Make no bones about it. First and foremost, Marty Higgins is a baseball player.
It’s where the Nutley High School junior gets his most recognition and acclaim. After all, Higgins has already given a verbal commitment to St. John’s University to play baseball there after he graduates from Nutley in 2019.
Higgins batted .362 as a freshman playing varsity two seasons ago and hit .358 last year as a sophomore. He’s played everywhere for the Maroon Raiders, seeing time at shortstop as a freshman, then third base and catcher last year.
Even the Nutley High basketball coach knows that about Higgins.
“He’s a baseball player,” said Maroon Raiders head boys’ basketball coach Bob Harbison. “Baseball is his game. He’s a terrific baseball player.”
Harbison should know. That’s because he doubles as the Nutley head baseball coach.
But in the winter months, Higgins is a basketball player as well _ and a mighty fine one at that.
Higgins’ love of basketball comes from his father, Marty, Sr., who is still the all-time leading scorer in the history of Nutley basketball. The elder Higgins went on to play college basketball at the University of Maine (1988-92) and scored 961 points for the Black Bears.
“He pushed me a little,” the younger Higgins said about basketball. “Ever since I was little, my Dad wanted me to play basketball.”
The younger Higgins said that he always wanted to be a two-sport athlete.
“I enjoy playing the two sports,” Higgins said. “I never did want to stick to just one. I’m really excited about that. I even wanted to play football, but my Dad shut that down pretty quickly. He always is looking out for me.”
Higgins said that he developed his basketball prowess by playing with his father, uncle and cousins at his uncle’s full-court setup in Ridgewood.
“All five of my cousins are good athletes,” Higgins said. “We’ve played there at my uncle’s house since I was little. The dads would jump in and play with us. It was a lot of fun.”
And Marty would always find a way to squeeze basketball into his life, even when he was working on his hitting stroke.
“I have a hoop in my backyard,” Higgins said. “Every day, I’d go out and shoot about 200 baskets. Baseball takes up most of my time, but I manage to play basketball.”
Before the 2017-18 season began last month, Higgins said that he would go to the local park in Nutley to play with his teammates.
“We played in the Bloomfield summer league together,” Higgins said. “We got used to playing together there. We felt like we all had to step up this year. We played together and hung out together to get everyone excited for the season.”
Harbison, the basketball coach, likes the way that his baseball standout takes command.
“He’s emotionally heady,” Harbison said. “He’s a steady player who is always under control. He has everything in its proper perspective. No matter what the situation is Marty never gets too excited. Nothing really affects him.”
But make no bones about it, Higgins is expected to hit home runs on the basketball floor as well. He’s supposed to knock down the long-range jumpers.
“We have a couple of guys who can shoot,” Harbison said. “But we’re looking for Marty to shoot and he can. That’s his game. We expect him to put the ball in the basket. We look to get him the ball with the game on the line. He does what he can to help us win.”
Recently, Higgins was dead-on from long range against Livingston, connecting on nine 3-pointers en route to 29 points in a big 83-51 win.
For his efforts, Higgins the basketball player was selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Harbison believes that Higgins has become a better basketball player.
“Defensively, he’s improved,” Harbison said. “We know he’s going to get better as a shooter. He’s constantly working on his shooting. Marty could score 20 a game and that’s not going to surprise me.”
Higgins said that he works hard at basketball.
“Baseball is my passion,” Higgins said. “I love baseball. But I work very hard at basketball. I never really worry about it. I just play my game. If I play my game, then everything else will follow.”
The Maroon Raiders did struggle a bit recently, losing four straight games at one point. But they have righted the ship of late and have improved to 6-4 overall, moving their way toward a berth in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs.
“That four-game losing streak was not fun,” Higgins said. “But we’re all together now and playing like us again. We’re a good shooting team.”
Higgins was asked if he was surprised with his explosion against Livingston.
“I don’t even know what happened,” Higgins said. “It was my career high and that was pretty sweet. I felt like I couldn’t miss. I was feeling it. I knew that I had to keep my elbow up. That’s what I was focusing on. If I kept my elbow up, my shots would fall. That’s what happened. It was the greatest feeling in the world.”
Higgins is averaging 15 points per game and is making 3.3 shots from beyond the 3-point arc per contest.
Harbison loves Higgins’ approach, both on the diamond and the hardwood.
“He’s a sincere kid,” Harbison said. “He never questions me, even when I’m wrong. I’ve coached a lot of people for two seasons, but this one is just a great kid. He’s such an important part of both programs.”
Harbison said that the relationship between Higgins and seniors Anthony Fabiano and Matt Schettino is priceless.
“They all work together really well,” Harbison said. “They all look for each other. They have a lot of trust in one another.”
“We all work together,” Higgins said. “They are good friends of mine. We all felt like we had to step it up this year. It’s really important for me to have a good year because those guys are seniors.”
Harbison knows he will take anything Higgins can give him during the winter months, because come March 8, things change in a hurry.
“He’s a baseball player,” Harbison said. “We all know that.”
So who’s a better basketball player now, the father or the son?
“It’s really close, but he won’t go one-on-one with me anymore,” the younger Higgins said. “I can get him now.”
Seems like Marty Higgins, Sr. knows his limitations these days.