Nutley boys’ hoops: Replacing a lot of scoring

The Nutley High School boys’ basketball team won 15 games last season, many of which were of the thrilling last-period variety with a high powered scoring attack, led by guards Marty Higgins and Jordan Swann and powerful forward Eli Acosta.

But they have all graduated now, with 1,000-point scorer Higgins, the 2018-2019 Observer Co-Male Athlete of the Year, concentrating on baseball at St. John’s University.

It’s left veteran head coach Bob Harbison in a little bit of a quandary.

“We lost a lot of offense,” Harbison said. “We lost a lot of points to graduation. It is just about a new lineup we have. But we have some new kids coming in that have done well and are trying to get better. I don’t want to get caught up in wins and losses, because we play teams like Orange, East Orange, Millburn and Verona. But we have a lot of young kids who can play. They just better get better in a hurry.”

Leading the returnees is senior forward Aidan Ozdemir, who could be one of the top all-around performers in Essex County this season.

“In the past, he’s had a lot of offensive players play around him,” Harbison said. “Now he has to do it himself.”

The 6-foot-3 Ozdemir is a multi-talented forward.

“We’re going to put a lot on him,” Harbison said. “He’s a three-year varsity player, so he has to lead us. He has a lot of young kids around him.”
Ozdemir appears up for the challenge.

Senior Chris Kruse is also back. The 6-foot guard is an excellent athlete who used to play soccer, but became a football player for the first time in the fall.

“He’s probably our best defender,” Harbison said. “He has to handle the load at the guard position for us. He can score, no question. He’s not a pure shooter, but he gets to the rim well.”

Jordan Greene is a 5-foot-9 junior point guard.

“He’s an athletic kid who can get to the rim well,” Harbison said. “He’s a pretty good defender. We have the ability to do some different things defensively with him. We have to mix things up a little. We have to get the consistent basics down and then take chances. Jordan plays a big part with that.”

Nick Schroeder is a 5-foot-11 sophomore guard who has a soft jump shot.

“He can shoot the ball well and handles the ball very well,” Harbison said. “He’s a young sophomore, so he has to learn a little. He’s talented, no question.”

Junior Justin Edert is a 6-foot guard. His older brother Doug is a freshman at St. Peter’s University this fall and has been a find for the Peacocks and coach Shaheen Hollowa, averaging 13 points per game. Harbison is hopeful that his younger brother will be a chip off the old block.

“He can really shoot,” Harbison said of the younger Edert. “He can knock down shots. He can shoot it and will called upon to do that for us.”

Junior Maguire Branigan is a 6-foot-3 forward.

“He got some minutes last year,” Harbison said. “He has to give us some quality minutes this year inside.”

Sophomore Matt Harbison is more than the coach’s son. He represents the football future in Nutley, as he projects to be the starting quarterback for the Maroon Raiders in the fall.

“He’s playing the five (starting center) role for now,” Harbison said of his son. “He does well there. He rebounds and has been doing his job. He is taking on that role and does a nice job.”

Sophomore Karan Youssef is a 5-foot-11 guard.

“He’ll help defensively as well,” Harbison said. “He’s a good defensive player.”

Jake O’Connor is a 6-foot-3 sophomore.

“He can float in between small forward and power forward,” Harbison said. “He can really shoot it. He’s going to play a big role for us.”

Jake Ciriminiello is a 5-11 sophomore point guard/shooting guard.

“He’s athletic and gets to the rim,” Harbison said.

Senior Tyler Dick is a 6-foot-1 guard.

“He’s a good shooter, a versatile kid,” Harbison said. “He can play three positions for us. He might get considerable time.”

Sophomore Matt Pergola is a lacrosse star who didn’t come out for basketball to concentrate on becoming a better stickman.

“But he came back to play now and has done a nice job,” Harbison said. “I’m hoping that these sophomores make an impact. Of course, they’re going to make sophomore mistakes. But I hope they keep their heads up and keep trying to get better. If they come out of the game having learned something, then we’ve done our job.”

The Maroon Raiders start their season Thursday against North Star Academy. They then head to the Cranford Christmas tourney where they face the host squad.

“I like this team,” Harbison said.”We’re keeping the expectations where they belong with a young team. It’s going to take some time to understand the speed of the game. But I’m looking forward to coaching these kids.”




The Nutley High School boys’ basketball team will count heavily on their senior leaders. From left, they are Chris Kruse, Tyler Dick, head coach Bob Harbison and Aidan Ozdemir. Photo by Jim Hague



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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.”