Belleville enjoying best boys’ hoop season in recent years

Photo courtesy of Belleville High School/ The Belleville boys’ basketball team is enjoying its best season in recent years, thanks to the play of seniors Tommy Rosario (left) and Keith Everett.


By Jim Hague

Ted Sochaski fondly remembers his glory days as a basketball player at Belleville High School.

After all, Sochaski remains the school’s all-time leading scorer in boys’ basketball, collecting a total of 1,742 points when he graduated in 1988. That year, Sochaski led the Buccaneers to 15 victories, which also remains the program’s high-water mark.

Five years ago, Sochaski returned to his alma mater to take over the head coaching reins of the Bucs.

“When I came back, I could see things were changing,” Sochaski said. “But I just wanted to make the kids see that hard work pays off.”

However, the hard work and diligence didn’t exactly pay off in the term of victories. The Bucs won all of four games in Sochaski’s first season, then won three the next year and two the next. Needless to say, Sochaski was taking an emotional beating, coaching so many losses. He kept a stiff upper lip and trudged on.

“I knew we were going to take our lumps,” Sochaski said. “But I knew that better things would take place.”

A year ago, Sochaski’s Bucs won seven games. It was definitely a sign of improvement.

“We also lost eight games by a total of eight points or less,” Sochaski said. “We were close.”

Sochaski knew that there would eventually be a breakthrough when he decided to start players like Julian Rodriguez, Tommy Rosario and Keith Everett two years ago when they were sophomores. He might have raised some eyebrows when he did and left himself susceptible to criticism, but Sochaski knew it was for the good of the entire program. Eventually, the Buccaneers would improve, as long as the talented trio developed and matured.

“Those kids put a lot of hard work in over the last four years,” Sochaski said. “I just think it all comes down to experience. All the games they’ve played together are huge. They all know what they have to do. They all know each other. It’s a big plus.”

Well, the Buccaneers are reaping the benefits of that valuable experience right now. After winning three straight games against Oratory Prep, neighboring rival Nutley and Glen Ridge, the Buccaneers have a 7-4 record. They have already tied their entire win total of a year ago.

“It’s very exciting,” Sochaski said. “The close games we lost last year, we’re winning now. They know how to conduct themselves late in games. They know all the game situations, making the extra pass that leads to an easier basket. They are handling clock management.”

Photo courtesy Belleville High School/ Belleville head basketball coach Ted Sochaski, the school’s all-time leading scorer in boys’ basketball, has led his alma mater to a 7-4 record.


Sochaski said that the turning point of the season came in the win over Oratory Prep, when they faced top-ranked prospect Matt Billups, a 6-foot-10 center who is receiving his fair share of college offers.

In that game, both top seniors Rodriguez and Rosario fouled out of the game, but the rest of the Bucs found the resilience necessary to get the victory.

“That really turned things around,” Sochaski said. “That win boosted our confidence and showed how well we can play together and how we can rely on each other.”

Rodriguez has been a mainstay all season. The 6-foot-4 power forward is averaging 13.5 points per game and has emerged as the team’s leader.

“It’s safe to say that without Julian, we’re not where we’re at,” Sochaski said. “He carried the team for the first part of the season. He’s become our go-to guy. He’s accepted that challenge and has gone with it.”

Rosario is a 6-foot-3 senior forward who is averaging 11.3 points per game. There aren’t a lot of teams in the Super Essex Conference that can roll out that much size and talent in the front line.

“I think most teams have to plan their game plan and strategy around trying to stop them,” Sochaski said. “I always can depend on Tommy. He does a lot of the dirty work for us, gets physical, gets rebounds. He also runs the floor well.”

Everett is the third of the Bucs’ senior leaders. The 5-foot-11 Everett is the team’s shooting guard and he’s averaging close to nine points per game.

“Keith has come a long way,” Sochaski said. “He used to be strictly a 3-point shooter, but now he’s putting the ball on the floor and going to the basket. He absolutely opens things down low for Julian and Tommy and also gets to the foul line. He’s an all-around player now.”

Junior Dominque Isaac is another backcourt performer. The 6-foot Isaac is averaging 8.9 points per game as a perimeter player.

“He’s a guy who can score, play good defense and shoot the 3-pointer,” Sochaski said of Isaac. “He is also putting the ball on the floor and challenges defenses. When he does that, we’re a dangerous team.”

Sochaski likes the idea that there’s so much balance between his top four scorers.

“My game plan over the last two-to-three years was to get everyone involved in the offense,” Sochaski said.

The fifth starter is senior point guard Kevin Cebello. The 5-foot-9 Cebello transferred to Belleville this year from Pennsylvania and has fit right in.

“He’s done a great job running the offense, especially in transition,” Sochaski said. “He gets the team running and going.”

The first player off the bench is 5-foot-11 junior point guard Shaq Richards, the football standout. Sochaski likes Richards’ leadership qualities so much that he made him a team captain, despite being a junior.

“He’s a great defender who provides a lot of energy,” Sochaski said of Richards. “He has such a great personality. Everyone loves him. He does all the right things.”

Nicholas Martinez is a 6-foot-2 forward who comes in to give Rodriguez and Rosario some rest. Martinez came up big in the win over Oratory Prep, defending the muchtaller Billups.

“He had eight rebounds in that game and was huge in the fourth quarter,” Sochaski said. “It wasn’t easy for him to chest up with someone 6-foot-10, but Nick did it.”

Junior Kamal Miller, another gridiron standout, is a 6-foot junior guard who is very athletic.

“He’s one of the fastest kids around and he comes to play,” Sochaski said.

At 7-4, it’s not too early for the Bucs to be thinking about a possible SEC Independence Division championship and a berth into the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs.

“I just think the kids are loving it,” said Sochaski, whose team finished 7-18 last season. “I think they’re looking forward to the challenge of playing big games from now on. We have a lot of important games coming up. I think the team that catches fire down the stretch will have the best chance to win the league. We went to the states last year and saw what it takes.”

For now, the Buccaneers are a legitimate and prominent basketball program. It’s been a while.

“I think we’re able to show people that we have a serious team,” Sochaski said. “It’s a credit to the kids. They’re the ones who put all the hard work in, had the dedication to stick with it. They understand the goals we have and they’re willing to work hard to reach the goals.”

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