There’s a new head boys’ basketball coach at Harrison High School, but he’s not exactly brand new. Call him new and improved perhaps.
But it’s Bill Mullins, the same guy who had two stints as the Kearny boys’ head coach, stepping aside to tend to family matters four years ago. And it’s Bill Mullins, the same exact guy who coached both the Queen of Peace boys’ and girls’ teams to successful seasons in the past.
There’s no question that Mullins knows his basketball. And there’s no question that Mullins is a winner, molding and forming downtrodden teams into contenders almost overnight.
It’s now whether Mullins can weave his fast-paced, up-tempo magic one more time with the Blue Tide that remains to be seen.
Mullins is still on the mend after having hip replacement surgery over the summer. Mullins could not participate in the summer league drills with his new team, so now as the Blue Tide goes through preseason practices, they’re still getting used to Mullins’ styles and philosophies.
“Just like anything, it takes time,” Mullins said. “The kids are responding to the new system. It’s up to me to get them to focus. Believe it or not, we spent a lot of time on making lay-ups, because we’re pushing the ball up the floor. I want them to run. It’s more exciting and it’s a better way for us.”
So the Blue Tide will be putting the pedal to the metal this season, running up and down the floor.
“We’re starting three guys who are six feet tall,” Mullins said. “We don’t really have post players. So we’re incorporating other things. I always loved coaching. This opportunity opened up and I jumped at it. It’s close by (from his home in Kearny and where he teaches). We have a team of hard workers. They really want to get after it.”
It also sounds like two of Mullins’ volunteer assistant coaches, two guys with historic and legendary resumes.
Jack Rodgers, the former head girls’ and boys’ coach and retired athletic director at the school, has decided to assist Mullins this season. So has Fred Confessore, who will take over the junior varsity program while monitoring the varsity. Confessore was also once the boys’ varsity coach at Harrison, serving as Ray Lucas’ last basketball coach before the standout Lucas headed off t Rutgers to play football.
Between Rodgers and Confessore, the assistant coaches have more than 55 years of experience. Mullins is fortunate to have that much basketball knowledge at his beckon call.
“Both of those guys won state championships as coaches,” Mullins said. “Jack is the all-time leader in coaching wins. I’m fortunate to have both guys on the staff, guys like that who want to be competitive. That makes it fun. They have a similar philosophy that I do. But more importantly, they want to see kids from Harrison do well. They want the kids to succeed. They want the kids to play hard.”
Senior guard/forward Daniel Cortes is a key contributor to the Blue Tide’s cause. The 6-footer is an “all-around player,” according to Mullins.
“He can play outside a lot, but he can go down low and get rebounds,” Mullins said. “He’s a scorer. He can drive and shoot. He’s a very versatile player.”
Senior Joseph Renderos is a 6-foot forward.
“He’s our post position player,” Mullins said. “He’s going to lead the team in taking charges. He’s not afraid to take the charge. He does all the things that I like.”
Senior Michael O’Donnell does much like he did for the Blue Tide on the gridiron. O’Donnell was a standout quarterback in the fall, making play after play with the ball in his hands. Now, O’Donnell is asked to do the same for the Blue Tide on the hardwood as the point guard.
“He’s a good athlete,” Mullins said of the 5-foot-10 O’Donnell. “He’s the leader on the floor. We ask him to run the offense.”
Junior guard Timmy Daniellan is the team’s best jumper. He’s 6-foot-1, but plays bigger because of that ability.
“He’s also a good outside shooter,” Mullins said. “He’s one of our steadiest players.”
Senior Nicholas Faulk is a 6-1 guard who didn’t play basketball last winter.
“He’s probably our strongest player,” Mullins said of Faulk.
Seniors Joel Gomes and Ronald Castaneda are 5-foot-10 guards.
“They’re pretty much interchangeable,” Mullins said.
Junior Breyden DeJesus is a 5-foot-9 guard who “is one of our best athletes,” said Mullins.
Now here comes Johnathan Leiras. The 5-10 junior averaged 20 points per game as the Blue Tide’s leading scorer last year, but there was some talk that Leiras, a full-time student at High Tech who resides in Harrison, was going to play for High Tech instead of Harrison.
But when the Blue Tide opened their 2016-2017 season with a solid 63-54 win over Bergen Charter last Friday night, there was Leiras leading the way with 22 points and six rebounds. If Leiras is there, healthy, happy and productive all season, then the Blue Tide will be tough to beat right now.
Michael O’Donnell had 13 points and seven assists, while Joseph Renderos added 11 points, six rebounds and four steals.
The rest of the reserves include junior guard Jamiere Mitchell, a 5-foot-10 ball handler, freshmen Erik Feliz and Mateo DeSosa, the diminutive heir apparent to take over from O’Donnell as the team’s quarterback next fall, and big 6-foot-7 inside presence Charles Confessore, the son of the assistant coach, who is a work in progress type of player.
The Blue Tide will head to the Garfield Christmas Tournament for the holidays, facing off with teams like Garfield, Cliffside Park and Waldwick, as well as host Garfield.
Needless to say, the Blue Tide, the team with the most experience around, will count on the experience on the floor as well as the sidelines this season.
“I think we have a good group,” Mullins said.
If the first win is any indication, then the Blue Tide is rolling along already.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”