By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Queen of Peace boys’ basketball team continues to work its way through major growing pains, but head coach Tom McGuire is hopeful that the tough times are behind the Golden Griffins.
“Absolutely, our best basketball is ahead of us,” McGuire said. “We haven’t played our best yet. The one thing I appreciate about us is that we always tend to get better as the season goes on. We’re never the same team that started the season.”
The Golden Griffins now own a 5-5 record after soundly defeating Bergen Charter, 73-37, last Thursday night.
McGuire said that the Golden Griffins are still relatively young.
“We’re pretty green,” McGuire said. “We start a freshman and play another one. I didn’t realize how big of a loss that the seniors from last year would be. It’s a chemistry thing right now. We’re still working on the chemistry. We’re working hard in practice and trying to get everything we can out of this team. We haven’t had a signature win yet, so that’s something we need.”
The Griffins are fortunate enough to have 6-foot-3 junior forward Jeremy Joseph back from last year. The talented Joseph is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds per game. Joseph had consecutive games against Dwight- Englewood and Rutherford where he tallied 27 points and 11 rebounds (Dwight-Englewood) and 28 points and 12 rebounds (Rutherford).
“He’s done everything we’ve asked of him,” McGuire said. “He’s such a team player. You like players who are pass first and shoot second. Well, Jeremy is pass first and pass second. We need him to be more selfish. We’re also trying to establish him more down low, get him more involved in the paint. He’s so strong that he can handle it. He’s starting to get it.”
McGuire knows that Joseph is definitely a college prospect.
“Without a doubt, we’re working on college already,” McGuire said. “He’s a very good student, so that helps. I think playing AAU ball in the summer (with the Wayne PAL) has also helped him.”
Another key contributor is 6-foot senior guard Joe Cook.
“He was the off-guard (shooting guard) last year and this year, he’s playing more of the point guard role,” McGuire said. “He has that point guard mentality. He’s such a tough kid, a tough player. He gets the job done.” Cook is averaging eight points and four assists per game.
Another solid contributor is senior guard Mike Pettigrew. The 6-foot Pettigrew, a standout baseball player in the spring who has already committed to playing baseball at Drew University in the fall, is averaging seven points per game this season.
“He’s our shooter,” McGuire said. “He’s done a good job from the outside. If he’s shooting well, then we’re a better team. He’s also a good defensive player who goes up against the other team’s best player and holds his own against the best.”
One of the key freshmen is 6-foot-3 forward Raphael Castillo.
“He has a lot of promise,” said McGuire of Castillo, who is averaging 10 rebounds per game. “He’s going to be one of the better players in the county. He has a ton of potential.” Castillo is also averaging nine points per contest this year.
Senior James Lia, another fine baseball player, is a 5-foot-7 guard who has been battling an ankle injury.
“We want to make sure he’s healthy before we put him back out there, because he is such a good baseball player and don’t want to jeopardize that,” McGuire said.
Sophomore Dante Small is a 5-foot-11 guard.
“He’s been a little bit of a surprise, because I didn’t know whether he could play,” McGuire said. “I like his athleticism and intensity. It’s only his second year of organized basketball, so he’s still learning. But he’s a very athletic kid who could become a very good player.”
Senior Sammy Tait is a 5-foot-11 guard who comes off the bench. The same for 5-foot-7 junior Jordan Moran. Both add depth at the guard position.
Another freshman who is getting considerable playing time is 6-foot-3 Jasiah Provillion, who had 12 points in the win over Bergen Charter.
“He also has a lot of promise,” McGuire said. “He just needs to develop. He’s starting to get meaningful varsity minutes. He’s extremely athletic and working on all facets of the game with him.”
The Griffins were bolstered recently by the return of former head coach and QP standout athlete Christian Boyce to the sidelines as an assistant to McGuire. A few years ago, the roles were reversed, with Boyce as the QP head coach and McGuire as the assistant.
“Oh, God, yes, he’s helped coming back,” McGuire said. “He’s helped a lot with our post players. He’s a basketball coach and needed to be back coaching.”
The Golden Griffins have an important stretch of games coming up this week, facing off against Leonia, New Milford and Kinnelon. While qualifying for the Bergen County Jamboree might be a little bit of a stretch right now (the Griffins need wins in all three games this week to have an outside shot), the NJSIAA Non-Public B North playoffs are still a strong possibility.
“We want to think we have a shot of playing well this week,” McGuire said. “It is an important week for us. We want to make sure we get into the states.”
If the Griffins keep moving in the right direction – and get that quality, signature win – they should be in good shape.