Buccaneers hope for another successful season

The Belleville High School boys’ basketball team won 19 games a year ago.
Although the season is truncated this season to just 15 games because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, veteran head coach Jim Catalano, now back coaching at his alma mater, has high hopes for his team.

“It’s hard to say, but I think we’re pretty upbeat about our team,” said Catalano, who was the long-time coach at NJIT (called New Jersey Tech back then) and had some stints at other high schools before returning home three years ago.

“Most of our team last year was sophomores,” Catalano said. “Who knew what they could do? Well, they all did very well. We have a great group of kids. I’m thinking they should all continue to come along.”

The Buccaneers lost one key player to graduation. Hector Castro, who was a two-time Observer Athlete of the Week during his career at Belleville, graduated and hopes to play college basketball now. Castro averaged 19.6 points and almost 10 rebounds per game last season.

“It’s a huge loss for us,” Catalano said. “He set the tone for everyone. He did a little bit of everything.”

Leading the returnees is 5-foot-7 junior point guard Ethan Laquindanum, who averaged 10 points and seven assists last year.

“He’s just a jolt of lightning on the floor,” Catalano said. “He’s the toughest kid we have. And you don’t want him guarding you. You have to be really careful playing him, because he can get to the basket against anyone. Once he’s going to the basket, then he’s able to pass the ball. It’s fun to watch.”

Another standout is 6-foot-1 junior forward Nasir Bey, who averaged 12.5 points, five rebounds and four assists per game. Bey could make up some of the scoring punch lost by the graduation of Castro.

“He really came on last year,” Catalano said. “He developed an excellent jump shot and became a good 3-point shooter. He’s become a leader on the team. He suffers no lapses on the court and goes hard every time down the floor. Every possession, every pass, he’s on. I’m really pleased with both Ethan and Nas.”

Another returnee with a huge upside is 6-foot-5 senior Mofeayo Kuku, or just Mo for short. Kuku was a dominating force for the Buccaneers, especially down the stretch of the season a year ago.

“He really came along at the end of last year,” Catalano said. “He worked on his game over the summer. He looks pretty good. He can play at the next level for sure.”

Senior Danny Castillo is a 6-foot-1 guard who missed all of last season due to injury and illness. But Castillo is healthy and ready to contribute this season.

“He’s a great 3-point shooter,” Catalano said. “He can really shoot it. Since he’s been cleared to play, he’s been working hard to get ready. I was concerned about him last year. No doubt, he’s back and it’s like old times.”

Junior Shanne Laquindanum is a 6-0 guard and the cousin of Ethan.

“He’s just a drop dead 3-point shooter,” Catalano said. “He missed most of last season with a knee problem, but he’s back and has been filling it up in practice. He’s a very smart player and a good passer.”

Senior Alex Martinez is a 6-foot transfer from Bloomfield Tech.

“He may be the most athletic kid we have,” Catalano said. “He does everything we say. He’s as quick as Ethan. He’s fast and aggressive. He fits into our defenses well.”

Patrick Candalera is a 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard who will back up Ethan Laquindanum.

“He epitomizes what we do defensively,” Catalano said. “He takes charges and dives all over the floor.”

Al Horne is a 6-foot forward and a player on the Belleville football team.

“He’s just athletic,” Catalano said of the junior Horne. “He’s a very good rebounder.”

Richmond Casino is not a place, but the name of a junior newcomer to the Buccaneers. Casino is a 6-foot forward.

“He has great instincts on the floor,” Catalano said. “He has turned into a starter at guard with Ethan.”

Catalano said his team was getting into the solid defensive frame of mind that he demands as a coach.

“We have a couple of kids who have an uncanny knack of taking charges and diving on the floor,” Catalano said. “They’re all buying in.”

The Buccaneers opened the season with a loss to Livingston, a game where Ethan Laquindanum led the way with 12 points.

They rebounded in fine fashion, defeating Caldwell, 46-43. In that game, Casino was the leading scorer with 11 points and two players, namely Bey and Shanne Laquindanum had nine points each. Kuku had a fine all-around game with seven points, eight rebounds and astounding eight blocked shots.

The Bucs open the season with six of seven on the road.

“It is what it is,” Catalano said. “The season is so short that we can’t afford slip-ups.”

Count on the Bucs to be a solid force in the SEC Colonial this season.




Belleville junior point guard Ethan Laquindanum. Photo by Jim Hague


Belleville junior small forward Nasir Bey. 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.”