North Bergen counting on standout Ellis; Prep’s Armstrong reaches 1,000; Felician women come back; top fives

North Bergen senior guard DeAvion Ellis is one of the top returning players in Hudson County this season
North Bergen senior guard DeAvion Ellis is one of the top returning players in Hudson County this season

The North Bergen High School boys’ basketball team won 18 games last year, falling to St. Peter’s Prep in the Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals and then losing to Ridgewood in the NJSIAA North Jersey Group IV semifinals.

Veteran head coach Kevin Bianco has been battling the regulations placed by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the Bruins have yet to play a game this season.

“It’s been really tough,” Bianco said. “We usually play in about six summer leagues and couldn’t this year. We do that just to get the kids exposed. They get a chance to run up and down the floor and play together. It’s huge for us. If you’re not together playing, it’s tough to compete.”

But Bianco gives his players credit.

“They went to the parks to play,” Bianco said. “They couldn’t get into a gym from March 13 on. But they went to play. I always believe that talent will rise to the top.”

One thing is for sure. The Bruins have talent.

It begins with senior guard DeAvion Ellis, a former Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week who has already signed his national letter of intent to play college at Bloomfield College.

Ellis, who made First Team All-Hudson County last season will join his former Bruin teammate Abdallah El Saleh, another former First Team All-Hudson selection during his time in North Bergen, at Bloomfield, giving that program a huge local flavor.

Ellis averaged 22 points per game last season, third best in the county behind Maurice Odom of Union City and Nick Souza of Kearny.

“He has to be the guy for us to take control of the game,” Bianco said. “He has to dictate tempo to get shots.”

Ellis is a 6-foot-2 senior guard.

“He’s gotten a little bigger and stronger,” Bianco said. “He spent a lot of time with weights to get stronger. He’s still relatively young, just 17 years old for a senior. So he may grow some. But he just loves to play. He works out every single day. He’s been making sure other kids on the team go to workouts. He actually led by example through the pandemic. I am glad he has shown a lot of maturity.”

Another returning player is senior point guard Jayden Williams. The 5-foot-11 Williams has been a starter for three years and that experience is so valuable.

“He’s a little pit bull,” Bianco said. “He is solid and strong. He gets into the lane and finishes around the rim. He’s fearless. He’s solid for us. He’s your typical Hudson County guard.”

Bianco should know – because he was your typical Hudson County guard during his playing days almost 30 years ago. Time sure flies.

Here’s another example of time travel. Junior Elijah Camacho returns. The 6-foot-1 junior guard is the son of Eli Camacho, who was a brilliant player during his high school heyday in the mid-1990s, around the same time Bianco played for North Bergen.

The younger Camacho came on strong at the end of last season, making one big long-range shot after another.

“He’s our best shooter,” Bianco said of Camacho. “We have him out on the wing. He finished with like 100 3s [3-point shots, where Camacho had 64]. He’s one of the top 3-point shooters in New Jersey. He can really stroke it. It’s also very hard to rattle him. He doesn’t turn the ball over. You put him on the floor and he guts it through the game.”

Senior Esteban Dotel is a 5-foot-9 guard.

“He can really shoot it as well,” Bianco said. “He’s a very streaky shooter.”

Senior Leandro Cuello is a 5-foot-8 guard who is Guttenberg tough.

“He’s a good defender,” Bianco said of Cuello. “He’s a very good vocal leader. He’s always positive and he’s always running to pick our guys up off the floor.”

Here’s more family rules. Junior Nazir Nwadike is a 6-foot junior forward. He’s the son of former Dickinson two-sport standout Chi-Chi Nwadike.

“We’re hoping that he can bang around in the lane, be physical and get some rebounds,” Bianco said. “He can get us more chances to score. He has good hands and feet. He’s also very coachable. You tell him something and he does it.”

Junior David Gabriel is a 5-foot-10 guard who also has long range capabilities.

“He is a knock-down shooter,” Bianco said. “He can come off the bench and knock down shots.”

The Bruins expect to be your typical Hudson County basketball team when they get a chance to get out there and play.

“We expect to be competitive,” Bianco said. “We’re going to lean on Ellis, but we have other guys who can knock down shots. I just hope we’re in the top eight.”

It’s almost a given for the Bruins to finish there, if and when the season is completed…

Here’s a stunning statistic caused by COVID. Of the 13 boys’ basketball teams in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League, only seven have played a single game. When you throw in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference teams from the county, only Weehawken has played. Secaucus has not.

So it means seven boys’ basketball teams in the county have yet to play one game. Frightening…

The stats are a little better in girls’ basketball. Of the 14 teams in the HCIAL, only four have not played as of Feb. 5. Both Secaucus and Weehawken of the NJIC have played.

It’s doubtful that most of the games postponed due to COVID regulations will be made up. That’s a shame to the seniors who had high hopes for a final go round…

St. Peter’s Prep junior guard Mark Armstrong, who was the Hudson County Player of the Year last season, scored the 1,000th point of his career in a 69-22 win over Snyder last week. Armstrong is already the No. 9 all-time leading scorer in Prep history, well on his way to becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Marauders are ranked No. 7 in the state and are one of the lucky ones, having played four games, all victories, so far this season…

The Felician University women’s basketball team opened its season last Thursday night and saw local products Briana Lee from Jersey City and METS Charter and Haylee Ramirez from North Bergen and Hudson Catholic return in fine fashion. Lee had 20 points, 14 rebounds and five steals and Ramirez tossed in 20 points, albeit in a 77-69 loss to Georgian Court. Both Lee and Ramirez are former Hudson Reporter All-Area honorees from their high school days…

Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (4-0). 2. Union City (0-0). 3. Hudson Catholic (0-0). 4. Bayonne (2-0). 5. North Bergen (0-0)…

Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (2-1). 2. Lincoln (3-0). 3. Secaucus (2-0). 4. St. Dominic Academy (3-1). 5. Bayonne (1-1). – Jim Hague

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