By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Bill Schoener took over the head coaching duties of the Kearny High School boys’ basketball program in August, he had a simple goal.
Schoener just wanted the Kardinals to improve. It had to be the first step, considering the Kardinals have not been competitive for a few years. The Kards won all of four games last year. So a simple request such as improvement isn’t a lot to ask for.
“We had some great workouts and practices,” said Schoener, who was the head coach at Becton Regional for the previous four seasons and also had a threeyear stint at Queen of Peace. “I think the kids wanted to change and accepted the change that I brought. I think they were looking for a little bit of fresh air.”
Schoener had a good sense of the improvement as the Kardinals played in an off-season fall league in Bloomfield. He also saw the dedication that the Kards had in getting better on their own. Again, it was a simple request and easy plan. Just improve.
“They all came to everything we had,” Schoener said. “There wasn’t a single bump in the road.”
Every new coach has to endure some sort of transition. But Schoener said that his new team was so in sync with him from the outset that the transition was as easy as it could have been for a program starving for victories.
“I think the fact that they struggled recently made it easier,” Schoener said. “I think they’re all pretty hungry to turn this thing around, hungry to take the next step. I think they know they’re going to get better.”
The 2012-13 season is only a few days old, but there has already been improvement – and the Kards have a victory to show for it.
After falling to Bayonne in the season opener Friday night, the Kardinals faced Christ the King of Newark Saturday and came away with a 57-52 win. That’s progress.
“I’m pretty happy with the way we played against Bayonne, even though we lost,” Schoener said. “We came right back and got the win a day later. I think we’re definitely going in the right direction.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Kardinals’ improvement is the play of senior guard Dylan Hoch, who has enjoyed a sensational start to the new season.
The 5-foot-11 Koch had 27 points in the loss to Bayonne, then followed it up by scoring 21 in the win over Christ the King.
“People told me that Dylan was a pretty good player,” Schoener said. “I hadn’t seen him play a lot, but he’s much better than I expected. He goes to the basket really well. He’s been our glue so far. He’s also a very good student and getting recognized by some good academic colleges. The other kids on the team are looking to him now as our go-to guy and leader. The other kids are really buying into what he does.”
The point guard is senior Eric Silva. The 5-foot-10 Silva has turned into a good floor general in the new coach’s eyes.
“He’s done a real good job handling the ball,” Schoener said. “He’s been getting us into our offense well. He’s embraced the role of being the point guard. He has natural instincts with the ball. He’s really made things easier for me.”
Senior Aneudi Martinez is the Kards’ small forward. Schoener likes what he gives the Kards.
“He’s a little undersized for a forward (5-foot-10), but he’s a strong kid and a tough kid,” Schoener said. “He does a nice job using his body. He’s also a very good defender, but he also can make the open shot.”
Martinez scored 12 points in the loss to Bayonne.
Senior Christian Kot is another shooting guard. Kot had 13 points in the win Saturday.
“He’s been making his threes,” Schoener said. “If he’s making them, then we’re in good shape. He plays real hard and is also a good defender.”
Senior Jonathan Horvaht is the team’s center. At 6-foot-2, Horvaht is the tallest of the Kardinals. “He’s a good rebounder and on offense, he’s done a great job with our offense, setting screens,” Schoener said.
Sophomore Zach Latka is a 6-foot-1 forward who comes off the bench.
“He has decent size and skills,” Schoener said. “I think he has the potential to be a very special player. He just has to keep working hard.”
Junior Joel Vivas is a 6-foot-1 forward who gives the Kardinals some versatility.
“He’s a strong kid who played varsity last year,” Schoener said. “He’s going to play good minutes for us.”
Joseph Rodriguez is another viable option coming off the bench. Rodriguez is a forward as well.
Schoener likes the fact that his team has a lot of seniors, guys who had to endure the tough times over the last few years.
“We’re senior dominated and that’s good,” Schoener said. “I know that those kids are going to come to play.”
The Kardinals face Dickinson and Union City this week. Which means one thing: It’s time to see how good the Kardinals truly are.