The Harrison High School boys’ basketball team was dealt a severe blow when Johnathan Leiras, the Blue Tide’s leading scorer in each of the last two years, decided to transfer to The Patrick School last spring instead of returning for his senior year with the Blue Tide.
Leiras averaged 20.8 points last season and 20.3 points as a sophomore.
Leiras’ departure forced returning senior Timothy Danielian to do some soul searching.
“I knew I had to pick up my game with John leaving,” Danielian said. “His decision to leave was very unexpected. We were always close and we’re still good friends. But I felt like I had to improve my game, step up to the table and do more. I like seeing my teammates having fun. I wanted the best for my team. I had to be more aggressive. I had to work on my defense. I had to block shots, get rebounds. I had to pick it up more because John was gone. My mindset totally changed. I had to expand my game.”
Harrison head coach Bill Mullins had a little chat with Danielian soon after Leiras made his transfer plans official.
“I had to convince Tim that we could have a good team if he was able to step up and be a leader for us,” Mullins said. “But he had to believe that. He had to believe in himself that he could be a leader. So I had to tell him over and over.”
Mullins loves Danielian’s ability to shoot the basketball.
“He has a beautiful shot,” Mullins said. “He has great, incredible form with his shot. He’s a good three-point shooter. On the defensive side, he had to pick it up a little. Overall, he just had to change his style of play a little.”
Danielian was ready for the challenge of leading the Blue Tide.
“My mindset changed,” Danielian said. “I had to call for the ball more. I had to expand my game. I used to let John do most of the scoring, but I knew I could do it if I had to. I worked really hard to get where I am.”
Just how hard? Well, try this story on for size.
When Danielian was a sixth grader at Harrison’s Washington Middle School, he was actually cut from the team.
“I got upset,” Danielian said. “I was really hurt by it. I cried a lot. But that was really like a wake-up call for me. It made me practice a lot harder. I had to come back and play again. I had to come back at some point and prove everyone wrong.”
So a fully motivated Danielian went to work right away.
“I would go to the Harrison Community Center almost every day,” Danielian said. “I got there before anyone else got there, like 7 in the morning. I worked on my ball handling, my shooting. Once the doors opened, I was there. I had to take advantage of having the early time there. Getting cut from that team in sixth grade really made me more determined.”
Mullins could see that Danielian was an extremely focused young man.
“He had a lot more intensity this year,” Mullins said. “He accepted the role and became a very good leader for us. He worked on his ball handling skills and he is always shooting. He was a good example for us. He understands that it takes hard work. There are no short cuts in basketball. It takes hard work.”
Mullins likes one skill that Danielian has and can’t be taught.
“He’s the best jumper I’ve ever had,” said Mullins, who has more than 30 years of coaching experience on the high school and college levels, including internationally in South America. “He can really jump and goes after it. He can go above the rim. He really gets up there. I haven’t coached a lot of guys who could jump like he can.”
There’s one main facet to Danielian’s game that sticks out _ and that’s his ability to put the ball in the basket.
In recent games, Danielian scored 36 points in a win over North Arlington, 29 in a loss against Garfield and 25 in a loss to Leonia. Danielian also had 15 points in a 53-21 victory over the Bard School Saturday afternoon.
For his efforts, Danielian has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Danielian is averaging 18.6 points per game so far for the Blue Tide, who owns a 4-6 record so far this season.
Mullins knows that Danielian has to carry the Blue Tide’s chances as much as possible.
“I want him to have the ball and we have to find more ways to get him the ball,” Mullins said. “He’s also a good foul shooter, so we have to get him to the foul line. We want him to be a complete player. It’s not just about shooting the ball. He’s such a hard worker. From a coach’s standpoint, you want to have your best player busting his tail, because it motivates everyone else.”
Mullins believes that Danielian has the skills to be a college basketball player next year.
“I think he can play,” Mullins said. “He just needs to get a little stronger. He can jump. He can shoot. Everyone in college basketball wants a shooter. He’s put a lot of time into his game and it’s now paying off.”
Mullins likes the way Danielian goes through a ritual before every game and practice.
“He has a routine before practice with his dribbling and shooting,” Mullins said. “He works on all of his different shots before the game. He follows that routine every day and has the discipline to do that.”
Danielian is enjoying his senior year.
“It’s been fun,” Danielian said. “We have guys stepping up and improving every day.”
Danielian said that he has thought about college and playing basketball.
“That would be a dream come true,” Danielian said. “I’ve had some schools show some interest, like Hunter, Rowan and Rutgers-Newark.”
Rutgers-Newark features former Harrison High standout Quincy Rutherford, who had a career-high 17 points in the Scarlet Raiders’ win over Rowan Saturday night.
“Quincy is one of my closest friends,” Danielian said of the R-N freshman. “We talk all the time. Right now, I’m focused on the rest of this season, but honestly, I never thought all of this could happen. I just had a feeling this year that I could do something big. I waited for this all my life.”
Imagine, the kid who was cut from a sixth grade team in middle school is now the varsity team’s leading scorer just six years later. Just shows what a kid could do if he’s determined and dedicated enough.