By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Marc Estevez looked at it as a perfect opportunity. The Lyndhurst High School junior welcomed a new head basketball coach in Paul Palek, so it meant a brand new start, which is what Estevez was hoping for throughout the offseason.
“I knew with the new coach coming in, there would be a chance to prove myself again,” Estevez said. “I knew he ran a guard-oriented system, so I hoped he would give me a shot to make things happen. Coach Palek said early on that he wasn’t looking for anyone to be the main scorer, so I thought I could get the chance to step up and help the team.”
Coming over from Wayne Hills, where he coached last season, Palek had no idea what kind of a player Estevez was.
“I knew that he played a little last year, but not much more,” Palek said. “I really didn’t have big expectations.”
Estevez saw considerable playing time last season for the Golden Bears, but didn’t have a high scoring average, perhaps scoring six points per game.
But Estevez was ready for the chance.
“To be completely honest, I’ve been a confident kid my whole life,” Estevez said. “I was confident I could make some noise this year.”
However, no one could have anticipated the volume of the noise that Estevez would create.
Estevez has been nothing short of brilliant for the surprising Golden Bears, who own a fine 8-7 record thus far in Palek’s first season. He’s been averaging better than 18 points per game, including some fine performances of late.
He had 23 points in an upset win over Dwight-Englewood last Saturday, including the game-winning shot with eight seconds remaining. Estevez also had 23 in a close loss to Midland Park. He had 17 points, including 10 straight free throws, most of which came in overtime, in a clutch win over Harrison and tossed in 13 in a tough loss to Secaucus.
For his efforts, Estevez has een selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Palek has been impressed with the way Estevez has taken charge of the offense late in close games.
“He’s been able to make the plays down the stretch in some big wins, like Rutherford, Harrison and Dwight- Englewood,” Palek said. “He’s been coming up big in the fourth quarter. What’s most impressive is that everyone knows that we’re going to give him the ball and he still finds a way to score. I wasn’t expecting him to be the go-to scorer like this.”
Estevez didn’t expect it either.
“I guess it’s a little surprising,” Estevez said. “To go from sophomore to junior year like this with such a scoring improvement. I guess I’ve been trying to be more aggressive with the ball, taking the ball to the basket, creating off the dribble. I’ve also been getting some calls and when I get to the free throw line, I make the foul shots.”
Estevez likes having the role of being the Golden Bears’ main scorer.
“Of course, with the game on the line, I want the ball to be in my hands,” Estevez said. “I count on my team getting me the ball. When it comes down to the final minutes, I’m able to grind it out and make plays.”
Estevez said that he spends a lot of time working on his free throw shooting.
“I shoot a lot of free throw shots in practice,” Estevez said. “I’ve done that all my life. I was taught early on that free throws and defense win games. So I do take more free throw shots than anything. I know how to get my points. When the crowd is roaring and the game is on the line, I’m in a zone, knowing I have to make those shots.”
Palek counts on Estevez to make the free throws.
“He’s a very good free throw shooter and he gets to the line quite a bit,” Palek said. “When we need a basket, he’s able to get them.”
Palek believes that Estevez has become more relaxed as the season moves on.
“He’s much more comfortable in the system,” Palek said. “He knows now that he’s going to be our best scorer and we’re going to him. He’s going to get the ball. When we need something, Marc’s going to have the opportunity to do it. He’s expecting it now. He’s grown with the role and become the lead guard we need.”
Palek also believes Estevez is improving.
“He’s been shooting from the perimeter, but he’s getting better driving to the basket first,” Palek said. “He has great body control and balance. And our guys know where we’re going to make a play at the end of a game. We’re getting the ball in his hands. I have confidence in him being able to get us a good shot at the end of games. As long as the ball is in his hands, I know we’re going to get a decent look.”
Palek believes that Estevez has just begun to become a complete player.
“We’re working with him defensively,” Palek said. “We’re working on him being more of a creator. He knows he has to set the other guys up. He’s a great kid. He’s extremely coachable. He wants to be very good. Every conversation we have, he lets me know that he wants to be held accountable. He’s a very good player.”
Estevez hasn’t stopped working on improving his game.
“I’m a one-sport athlete,” Estevez said. “I only play basketball, so I work all year round. I’m in the weight room a lot of the time. I take a fitness class during the season and do light lifting. I’m working on my ball handling and my 3-point shot.”
There’s a reason for the hard work.
“I want to play college basketball,” said Estevez, who has an older brother, Jake, who is on the team. “It’s something I have always wanted to do, something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little boy, so it’s a goal of mine, but that’s down the road a bit. Right now I’m pretty happy with the way I’m playing. I don’t want to get too over confident. I just want to keep it going.”
Estevez said that he enjoys playing with his brother, as well playing for new coach Palek.
“I think it’s awesome that I get the chance to play with Jake,” Estevez said. “It’s the last thing I’ll ever get to do with him. I do like playing for Coach Palek. He’s tough on me, but he wants me to become a better player and a better person in life. I appreciate that.”
Just like the way Palek and the rest of the Golden Bears appreciate the way Marc Estevez is playing these days.