By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When he was first growing up in Jersey City and later North Bergen, Noel Colon never imagined he would eventually become a basketball coach.
But Colon recalled the inspiration he received from coaches he played for along the way.
“My first coach, Donald Copeland Sr., at the Jersey City Boys Club did so much for me,” Colon said. “My mother wouldn’t let me play basketball and Mr. Copeland was like a big father figure to me. (The late) Brian Lee was also a big help then. I was blessed and fortunate to have had such great coaches along the way.”
Colon ended up playing at North Bergen High School for coaches like John Barone and Kevin Bianco, then went on to play at Ramapo College for Chuck McBreen. Colon ended up getting a degree in sociology from Ramapo.
“What ended up happening was that I got a job as an assistant coach at Technology High School (in Newark),” said Colon, who worked with Denver Nuggets standout forward Kenneth Faried at the Newark school. “I really wanted to play pro ball in Puerto Rico, but I ended up loving coaching.”
When the head coaching position at Harrison High School opened up, Colon was more than interested.
“I love challenges,” Colon said.
But Colon had no idea what kind of challenge was in store taking the Harrison job. After all, the Blue Tide won just two games over the last two years.
“I didn’t know what it was all about,” Colon said. “I just heard there was an opening and I went for it. I knew I missed coaching. I didn’t coach at all last year and really missed it. I knew I wanted to get back into it.”
Colon received a recommendation from legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley.
“He was very instrumental in me getting the job,” Colon said. “I just wanted a shot.”
But with a program that won just twice in two years?
“(North Bergen head coach) Kevin (Bianco) told me their record and my reaction was like, ‘Oh, my,’” Colon said. “I spoke to my wife Tessa, who is pregnant with our first child. She told me to go for it. I grew up in Hudson County. I know nothing comes easy. I love challenges. I’m a man of faith. I knew that this was the right thing to do.”
So the 30-year-old Colon took the challenge, took the position at Harrison and hit the ground running.
“I’m still learning,” Colon said. “But I love the energy. I spent the summer with the kids of Harrison. I got to know the kids and what they were all about.”
After the summer, Colon had a sense that the Blue Tide would be somewhat successful.
“To be honest, I knew we had a chance to be pretty good,” Colon said. “The kids put in a lot of work and sacrificed a lot.”
And since the 2013-14 season began, Harrison is one of the most extraordinary turnaround stories in northern New Jersey. The Blue Tide currently has a 5-2 record after a victory over American History High of Newark Saturday afternoon.
Colon is happy with the progress of his new program, but not content.
“I am pleased, but we’re a little inconsistent,” Colon said. “I don’t think we’ve played a complete game yet. Cliffside Park was the only game we played really well on the defensive side. But we’re coming along. We’re getting better.”
Senior Iker Fernandez has been a pleasant surprise. The 6-foot-4 forward is averaging double figures in points and rebounds. Fernandez had 18 points in the 53-41 win over American History.
“He’s off to a good start,” Colon said. “He’s very skilled. I think he has a chance to play at the next level.”
Senior Federico Olivera is another 6-foot-4 standout for the Blue Tide.
“He’s a strong kid,” Colon said. “He’s a good rebounder.”
Olivera recently had 19 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Leonia.
The small forward is senior Jeremy Mohamoud.
“He’s long and lanky,” Colon said of the 6-foot-3 Mohamoud, who had 14 points in Saturday’s win. “He’s very athletic and can shoot the ball well. He has all the skills.”
The point guard duties are shared by senior Moises Roque and junior Jordan Villalta. Both players stand 5-foot-7.
“Moises is a better athlete,” Colon said. “Jordan makes better decisions with the ball. They both play well. I’m going to let them battle it out.”
The shooting guard is 5-foot-10 Alex Cajiga.
“He’s a good shooter and he’s very skilled,” Colon said. “He lost a lot of weight over the summer, like 25 pounds, and it’s helped him. He’s working hard and going to get better.”
Cajiga is averaging nine points per game.
Tommy Dolaghan is a 5-foot- 9 senior who plays guard and comes off the bench. The Blue Tide standout pitcher on the baseball team in the spring, Dolaghan brings a lot of energy to the team.
“He’s been a pleasure to coach,” Colon said. “He’s just a great kid, a smart kid. He picks up things so easily. He defends well.”
Junior William Azabache is a 5-foot-10 forward.
“He understands his role and brings us energy on defense off the bench,” Colon said. “He’s also been a pleasure to coach, because he does a little bit of everything.”
Senior Ralph Diaz is a 6-foot-4 forward.
“He’s a strong kid who comes in and rebounds,” Colon said. “He plays hard.”
The Blue Tide’s successful season will get a big challenge Thursday when they play Queen of Peace in North Arlington.
Colon believes the winning ways can continue.
“I definitely think it can happen,” Colon said. “Our goal is to get better every day. That truly is our goal. I can see a little bit of consistency in practice. We just need it in games. That’s what I’m trying to preach to them. They just need to understand.”
So far, the understanding has been great for the Blue Tide of Harrison.