Kardinals try to rebound after roller coaster boys’ hoops season

The Kearny High School boys’ basketball team endured one of the wildest rides during the COVID-19 pandemic mania that took place a year ago. The Kardinals found themselves in a 1-7 hole during the shortened 15-game schedule, then found magic almost overnight, winning their last six games of the season to finish 7-8.

“It was definitely a crazy season,” said veteran Kearny head coach Bill Mullins. “It could have been worse, but we hung in there and didn’t quit.”

The Kardinals were decimated by graduation and returns only one starter from last year’s roller coaster ride of a season.

“We only have four guys who scored a single point on the varsity (squad) last year,” Mullins said. “We are very inexperienced. We had to get to work.”

Needless to say, it was an uphill climb for the Kardinals.

“It’s always a challenge,” Mullins said. “It’s certainly not easy. But the kids are working hard getting ready. They’ve put the time in.”

The Kardinals played together in the Bloomfield summer league and participated in a fall league together as well.

“We don’t have a lot of kids,” said Mullins, who is in his second stint as the head coach of the Kardinals. “But what we do have is camaraderie. The basic needs have to come from themselves. It can’t come from the coach. We try to get everyone to work together and bond together.”

The lone returning starter is a good one. Senior Ryan Gill is a 6-foot-6 forward who is extremely versatile.

“We want him both inside and outside,” Mullins said of Gill, who averaged close to 14 points per game last season. “We also need him helping on defense. This is his third season with me on the varsity. He’s a hard worker who gets up and down the floor well. He’s also a very smart kid, a very smart player. He’s a super kid. He’s a three-sport athlete, a good all-around athlete.”

Gill also played football in the fall and will be a mainstay on the baseball diamond, but a lot of people believe that Gill’s top sport is on the hardwood. A former Observer Athlete of the Week, Gill is a player to watch this season.

Another top player is 5-foot-9 junior point guard Kasper Szymczak.

“We don’t have one point guard,” Mullins said. “We have about four. Kasper can bring the ball up the floor and run our offense. He does a pretty good job hitting the three (point shot). He’s worked really hard to turn himself into a solid player.”

Senior Juelz Hernandez is a 6-foot-2 swingman.

“He has a nice outside shot,” Mullins said. “I’m expecting him to step up this season and be more of a player. We need help under the boards and he’s stepping up and doing the job there. He has some ability and can get us about 12 points per game.”

William Medina is a 5-foot-9 senior guard who can play either the point guard or shooting guard position.

“He’s a good outside shooter,” Mullins said. “He is also very strong. This is his first year at Kearny, so he’s getting used to things.”

Medina is a former student at Kearny Christian Academy, but is eligible to play right away for the Kardinals without having to sit out due to the transfer rules.

“He’s going to help us,” Mullins said of Medina.

James Rosario is a 5-foot-9 senior guard who will help with the team’s ball handling. Mardeo Lamas is a 5-foot-7 guard who will have a role in the backcourt.

“He’s fast and quick,” Mullins said of Lamas, who is a first-year varsity player like Rosario and Medina.

The Kardinals’ underclass features two players that Mullins is very familiar with – namely his two sons, 6-foot-2 junior small forward William and 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Matheus. Both Mullins boys will see considerable playing time.

“William is a good shooter,” Mullins said of his older son. “I think he’s a pretty complete player. He’s also going to help on the boards. He’s improved a lot in the offseason. Matheus can handle the ball pretty well. He’s pretty flexible at either forward or at guard. He’s one of the better passers on the team.”

Shamar Bailey is a 5-foot-11 junior who can also play both guard slots.

“He’s very coachable,” Mullins said of Bailey. “He drives well to the basket and does a nice job for us.”

Anton Walker is a 6-foot junior who Mullins called “the fastest guard on the team who does a nice job attacking the basket.”

Jose Escalante is a 6-foot-1 junior who plays his best close to the basket. Ameer Mills is a 6-foot-4 sophomore who is also an inside force.

“He’s pretty strong under the basket,” Mullins said of Mills.

The Kardinals open the new season Monday, Dec. 20 against Dover at Kearny High at 4:30 p.m. They will host their own holiday tournament with Nutley, Abundant Life Academy of Nutley and Thomas ison Charter in the field Dec. 29 and 30.

The Kardinals will face some of the top Hudson County teams, but received a reprieve when the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League put the Kardinals in the same division with programs like Memorial, Ferris and McNair Academic and away from the state-ranked powers like Hudson Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep.

“Playing the Hudson County teams is always tough,” Mullins said. “Everyone is tough. But we should be okay. We just have to wait and see what happens,”

Mullins has to hope his young and inexperienced team will come of age in a hurry. If that happens, then the Kardinals will be a tough out all season long.




The Kearny High School boys’ basketball team will look for its senior class to lead the way this season. Front row, from left, are William Medina, Kasper Szymczak, Mardeo Lamas and James Rosario. Back row, from left, are head coach Bill Mullins, Juelz Hernandez and Ryan Gill. 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.”