Maroon Raiders shoot for another state playoff berth

Photo by Jim Hague/ The Nutley boys’ basketball team is playing with a lot more confidence than in years past, as reflected by a 6-6 record. From left are seniors John Llano, Josh Thomson, head coach Bob Harbison, Nick Gariano and C.J. Schroeder.


By Jim Hague

The Nutley High School boys’ basketball program had suffered through a decadelong drought of being left out of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs before qualifying a year ago.

Now, the Maroon Raiders want to make a return trip to the state playoffs.

“We want to get into the state tournament,” said veteran Nutley head coach Bob Harbison, who also is the head baseball coach at the school as well. “But we also want to challenge for the conference title (the Super Essex Conference- Independent Division). We’re right there in the mix with Verona, Arts (of Newark) and West Essex.”

Imagine that, the Maroon Raiders actually contending for a championship in boys’ basketball. It’s a novel approach.

The Maroon Raiders are putting a lot of faith in senior point guard Nick Gariano. The 5-foot-9 Gariano is averaging better than 10 points per ganme.

“We use him in any tough situation,” Harbison said. “He’s been a three-year starter for us at point guard. His offense has picked up this season and he’s become a very good shooter.”

The shooting guard is senior Josh Thomson. The 5-foot-8 Thomson is the team’s best defensive player.

“He defends the opponent’s best guard,” Harbison said. “He’s a very tough kid and he’s very coachable.”

The Maroon Raiders’ small forward is 6-foot junior Ryan Fischer, who has developed into a fine offensive threat.

“He’s a great shooter, especially from long range,” Harbison said. “He has good range and he’s not afraid to take the big shot. He draws a lot of attention from the opposition.”

Fischer is also averaging close to 10 points per contest.

The starting power forward is 6-foot-4 senior C.J. Schroeder.

“He is a good rebounder and a good physical presence down low,” Harbison said. “He’s also a very good student in the classroom.”

The center is 6-foot-1 junior Joe Feraco.

“He shoots well and we use him more as a point center, because he can handle the ball so well,” Harbison said. “We run the offense through him. He has a good mid-range shot, but more importantly, he’s an excellent free throw shooter.”

Feraco made 10-of-12 free throws in a recent victory.

The first player off the Maroon Raider bench is 6-foot-2 junior Jon Russo.

“He’s a very athletic player and he’s offensive minded, which you need coming off the bench,” Harbison said.

Junior Scott Gonzalez is another valuable reserve player. The 5-foot-9 Gonzalez is a good shooter and capable ball handler.

Junior Charlie Bingham is the team’s back-up point guard. The 5-foot-7 Bingham is “a good defender who handles the ball well,” according to Harbison.

Senior John Llano is a 6-foot-2 forward who serves both power positions.

“He’s a good rebounder who has been getting a little more time recently,” Harbison said.

The Maroon Raiders are 6-6, which puts them firmly in the middle of the North 2, Group III playoff hunt. After they got a little taste of the state tournament a year ago, the Maroon Raiders want more.

“We’ve been a little too inconsistent, but we are right there,” Harbison said. “It’s fun to be able to look into the post-season and have hopes of being there. It makes this more interesting, having games at this point of the season have more of an importance. I don’t need to get them up for every game. They should be up, because they know the games are important.”

It also makes practice time a little easier as well.

“They’re definitely much more attentive, knowing that they have something to play for,” Harbison said. “They take things much more seriously.”

There’s another positive sidelight to the Maroon Raiders. If you noticed, the roster is packed with juniors, so a majority of this team will be back next season.

“We’ve had points in games where we’ve had four juniors on the floor in crunch time,” Harbison said. “They’re not getting garbage time. They’re getting quality minutes, serious minutes. That bodes well for the future.”

While Harbison is pleased with his team’s performance thus far, he’s not totally content.

“We should do a better job of winning the games we’re supposed to win,” Harbison said. “We have to play like every game is winnable.”

Right now, it looks like every Maroon Raider game is winnable – and losable for that matter. But if the Maroon Raiders can manage to win more than they lose, they can actually contend for an SEC crown and make a return trip to the state playoffs, an idea that would have been totally unimaginable just two years ago.

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