By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Paul Palek was looking for a little change of pace. After coaching the boys’ basketball team at Wayne Hills for the last three seasons and Montville the two years prior to that, Palek wanted something just a little closer.
“I’ve been teaching at a middle school in Newark for the last nine years and the running around just got to be too much,” said Palek, a native of Cedar Grove who also spent time as an assistant coach at Rutgers-Newark. “The commute was getting to me. It got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying going to practices. It started to wear on me and then wear on the kids.”
So when Jeff Radigan stepped down as the head boys’ basketball coach at Lyndhurst High School, Palek saw his opportunity.
“I knew it was a good basketball program,” Palek said. “I knew it would be a lot easier to run to practice from Newark. Being able to be so close was a big factor. I knew there was only one way for me and it had to be in Lyndhurst.”
The 31-year-old Palek was officially appointed to the head boys’ basketball coaching position by the Lyndhurst Board of Education last week.
“Having the ability to be so close is so huge,” Palek said. “I know the last two years, my teams were pretty successful at Wayne Hills. Having a winning culture like the one in Lyndhurst is always good to walk into.”
Palek is not inheriting a program bereft of talent. The Golden Bears were 13-10 last season under Radigan.
“I know they have some younger players, some nonvarsity guys,” Palek said. “With the conversations I’ve had with the people in Lyndhurst, they seem very optimistic.”
Although Palek hasn’t met his team yet, he has been in contact with them over the phone.
“I called almost all of them and they all seem interested,” Palek said. “I’ve talked to a couple of the seniors and we’re getting together with everyone within the next week. After that, we plan on being in the gym as much as possible.”
Palek said that he has no preconceived notions about Lyndhurst.
“I have no idea,” Palek said. “I’m going in totally blind. Maybe that’s a good thing. I do know that Lyndhurst has always had well prepared teams. I’m sure it’s going to be a challenge playing teams like Dwight-Englewood and Secaucus. But I know we’re going to be competitive every night.”
Palek said that a lot of his coaching philosophy comes from the time he spent with Rutgers-Newark head coach Joe Loughran.
“Joe has been my mentor,” Palek said. “He’s someone I look up to. His teams always played hard and defended well. That’s the staple of my teams I’ve coached. We play a tough man-to-man defense. It’s up to me to get the kids to play hard. We’re definitely going to be defensive oriented. I always teach that as a culture.”
Palek said that offensively, the Golden Bears might become a little more precise.
“I think we’ll probably play a little slower and make sure we get a good shot every possession,” Palek said. “We want our kids to take great shots and not turn the ball over much. We also will definitely share the ball. That’s what I’ll be looking for offensively.”
Palek played both basketball and baseball at Cedar Grove High School, so he knows the challenges that a school like Lyndhurst has with athletes that play more than one sport.
“I look forward to working with the other coaches to see if the multi-sport athlete can continue,” Palek said.
Palek is also happy to be joining a district that has successful teams across the board. Losing is not a word in the Lyndhurst vocabulary.
“It’s a great culture to walk into,” Palek said. “I learned about a winning culture from coaching at Wayne Hills. (Former Wayne Hills football coach) Chris Olsen is a good friend of mine now and I loved having his football players play basketball for me. I like that kind of culture.”
Palek is excited about the new challenge.
“Any time you get a chance to start fresh, it’s exciting,” Palek said. “It was difficult to leave Wayne Hills, but I think I’ll be able to grow more as a coach, given the opportunity at Lyndhurst. We’re going to make the most of what we have and I’ll count down the days to Thanksgiving (the first day of practice). Until then, I’m going to work on developing solid relationships. I want guys who can trust me and believe in me. I have to build relationships.”
Palek said that some of his coaching staff at Wayne Hills will follow him to Lyndhurst, so he has a solid head start.