Tom McGuire begins his seventh season as the head boys’ basketball coach at Lyndhurst High School and the 11th season all totaled, when you add his years at his now-defunct alma mater Queen of Peace, where he was a standout football and basketball player.
And McGuire feels that this year’s version of the Golden Bears already has a distinction in his coaching career.
“This is probably the deepest team I’ve ever had in my 11 years of coaching,” McGuire said. “We have a really good mix of leadership and youth. We had a lot of juniors from last year who got a lot of seasoning last year under their belts. I am very optimistic about this team. I think our depth will really help if we have an injury or two.”
The Golden Bears were 6-9 last season in the COVID-19 truncated schedule, but they did manage to get all of their games in despite the major pandemic restrictions.
“It was a really difficult year,” McGuire said. “We had lost a lot of guys from the year before, so we had juniors that had to play a lot of minutes right away.”
But those juniors are now seniors, guys like 5-foot-10 point guard John Lembo. The football standout, known as “Johnny Football,” by Golden Bear grid followers, is also a fine basketball player.
“I think he’s a match-up problem for everyone,” McGuire said of the All-North Jersey Interscholastic Conference selection last year who averaged close to 16 points a game last year. “His frame is thicker than most point guards, so he’s stronger than most of the guys who try to cover him. He’s a decent shooter and a crafty driver who gets to the rim. He’s very tough getting into the lane.”
Senior Anthony Maldonado is the 5-foot-10 shooting guard.
“He’s a defense first and a defense second kind of player,” McGuire said. “But he’s a pretty good scorer. He could get about eight (points) a game for us. But as a defensive player, he’s annoying. I know I wouldn’t want him covering me if I were playing. He’s a smart player, a heady player. He’s really worked on his outside shot. He put a lot of work in with his outside shot.”
Senior Anthony “T.J.” Jimenez is the team’s 6-foot swingman.
“He’s a slasher,” McGuire said. “He’s working so hard on his outside shot. He was like our sixth or seventh man last year. He would play a lot one game and not a lot the next. But he’s developing into a player who could score a little for us, about 10 a game. He may have the best outside shot on the team.”
The power forward is 6-foot-1 Ricky Rainey.
“He’s a really good athlete,” McGuire said of the excellent football player, a receiver and defensive back like what McGuire was when he was at QP. “He has great speed. He’s an unconventional player. You don’t think he’s doing much, but then you look in the scorebook and he has 12 points and eight rebounds and four steals. He does so many things. He’s a gamer and a tough kid.”
Ben Nowinski is a 6-foot-2 senior and another post presence for the Golden Bears.
“He does everything for us,” McGuire said. “He’s a gritty player. He’s our best off-the-ball defender. He really helps with the weakside defense. He’s one of the best defenders either I played with or coached. He is constantly taking charges. He also does good work around the rim. He’s a very smart player who can shoot it pretty well.”
Senior Vin Auteri has enjoyed a major growth spurt, going all the way to 6-foot-3 now as a senior.
“He forgets he’s 6-3 now,” McGuire said of the forward. “He thinks like he’s still 5-10. He’s grown about eight or nine inches the last two years.”
Senior Carson Rodriguez is a 6-foot guard.
“He’s a good shooter,” McGuire said. “He’s worked his tail off working on his shot. He also plays defense. He’s always working.”
Anthony Pizzuti is a 6-foot-2 sophomore, who McGuire called a good “inside/outside” player.
“He’s really fast and great off the break,” McGuire said. “He is also very tough. I’m really high on him. He’s starting to prove himself. He’s someone I think I can trust.”
Jake Mayer is a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard who steps into the varsity role vacated by the graduation of older brother Sean.
“He’s a different player than Sean,” McGuire said. “I think he’s still getting used to the speed on the varsity level. But I think he’s going to be a nice player. He can shoot and distribute.”
Matt Slaby is a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard.
“I love this sophomore class,” McGuire said. “I’m very excited about him. He has some of the best talent in the gym. He sees the floor better than anyone else other than Lembo. He just needs to get used to the speed and physicality of the varsity game.”
Junior Gabe Gomez is a 6-foot forward.
“He’s a jack of all trades,” McGuire said. “He has a nice outside shot. He plays pretty good defense. He reminds me a lot of (former Lyndhurst soccer and basketball standout) Vinnie DiTonto. He does everything right.”
The Golden Bears open their season against NJIC rival Dwight-Englewood on Friday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. The Golden Bears will then face Becton Regional at the South Bergen Classic that weekend.
Nothing is going to deter McGuire’s optimism.
“I really am optimistic,” McGuire said. “I like this team. I like the way the kids work. It’s really a good mix. The young guys are learning a lot and they’re going to play. We have a lot of talent in the room.”
The Lyndhurst boys’ basketball team will count on a solid senior class to compete this season. Front row, from left, are Isaiah Delgado, John Lembo, Anthony Maldonado and Ricky Rainey. Back row, from left, are head coach Tom McGuire, Vin Auteri, Ben Nowinski, Anthony “T.J.” Jimenez and Carson Rodriguez. 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.”