The Kearny High School boys’ basketball team enjoyed a successful campaign a year ago, posting a 15-11 record and staying competitive in the rough-and-tumble world of the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League.
Now as Bob McDonnell enters his fifth season as head coach, the Kardinals face a tough challenge, as the Kardinals return very few players who had an impact last season.
“It’s going to be very tough, especially with the teams we play,” McDonnell said. “I knew it was going to be a rebuilding year. I honestly don’t know what to expect.”
And the one returning player that McDonnell could rely upon, 6-foot-5 junior forward Robert Myers, is currently ineligible to play.
“Right now, we can’t count on him,” McDonnell said.
So McDonnell and the Kardinals move forward with the players they have in place.
“Right now, they’re battling,” McDonnell said. “They’re very eager. We have a very cohesive group. I could see that when we played in the summer and fall leagues. We played 30 games together and we got a good idea of what we had. We saw some good things and some bad things. We realized what we needed to work on and where we were at as a team.”
Leading the returnees is senior forward Michael Fitzpatrick. The 6-foot-5 Fitzpatrick saw limited action last season. Fitzpatrick is a three-sport athlete at Kearny, also participating in cross country in the fall and volleyball in the spring.
“He knows the game,” McDonnell said of his captain Fitzpatrick. “He’s always in the right spot. He’s not the quickest kid around, but he gets to the open spot and recognizes what the other team is giving him. He has a decent shot from 15 feet and in. The offense we run, there’s not a real need for a post player, so he can go outside.”
The other captain is 5-foot-9 junior guard Esteban Martinez.
“He gives all around effort,” McDonnell said of Martinez. “He is our defensive specialist and sees the court very well. He’s willing to give up his body to draw a charge. He’s also a good shooter.”
Westlyn Latka is a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard who saw some time with the varsity last year as a freshman.
“He’s a great outside shooter,” McDonnell said of Latka. “Without a doubt, we’re going to utilize him.”
Oscar Szymczak is a 6-foot-3 junior who will play either small forward or power forward, depending upon the opponent.
“He’s the most improved player in the program,” McDonnell said of Szymczak. “He has a good shot and a really quick first step.”
The rest of the Kardinals’ roster is raw and inexperienced.
Jorge Maza is a 5-foot-10 junior guard.
“He’s developed into a nice player for us,” McDonnell said of Maza. “He’s a good ball handler who has mentally gotten tough. He’s developing into a good floor leader.”
Senior Willie Serrano is a 6-foot power forward or center.
“He’s an inside presence who is a good rebounder,” McDonnell said of Serrano.
Omar Ruiz is a 5-foot-9 forward.
“We call him ‘Brick’ because he’s built like a brick house,” McDonnell said. “He sets screens like he’s playing football. He’s not afraid to battle against guys twice his size. He’s an inside presence as well.”
Nick Souza is a 6-foot-1 sophomore who will be the Kardinals’ starter at point guard.
“He is developing into a nice point guard,” McDonnell said. “He sees the court well and goes to the basket well. He’s making good decisions with the ball 99 percent of the time.”
Paolo Toscano is a 6-foot-1 sophomore newcomer who has transferred to Kearny from his native Brazil.
“He has great court sense,” McDonnell said. “He can play either the two (shooting guard) or the three (small forward). He also has a good inside game. He can get up in the air pretty well. He has a good upside.”
Chris Serrano is a 5-foot-11 freshman point guard or shooting guard. He’s also no relation to the aforementioned Willie.
“He’s going to play varsity right away,” McDonnell said. “He played with us in the summer and fall and handled himself well. He’s going to learn the system and has good instincts. He’s a good athlete.”
Lucas Siqueira is a 5-foot-11 junior forward whom McDonnell calls “an offensive force.”
Yosuany Terrero is a senior transfer from Florida who is getting accustomed to his new surroundings. Terrero is a 5-foot-11 forward.
“He’s a hard worker and strong defender,” McDonnell said.
Pedro Carrero, Jr. is a 5-foot-11 sophomore who needs seasoning. Jayson Ackerman is a 5-foot-11 junior who can play either guard position.
“The team is very talented, but young and inexperienced,” McDonnell said. “They’re being thrown into the fire. We’re instructing them to forget about the last play. They’re confident in themselves and do not believe that this is a rebuilding year. They are up to the challenge of continuing the recent success of the program.”
The Kardinals open their season at North Bergen on December 15.
Independent games against Bloomfield, Cliffside Park, Irvington, Newark Collegiate, American History and Paramus are on the schedule, as is the annual Kearny Holiday Tournament with Nutley, Perth Amboy and Memorial of West New York coming to Kearny Dec. 28 and 29.
“We need a lot of patience this year to watch this team develop,” McDonnell said. “They’re picking things up well. We’re going to experience a lot of growing pains.”
But eventually, those young, inexperienced players become standouts. That’s what McDonnell has to hope for as another hoop season tips off.