By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It’s the second year of Paul Palek’s tenure as the head boys’ basketball coach at Lyndhurst High School and he can already tell the difference.
“You could tell in the first week of practice that it was a lot easier,” said Palek, who guided the Golden Bears to a 10-13 record in his first season. “We had a lot of our offense in already and the kids all knew the drills. They’re learning things a lot quicker and it’s remarkable how much you can do after you have a year under your belt. It makes a big difference.”
The Golden Bears also spent the entire offseason together, playing in the Bloomfield summer league and attending open gyms together.
“We graduated six off the team last year and three of them started,” Palek said. “So this is the first time in my coaching career that I had no idea who is going to start. It has made preseason to be very interesting.”
One player who has to be in the mix is 5-10 senior guard Marc Estevez, who averaged 18 points per game last year for the Golden Bears.
“He broke his hand in February and missed the last seven games of the season,” Palek said. “You could see the drop off. We just weren’t the same without him. I expect him to have a big season.”
Palek will expect Estevez to play a lot more at point guard this season.
“It is what it is,” Palek said. “He has to have the ball in his hands. It puts added pressure on him, but he’s our best player and we’re going to rely on him. The others have to find their roles.”
Another key contributor will be 6-1 senior forward Brandon Karlok, who played a lot last season.
“Brandon is very athletic, but he needs to step up,” Palek said. “He needs to get his 10 points per game and he needs to get to the foul line more. But he’s a very good athlete and he’s an excellent defender.”
Junior Vinnie Dorio, a 5-foot- 9 guard, will also get a chance to make an impact this season. Dorio, a baseball standout like his older brother Anthony, saw some time with the varsity basketball team last season, especially after Estevez got hurt.
“He got his feet wet and had some experience,” Palek said of Dorio. “He’s a good shooter. He’s going to have to score for us.”
However, Dorio is also coming off an injury.
“He suffered a back injury that shut him down in July and August,” Palek said. “He wasn’t able to do anything, so he’s still catching up a little. But he’s a good athlete and an excellent piece to the puzzle.”
Sophomore Peter Lazeris is a 5-10 forward who has some promise.
“He’s still learning the game a little bit,” Palek said. “But he plays hard and is going to get his opportunity.”
Junior Ryan Brown is a 6-0 forward.
“He didn’t play basketball last year, so we’re trying to see where he fits in,” Palek said. “We’re looking for him to make a contribution to this team.”
Junior Justin Smith is a 6-2 center.
“He’s a physical presence close to the basket,” Palek said. “He can defend well and rebounds.”
Junior Nick DiTommasso is a 5-8 guard who will see time coming off the Lyndhurst bench.
“He can really shoot the ball,” Palek said of DiTommasso. “He’s a legitimate 3-point threat.”
Senior Joey Cosenza is another contributor.
“He helps us inside by being a physical presence,” Palek said. “He makes a big difference defensively.”
What hurt the Golden Bears’ chances this winter was the loss of Peter Guerriero, who suffered a severely broken hand during the football season. The injury required surgery, so Guerriero has been subjected to life on the sidelines.
“If he was healthy, I think we might have had the best backcourt in the league,” Palek said. “We need everyone to step up. I think it’s a transition year, because we lost so much to graduation. We have so many roles available right now. It’s like putting together a puzzle, trying to fill the different roles.”
The Golden Bears open up the 2014-2015 season at New Milford. They then have a week off before facing Hasbrouck Heights.
“I think we have a chance to get better,” Palek said. “The kids have to rely on each other and play hard, which they’re doing.”
Whether that translates into results remains to be seen.