Kearny’s Souza a quick learner in basketball and life

Nic Souza moved with his family to the United States from his native Brazil four years ago.

It might have been a total culture shock for most teenagers, but Souza encouraged the move.

“I was really happy to leave,” Souza said. “It was a great opportunity for me to live my passion.”

Souza’s family had a friend who was a pastor at a Christian church in Newark, so the family looked for a residence in the general vicinity of the church. Young Nick quickly felt at home at the church, where he played guitar and piano.

The Souza family settled in nearby Kearny.

“I liked it a lot,” Souza said of Kearny. “It’s really clean and nice.”

When Souza came to the United States and particularly Kearny nearly four years ago, the teen couldn’t speak English.

“I didn’t speak a word of English,” said Souza, whose vocabulary these days is impeccable. “I did play a lot of basketball.”

Souza said that he learned a lot of English from playing basketball at places like Hickory Park every single day.

He also learned English from watching television shows like sitcoms and movies as well as constantly tuned in to basketball games and highlights on ESPN.

“I started picking up things,” Souza said.

When he enrolled at Kearny High School nearly four years ago, Souza was assigned to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and remained in those classes for two years. But his command of English improved so much that he was mainstreamed into regular classes after his sophomore year.

“Everyone says, ‘How did you learn English so fast?’” Souza said. “It was amazing. But I knew that I needed to have good grades before I could play basketball. If you have good grades, then the colleges will look at you. My parents (mother Eleni and father Daniel) have a lot of pride in me. I can’t go back to Brazil. I want to stay here. The basketball is better here. There are way more opportunities here.”

Basketball became a major part of Souza’s life when he was 10 years old in his native Brazil.

“I played club basketball,” Souza said. “I played in some pretty big tournaments. I had a cousin (Brian Guzman, still in Brazil) who played basketball. I don’t come from an athletic family. I watched my cousin’s games. He was a pretty good player/ I wanted to be like him. I had the support of my parents all the way.”

In Kearny, Souza quickly became known as a basketball player.

“The coach (former head coach Bob McDonnell) told me that he liked the way I played,” Souza said. “Because I was a point guard, he was telling me that I had to talk on the court. I was really shy in the beginning, but I knew if I wanted to play, I had to talk more.”

So he studied English as hard as he played basketball.

“I had the opportunity to grow along with my passion,” Souza said. “My parents always helped me and my two young brothers (Rafael, who is a freshman on the Kearny varsity, and 13-year-old William, who is in seventh grade).”

By the time Souza was a sophomore, he was the starting point guard for the Kearny Kardinals.

“It wasn’t easy, but I knew if I put the work in, good things would happen for me,” Souza said.

When Bill Mullins returned as the head coach before last season, he knew that Souza was a rising star.

“We knew he was a good player,” Mullins said. “The kid loves basketball. He worked very hard in the offseason. He improved his shot and became a better outside shooter. But he drives to the basket so well. He’s the best I’ve ever had in driving to the basket. He’s like a magician out there. He just has a knack with the ball, things you can’t teach. He has natural moves to the basket. He always gets the shot and he’s tough to stop.”

Last year, Souza averaged 14.7 points per game for the Kardinals, but this season, he’s taken his game to a totally different dimension.

Souza said that he improved his game by playing AAU basketball last summer for the Hudson Evolution, located in Jersey City.

“It changed my mentality,” Souza said. “I was playing against so many people who were better than me. I needed to have that killer mentality. Doing what I did last year wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to do more.”

Souza started the season with a 35-point explosion against Dickinson of Jersey City.

“That helped me a lot,” Souza said of the opening game performance. “I knew I was ready. All the hard work was going to pay off. It’s tough to score as a point guard, but that helped me see I could slow the game down and get points.”

Souza had 31 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Cranford in the Charlie Dolan Holiday Tournament in Kearny right after Christmas.

Souza has reached 20 or more points in nine games this season, but recently, he enjoyed his best stretch as a Kardinal.

Souza tallied 30 points in a win over Bard, scored 29 points in a loss to Union City, scored 15 points in a win over Dickinson, had 24 points and five steals in a win over Paterson Arts, had 18 in a loss to Memorial of West New York and had 29 points and six steals in a win over neighboring Harrison last Saturday afternoon.

For his efforts, Souza has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Mullins is not surprised by Souza’s performance this season, as the 6-foot-3 senior point guard is averaging 21.7 points per game this year.

“He’s not surprising us,” Mullins said. “He’s a legitimate basketball player. He wants to be the one with the ball in his hands. I tell him to be patient, to move the ball around and he’ll get a better shot. He sees the crack in the defense and he’s gone. He just has this innate ability to take the ball and spin it up at the basket. I’ve never seen anything like it. He can finish. He works at those shots.”

Mullins said that Souza needs work at other aspects of his game if he wants to play in college.

“He’s done well, but he can do better,” Mullins said. “We’re trying to get him to improve on other parts of his game.”

Souza is trying to get into college. There is work to be done about his status in the United States, but that is being rectified.

“I always had that as a goal, getting to college,” Souza said.

His overall grade point average of 3.93 will certainly help that, along with his basketball prowess. Some schools have begun to recruit him.

Souza has another goal, which is scoring 1,000 career points, a rarity in Kearny. Souza currently has 769 points, which means he needs about 240 points to reach his goal, so the more the Kardinals play, the better chance he gets to reach the elusive milestone.

“He’s a very respectful young man,” Mullins said. “He’s not loud and very humble. He just wants the ball in his hands. He acts by how he plays.”

Mullins knows that Souza has a bright future after Kearny.

“He can play college basketball somewhere,” Mullins said. “He’ll be on a college court somewhere next year. He’s a real player. If people see him play, they’ll be impressed by him. People should come and check him out. He definitely deserves all accolades that come his way.”


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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.”