Golden Bears continue upward trend

It’s the fourth year of Tom McGuire’s tenure as head boys’ basketball coach at Lyndhurst High School and his eighth overall as a head coach, including his stint at his alma mater Queen of Peace.

And for all intents and purposes, this should be McGuire’s best year as a head coach, considering the amount of talent on the Golden Bears’ roster.

“I think we’ve turned the corner,” said McGuire, who guided his team to a 13-12 record last season and a trip to the Bergen County Jamboree. “I think we’ve changed the culture in the entire program.”

McGuire mentioned that the Lyndhurst junior varsity program also had a better than .500 season last year and the freshman team won 20 games.

“The kids are doing a great job of turning the program around,” McGuire said. “We would really like to host a state tournament game this year. I don’t think it’s out of the question.”

The Golden Bears will also play in the upcoming Fort Lee Christmas Tournament against much bigger teams.

“We want to challenge ourselves,” McGuire said. “We are going to prepare for our league schedule, which will include teams like Dwight-Englewood and Secaucus. We want to be ready.”

Senior Brian Podolski is back for another basketball campaign after a brilliant football season, leading the Golden Bears to nine wins on the gridiron.

Podolski is a 6-foot-2 do-everything for the Golden Bears without a true position.

“He’s a point forward,” McGuire said of Podolski’s stature as a hybrid. “He handles the ball well. He does everything we need. He really has an indispensible role with our team. He is doing a great job of leading the team. He’s doing the exact same thing as he did in football. He knows where everyone is supposed to be on the floor. He’s like having a coach on the court.”

Podolski averaged seven points, five rebounds and four assists per game last year. Those numbers are likely to go up this year.

John Rodriguez is a 6-foot-2 forward who electrified everyone last season when he went for a school-record 51 points in a win over Harrison.

“When you score 51 in a game, it means you can score,” McGuire said. “Any way you write it, it’s a big number. I think John is taking more of a leadership role with this team. He has the ability to take games over.”
Rodriguez averaged 14 points per game last season as a sophomore.

“I think it can go up to like 19 or 20 a game this year,” McGuire said. “He’s very talented. Not everyone we play has his talent. He can go a long way this year. We just have to get John his shots.”

McGuire said that Rodriguez has always been better than a 50 percent shooter from the floor.

Senior Benny Franchino is also coming off a solid football season. The standout receiver and placekicker is a fine basketball player. Franchino is a 5-foot-9 guard.

“He does a little bit of everything,” McGuire said of Franchino. “He takes it upon himself to guard the other team’s best player. He’s our best defender and may be the best defender in our league. He’s a three-year starter who will play a big role.”

Paul Cimicata is another member of that state sectional finalist football team. The 6-foot-2 Cimicata, an Observer Athlete of the Week honoree last month, dealt with a shoulder injury last basketball season.

“He’s a big body who is a tenacious rebounder,” McGuire said. “He plays bigger than his size. We need him to give us good minutes.”

Another former Athlete of the Week is baseball standout Frankie Venezia, who has rejoined the basketball team after two years away.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” McGuire said of the 6-foot-2 senior Venezia, who signed a scholarship letter to play baseball at UMass-Lowell last month. “He’s taken two years off and stepped right in. It looks like he hasn’t missed a step. He goes after it and is going to be a big help for us. He has a very good mid-range jump shot.”
Senior forward Sid Das also returns. The 6-foot senior captain is providing leadership, along with the other senior leaders.

“I’m going to lean on him a lot,” McGuire said of Das. “He needs to step up a little. He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever coached. He gets his shot off so quickly. He’s going to be a big factor for us.”

Das averaged 10 points per game last year.

“It could get up to 15 this year,” McGuire said.

Senior Billy McMann is a 5-foot-11 guard who has transferred to Lyndhurst from Christ the King in Newark. He has to sit out the necessary 30 days required by the NJSIAA’s transfer rule, but once McMann becomes eligible, he will play a major role in the Golden Bears’ rotation.

“When he comes to us, he’ll be our point guard,” McGuire said. “He’s a pass-oriented point guard. But he can shoot the ball.”

Sophomore Adam Venezia, Frankie’s younger brother, is also a key member of the Golden Bears’ rotation. The 6-foot-1 Adam Venezia plays several roles for the Golden Bears off the bench.

“He’s an energetic player,” McGuire said. “He was so good during tryouts that we had to have him on the varsity. And he’s going to me a main rotation guy. His shot is improving. He’s just an athletic kid.”

Joe Nichols is a 6-foot-1 junior forward who has shown incredible improvement.

“He’s going to get a chance to play varsity this year,” McGuire said of Nichols. “He has a very good jump shot. He’s also a good rebounder with a nose for the ball.”

The Golden Bears open up the season Dec. 14 against Ridgefield.

“I think it can be argued that this is my best team,” McGuire said. “It’s an older team with a little bit of experience. The team got better with Frankie coming back and Billy transferring. I think that makes us all that much better.”

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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.”