Harrison’s Leiras leads basketball revival with Blue Tide

Johnathan Leiras doesn’t exactly live the life of a conventional high school student.

You see, Leiras is a Harrison resident, but he attends High Tech High School in North Bergen. It means that Leiras has to get up earlier than most and get on a bus to go to school nine miles away.

“It’s not that tough,” Leiras said. “But it can be challenging. It has its days. But it was a decision I had to make, because it was the best opportunity for me for my education.”

Leiras is already taking broadcasting lessons, a field that Leiras may pursue after college.

Leiras is also a fine basketball player, but since High Tech no longer offers high school athletics, Leiras is able to play for his home district, in this case Harrison.

So Leiras comes home from school, then heads to practice at Harrison High School. Most of his Blue Tide teammates have already gotten a head start, because they can practice while Leiras is still making his way home.

“It’s not that tough,” Leiras said.

Leiras gets his head start before school begins, long before the sun even rises.

At 4:45 a.m., Leiras gets up and heads to a local gym, driven there by his mother, Natalie.

“There’s no one there, so I can get my shots in,” Leiras said. “I shoot for about an hour or so. I try not to get too tired, because I have the rest of the day. It was my own idea. I just do it. It’s what I have to do to get better. I just go and do it. I thought of it on my own.

That’s Leiras’ daily routine. Get up, go to the gym to practice basketball, go to school, come home on a school bus, head to practice and then come home to do schoolwork, which Leiras takes very seriously, evidenced by his 3.6 grade point average.

Leiras is in the middle of his junior year of high school, right at the time when most high school students make their first impressions on prospective colleges.

And Leiras is certainly making his mark, obviously in the classroom at High Tech, but also on the hardwood with the Blue Tide.

Leiras has been totally on fire over the last few weeks, averaging 25.2 points over the last seven games. He scored 34 in a game against Secaucus and had 32 against University Charter of Jersey City last Saturday.

Over the last three games, Leiras has scored 25, 25 and 32 points, so he’s definitely hit a groove.

For his efforts, Leiras has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

New Harrison head coach Bill Mullins never saw Leiras play in person before taking the job, but he certainly heard of the sharpshooter.

“People told me that he was a pretty good player,” Mullins said. “He’s very quick and has a very good outside shot. He has a lot of talent. He can go by people. We want him to be the one taking the shots. He also has tremendous natural talent.”

Mullins said that Leiras has won two games this season with last second heroics.

“We were down by two against Hawthorne Christian and Johnathan hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win it. We were down by 19 at point and came back to win. Then against New Milford, Johnathan made a 4-point play to win it, a 3 and the free throw. He has the skill to do it.”

Leiras said that he got ready to play this season by playing AAU basketball last summer for the Athletes Plus program out of Perth Amboy.

“It really helped build my confidence tremendously,” Leiras said. “I just kept working on my own game. I had to be ready with the new coach. We got along fine. I knew I was prepared for the season. I felt ready. I got used to the style of play.”

The new coach and new style have led to new results for the Blue Tide, as Harrison has posted a surprising 10-4 record so far this season.

“I knew we would be able to do it,” Leiras said. “We have a good team. I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied, because I know I can play much better. I have to be more efficient.”

Leiras is hoping that his scoring explosion can open some eyes with college recruiters and it will lead to a possible college scholarship next year.

“That’s the goal,” Leiras said. “I want to play in college. I hope I get the chance.”

“I think he can play at the college level,” Mullins said. “He’s only a junior, so he has room to grow. We’ve been winning, but we’ve been in a few tough losses lately. We push the ball up the floor and try to put pressure on people.”

Mullins likes Leiras’ demeanor.

“He’s very quiet,” Mullins said. “He doesn’t say too much. But he’s a very good athlete. He has quick feet and has the ability to play good defense.”

Mullins said that Leiras is closing in on the 1,000-point milestone and should reach the total sometime this week.

Leiras is working on becoming a point guard.

“That’s probably where I’ll play in college,” Leiras said.

So there will be ball handling drills going on before the crack of dawn as well. All in a day in the life of Johnathan Leiras.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer