Bob Harbison, the veteran Nutley High School boys’ basketball coach, tried to take some positives out of the truncated COVID-19 season of a year ago.
“I think the year did some good,” Harbison said. “We played basically all juniors last year and they got good experience.”
The Maroon Raiders did manage to play all 15 games mandated by the NJSIAA among the pandemic restrictions.
With that in mind, Harbison likes the character of the Maroon Raiders.
“I like my kids,” Harbison said. “I like my guys. We have such great kids. There’s not a bad kid among the bunch. I also think we’re a pretty deep team. There are a lot of kids that I can run out on the floor. The kids have to learn their roles, but if they accept their roles, put the ball in the basket, well then I think we’ll be okay. If we don’t lose the ball and the kids make shots, we’ll be fine.”
Harbison likes the way the Maroon Raiders have meshed in the first week of practice.
“Our kids are ahead of themselves defensively already,” Harbison said. “I’m really excited about that. I think these kids want to win more than anything else. The theme thus far is that we have pretty good kids who will accept their roles. We’re already doing things in our transition offense. We want them to feel fine about what they’re doing. We don’t want them to hesitate to shoot the ball. We want them to just play.”
The top returnee is 6-foot-2 senior shooting forward Nick Schroeder, who averaged 12 points per game last year.
“I expect him to be a coach on the floor for me,” Harbison said of Schroeder, who has already committed to attend and play at York College in Pennsylvania next year. “He’s the one guy we’ll look to score some points and he has the ability to do it. He’s a versatile kid. There are times he might have to bring the ball up the court. He can do it all.”
The power forward is 6-foot-4 senior Jake O’Connor.
“He will play either the four (power forward) or five (center),” Harbison said. “He can really shoot it and when that happens, he can really shoot it. He’s also a very good shot blocker and helps out a lot defensively. He’s surprising, but not imposing. But he’s very effective.”
The center is 6-foot-3 junior Anthony Pinal, straight off the football field.
“He’s a tough kid,” Harbison said of wide body Pinal, who spent the fall blocking for Harbison’s son Matthew, the Maroon Raiders’ quarterback on the gridiron. “He’s a good rebounder. His offense has improved tremendously. He’s a strong kid who will not be pushed around.”
The shooting guard is 5-foot-11 junior Donte Carter-Dubose.
“He started last year as a sophomore,” Harbison said. “He’s a tough kid. He handles the ball well. We need him to shoot more.”
The point guard is 6-foot senior Matt Pergola, the lacrosse standout who is going to Stevens Tech to play lacrosse next fall. But Pergola is making a mark as a basketball player.
“He’s really improved his game,” Harbison said. “He’s a tough kid who has been attacking the rim. He’s as athletic minded as anyone I’ve ever coached. He knows the game. He’s obviously very smart. He’s the kind of kid who shows up for practice early and doesn’t want to leave. He’ll direct the speed of the game.”
Jake Cirminiello is a 6-foot senior guard who can fill either guard slot.
“He had COVID last year and when he came back, he really couldn’t play,” Harbison said. “He was practically lost. But he’s really been able to control himself more. No question, he can play.”
Karam Youssef is a 6-foot senior who is a shooting guard.
“He’s athletically strong,” Harbison said. “He’s a versatile kid, a vocal kid.”
Senior Peter Riad is a 5-foot-11 guard who is earning his playing time.
“He busts his tail every day in practice,” Harbison said. “He’s very aggressive defensively. When he’s working, I can’t take him off the floor.”
Junior Richard Nguyen is a 5-foot-11 backup center who also plays power forward despite his lack of height.
“He’s an effective heady kid,” Harbison said. “He knows where he should be. He can make open shots and gives us solid minutes.”
Senior Frankie Contella is a 5-foot-10 forward.
“We can put him at any spot up front, the three, four or five,” Harbison said. “He’s the perfect role player who defends very well. He takes good shots and passes the ball well.”
Morgan O’Brien is a 5-foot-9 junior guard who has a nice shooting touch.
The Maroon Raiders open their season on Friday, Dec. 17 at home against Technology and face Memorial of West New York the following day on Saturday at noon.
“I’m excited about these kids,” Harbison said. “I’m challenging these kids. It has the making of being a team that can stay on the court with any team we play.”
The Nutley High School boys’ basketball team has high hopes for the season that begins shortly. Front row, from left, are Matt Pergola, Frankie Contella and Peter Riad. Back row, from left, are head coach Bob Harbison, Jake Cirminiello, Nick Schroeder, Jake O’Connor and Karam Youssef. 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.”