidence, because she cleaned up a lot around the rim.”
So Turner said that the Bees will have a little bit of a different look this season.
“We’re going to kick it up a notch,” Turner said. “We’re going to look to speed teams up by pressing and trapping. Our goal is to score 26 points a quarter.”
If the Bees can accomplish that goal, then they’re going to win a lot of games.
But if they do, it will because of junior guard Eniya Scott.
The 5-foot-6 Scott has been selected to the All-Hudson County First Team in each of her first two seasons at Bayonne. She averaged 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds per game last year.
“It’s really a luxury to have someone who is such a cerebral point guard,” Turner said. “She’s not only gifted, but she’s a smart player. She knows how to play basketball.”
That was evident last February, when Scott was the key performer in the Bees’ upset win over Hudson Catholic in the Hudson County Tournament championship game.
Scott is already getting plenty of looks from interested colleges.
“And there are more to come,” Turner said. “I think the colleges are all looking for her to shoot it more and she will. She’s a very strong girl.”
Another key returnee is 5-foot-7 junior guard Jolyssa Moody.
“She’s a good shooter from the outside,” Turner said. “She’s quick with the ball as well. I tell her that she and Eniya have the same skill sets. She just needs to get a little more confidence. But she’s a gym rat.”
Moody averaged close to seven points per game last season.
“She needs to double that this year,” Turner said.
Another key returning player would have been senior Tamia Phillips, but she tore her ACL during soccer season and is out for the year.
Senior Logine Moustapha is a 5-foot-7 guard who transferred back to Bayonne last year after a brief stint in Chicago. Moustapha hit an astounding 42 three-pointers in just 12 games a year ago.
“She’s a very good shooter,” Turner said.
Sophomore Christina Centeno, who is not to be confused with the former Marist High School and Siena College player of the same name and is currently an assistant coach at Appalachian State University, is a 5-foot-6 guard.
“She’s another gym rat and good ball handler,” Turner said of this Centeno.
Sophomore Menna Hafiz is a 5-foot-9 forward and post performer. Senior Samantha Galano is a 5-foot-9 forward who saw a lot of action last year.
“Menna has a nice soft shot,” Turner said. “Sam is active on the boards. She’s a soccer player as well, so she’s a good athlete. We want her to be able to keep up with the pace of the game.”
Junior Zariah Kitchens is a 5-foot-7 forward “who rebounds and defends well,” according to Turner.
The Bees open their defense of the Hudson County Tournament title Jan. 26 against McNair Academic. The biggest challenge on the schedule will be the rematch with Hudson Catholic on Feb. 6 at Bayonne. It’s a shame that fans will not be present for that contest.
“I foresee us making a run again,” Turner said. “I just need the girls to get back in the groove.”
With Scott running the show, it won’t take very long for that to happen. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com