By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Dylan Hoch didn’t know what to expect when Kearny High School brought in Bill Schoener to be the new boys’ basketball coach.
As a senior returning player, Hoch knew that his role would be enhanced, but he didn’t know how much. Hoch also didn’t know if he had to impress the new coach, who already knew something about Hoch before the two met.
“Dylan’s AAU coach, Dan Halewicz, is a good friend of mine,” Schoener said. “When I took the job, Dan told me that I had a good player.”
Hoch spent last summer playing for Halewicz’s Wayne Wolfpack squad. Hoch was a little apprehensive about having a new coach.
“I have to admit that when we had our first workout over the summer, I was a little nervous coming into it,” Hoch said. “I was excited about the season, looking forward to what Coach Schoener thought of me. I didn’t know what to expect.”
As it turned out, the first few workouts didn’t impress Schoener.
“At the very beginning, he wasn’t shooting the ball well,” Schoener said.
Hoch knew that he was having a little difficulty with his shot, so he went to work with Halewicz, who had a special machine geared to help with perimeter shooting.
“It’s called ‘The Gun,’” Hoch said. “It’s almost like a batting cage for baseball. It shoots the ball right back to you and you’re able to take shot after shot. As the summer went on, I could see that my percentage was going up. So when we started at Kearny, I thought I’d get my share of open looks. With my shot improving, I thought I had a chance to be a scorer.”
But no one would have ever imagined how much of a scorer Hoch would become.
“He’s a little better than what I thought,” said Schoener, who took over at Kearny this season after previous stints at Becton Regional and Queen of Peace. “So we’re asking him to do a lot. We look to him to handle the ball, cover the other team’s best player. When you’re coming into a situation a little blind, you hope to have a kid like Dylan who can do a little bit of everything. Now I know I have one of those. He’s been scoring. He’s been playing well. There hasn’t been a game where Dylan hasn’t played well.”
Hoch has been nothing but sensational for the Kardinals in the early part of the season. The Kardinals have played nine games and Hoch has failed to score 20 points in only two of those contests.
In the past week, Hoch had 33 points in a loss to Wood- Ridge, a team that has two guards that are getting major looks from NCAA Division II and III schools. He also had 20 in a win over Lodi, 20 in a loss to St. Peter’s Prep and 16 in a setback to Scotch Plains- Fanwood.
For the season, Hoch is averaging 21.5 points per game with an astounding 23 three pointers made.
For his efforts, Hoch has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“He’s definitely proven himself,” Schoener said. “I think the game against Wood-Ridge was a good measuring stick, scoring 33 in that game.”
Schoener likes Hoch’s approach to the game.
“He goes to the basket very well,” Schoener said. “He’s right-handed, but I think he goes much better to the left. You really can’t play him one way. He’s also getting to understand when to pull up and take that short range shot. That’s really helped him.”
Hoch is also a very unselfish player, always looking to get his teammates chances to score.
“I have to tell him sometimes that he has to be more selfish,” Schoener said. “Maybe he’s too unselfish at times. We need him to score. But there hasn’t been one time that I’ve said, `Dylan, that was a bad shot.’ He always takes good shots.”
Hoch knows that his ninegame outburst is no fluke.
“I’ve become more confident with my shot since the summer and that has carried over,” Hoch said. “I am cofident that I can continue to do this. My teammates are willing to back me up and help. They’re trying to run options for me, so I can have the ball in my hands.”
Hoch doesn’t mind being the Kardinals’ go-to guy.
“I actually like being the leader,” Hoch said. “Even when I can’t score, I’m trying to make plays so the other people on the team can score. My goal this year is to make the state tournament. We’ve never made it before in my four years here, so that’s the goal.”
The Kardinals have a 3-6 record thus far; however, the NJSIAA has changed the prerequisites for a team to qualify for the state tourney. It used to be that a team needed a .500 record or better at the cutoff date to get in, but now, a team can get in with a sub-.500 mark, as long as the team sits among the top 16 in the respective NJSIAA sectional.
“Right now, if the season ended today, we’d be the No. 12 seed, so we would be in,” said Hoch, already watching the other teams in the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV bracket.
Hoch is pleased about the way he has bounced back solidly from a severe foot injury last year.
“I tore ligaments in my foot and I missed a lot of time,” Hoch said. “I had to go through a lot of work in therapy to get back. I missed a lot of time to show college coaches what I can do.”
However, Hoch’s early season exploits are bound to open some college coaches’ eyes.
“He’s definitely a college basketball player, no doubt,” Schoener said. “I really think he can play on the next level.”
For Hoch, that has been another of his aspirations.
“It’s always been a goal and a dream to play on the next level,” Hoch said. “My AAU coach (Halewicz) and Coach Schoener have been in touch with a couple of colleges and that’s been a big help.”
Hoch’s academic standing will also be a big assistance getting into a college. He currently is carrying a 4.34 grade point average and scored a 26 on his ACT test. He’s ranked 28th in a class of over 350 seniors. Not bad at all.
For now, Schoener is pleased with what Hoch has done.
“He has to be the one,” Schoener said. “We have a senior dominated team and I’m counting on Dylan to be there to lead the team. I think what he’s doing takes the pressure off everyone else.”
Hoch is happy with what he’s accomplished thus far.
“But I can’t stop here,” Hoch said. “There’s always room for improvement. I have to keep getting better. But I am a little impressed by the way I’ve played.”
As well Hoch should be proud. He’s put himself right in the center of the local high school basketball map.