The Memorial High School boys’ basketball team had a sensational season a year ago, winning 16 games and advancing to the Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals.
Veteran head coach Steve Leon moved into the new season, knowing that he had huge shoes to fill, since talented point guard A.J. Aviles had graduated. Aviles was a First Team All-Hudson County selection last year.
“I knew that it was never going to be easy trying to replace a kid like A.J.,” Leon said. “The thing that A.J. provided on the court was explosiveness.”
And because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Tigers were without their usual summer workouts and summer league activities.
“Not having the summer was huge for us,” Leon said. “We first have to try to replace A.J., then not having the summer made it that much more important. We were just eager to get back on the court.”
And because of that COVID crisis, the Tigers were one of the last teams in Hudson County to play this season, having played just two games by press time Feb. 12.
Leading the returning players for the Tigers is junior forward Alejandro Arango. The 6-foot-4 Arango averaged 13 points and nine rebounds per game last season.
“He does a lot for us,” Leon said of Arango. “He has good size and a good skill set. He can put the ball down on the floor and can attack the rim. For the last two years, he played off A.J. as the secondary guard. Now, he could be the primary ball handler. Because of his versatility, he has so much talent. He has a good mid-range jump shot. He can use the glass to his benefit as well. He’s really a dynamic player.”
Arango has the capabilities to be an All-Hudson selection this year.
Another top player for the Tigers is 6-foot-3 senior Miguel Carambot.
“He’s a good 3-point shooter,” Leon said. “He’s improved his game a lot. He’s also able to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He can play anywhere from the 2 [shooting guard] through the 5 [center]. He gives me flexibility on the floor.”
Carambot is a very talented athlete. He was the starting tight end for the Memorial football team.
Ethan Garcia is a 5-foot-11 junior point guard. He has the dubious distinction of having to try to fill the huge shoes left by Aviles’ departure.
“Ethan does a little bit of everything,” Leon said. “He has improved his shot tremendously.”
Junior Aaron Swann is a 6-foot-6 center who is a good space eater.
“He’s a good rebounder,” Leon said of Swann, who is another football player on the Tiger basketball roster. “He’s our enforcer. He defends the paint and gets a lot of put back baskets.”
Senior guard Anderson Gonzalez is a 5-foot-11 off-guard who didn’t play basketball last year.
“He reached out to me and said that he wanted to play this year,” Leon said of Gonzalez. “He’s a typical slasher. He’s very raw. He goes to the rim well and does some good things.”
Edison Gonzalez is a 5-foot-11 swing player who spends most of his time at small forward.
Jesus Santos is a 6-foot-5 center/forward who also plays baseball in the spring.
“He can jump to the roof,” Leon said. “He’s a very good rim protector.”
Senior guard Anthony Baez is a 5-foot-9 guard who adds depth to the Tigers’ bench. Junior guard/forward Momar Nidaiye can play either position with ease.
Leon was asked what it was like to have his season halted twice by COVID-19 scares, while the rest of the county was playing games. For example, St. Peter’s Prep, ranked No. 7 in the entire state, played six games. Neighboring school Weehawken took the floor an astounding seven times. Memorial has just the two games, a five-point win over Snyder and a two-point loss to Dickinson.
“It’s been really rough,” Leon said. “We had a late start to the season, got a couple days to get ready, and then got shut down again. It really sucks, especially for the kids. We definitely felt like we were being thrown to the wolves. But I was really looking forward to starting the season.”
Leon definitely wanted to get the season going for a talented player like Arango.
“The keys to the car are in his hands,” Leon said. “I’ve been really looking forward to this moment for him. I really feel badly for the kids. I think we’re going to be in every game for another year. A lot of our success depends upon him.”
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 Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Listen to this week’s guest, namely St. Dominic Academic track and field coach and athletic director John Nagel, whose career at the Jersey City school spans five decades.