While most of Hudson County’s basketball teams have struggled mightily to get to the 15-game maximum schedule that was instituted by the NJSIAA in face of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Weehawken High School’s boys’ squad hasn’t faced the stops and starts that others have withstood.
For example, Union City’s boys have played just three games as of Feb. 25, winning all three.
Weehawken’s boys have somehow managed to take the court 11 times, posting a 6-5 record at press time.
“We’ve been very lucky,” said veteran Weehawken head coach Jake McNish. “I think it helped that our kids have all opted for remote learning. I preach to them every day that they have to do the right thing. We had one kid who had secondary contact with a relative who had the COVID and he was quarantined for two weeks. We’ve also been fortunate to hook up with other teams to fill in games here and there. It’s been tough, but we’ve been very lucky.”
As for his team itself, the Indians are a very young bunch, with only one senior playing a key role.
“We’re mostly sophomores,” McNish said. “We start three sophomores. We really haven’t had sufficient practice time and that hurts when you have a young team. We really don’t have time to do situational practices.”
McNish has been fortunate to have a young coaching staff, especially assistant Fernando Fuentes, who was a great three-sport athlete in his playing days at Weehawken High. Fuentes was an assistant basketball coach at Memorial in West New York for a few years and was the head baseball coach at Marist when the school closed its doors forever last June.
“Fern has been doing a great job,” McNish said of Fuentes, who was drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school in 2001. “He’s enthusiastic and energetic. He works well with the kids. He got them in great shape. He worked hard on fundamentals.”
Manny Rivera is the other assistant coach under McNish.
McNish graduated most of his players from the team that went 13-14 a year ago.
“I basically thought this was going to be a rebuilding year,” McNish said. “I thought that this was going to be like a JV [junior varsity] team. We had some kids who didn’t even play basketball last year.”
When practices began, the Indians were only able to have one scrimmage.
“At first, I didn’t think it was a great fit,” McNish said. “By the end of the fourth quarter, I thought we started to look like a basketball team. We started to come together by the second half. We had kids who were willing to have scraped elbows and knees, diving for loose balls. It was a pleasant surprise. The kids really bought into what we were selling.”
From that moment on, McNish saw the makings of a competitive young team.
“They work hard in practice,” McNish said. “They do what we ask them to do. Some kids don’t take well to coaching. These kids are very receptive to it. It’s the type of team where we can’t get mad at them, because they play hard all the time. They hustle and play defense. They always give 100 percent.”
Leading the returnees is senior Andrew Ortiz. The 6-foot-1 Ortiz is the Indians’ small forward.
“Last year, he tried to live outside of the 3-point line,” McNish said. “But this year, he’s doing a lot of things for us.”
Ortiz is averaging eight points and nine rebounds per contest.
“He gets a lot of put-back baskets,” McNish said. “He’s been a nice leader for us.”
Junior Carlos Ramirez is a 5-foot-7 point guard. It only seems like every year that Weehawken has an undersized point guard.
“Carlos is a good shooter,” McNish said. “He’s a good hustle guy. He was the starting point guard on the JV team last year. He’s been getting better as a leader on this team.”
Sophomore Tristan Cole is a 6-foot-2 power forward who is averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“He’s doing a lot for us,” McNish said. “He can post a guy up, but he also plays well with his back to the basket. Playing with Andrew has helped him a lot.”
Sophomore Keanu Ray has been the biggest shocker. The 6-foot Ray is a transfer from London. Yes, as in London, England. Ray had 25 points in the Indians’ last game, a 60-53 loss to North Arlington last Thursday. Ray is averaging 17 points per game.
“When we were just remote learning, I heard the kid’s thick British accent,” McNish said of Ray. “I was a little surprised. I was told he could play. When I got to the gym, I watched him and thought all he wanted to do was shoot jump shots. But now he gets to the rim. He can run the point for us and bring the ball up against the press. He’s becoming more and more comfortable with us. He’s been a very pleasant surprise.”
Senior Colin Shevlin, the cross country standout, has decided to play basketball this season. The 6-foot-2 Shevlin, who has already signed a national letter of intent to run track at Felician College in the fall, has been a help on the hardwood.
“We use him at the top of our press,” McNish said of Shevlin, who is averaging six points and six rebounds per game. “He’s doing a real nice job for us. He saw some varsity time as a sophomore, then decided he wanted to concentrate on track.”
Junior Dmitri Wilder is a 5-foot-10 guard who is a solid defender. Sophomore Dennis Koraman is a 6-foot-2 forward who is a solid rebounder and “can handle the ball a little,” according to McNish.
Jayden DeLeon is a 5-foot-9 junior who plays a little of guard and forward.
“He plays bigger than what he is,” McNish said of DeLeon. “He does a nice job on the boards.”
McNish said that he didn’t know what he had before the season tipped off. Now, he knows.
“I was worried, because I didn’t think we were going to even play,” McNish said. “But now, having the chance to coach these kids has been a blessing. Being around them and seeing them work hard, I know they’re in it to win games. It’s a pleasure to go to practice every day.”
And it’s great to see someone like McNish invigorated by a hard-working team that no one expected to be as successful as they have been this season.
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 legendary College of Holy Cross basketball standout Rev. Earle Markey, S.J., who decided to become a Jesuit priest instead of pursuing a career in professional basketball.