Belleville boys: Questions abound after COVID shutdown

It’s safe to say that it’s the most disruptive season already in the long and storied coaching career of Jim Catalano. The Belleville native, who has spent more than 40 years of his life as a head basketball coach at both the high school and collegiate level, first had to endure the challenges of not having a home court to play on. The horrors of Hurricane Ida caused serious flooding that ruined the floor at Belleville High School, forcing Catalano’s team to both play nothing but road games this season and practice at the tiny middle school, sharing time there with the girls’ basketball team and the junior varsity and freshman teams.

Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Buccaneers were slammed with an outbreak of the Omricron variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus, forcing the Bucs to miss their holiday tournament in North Arlington. It means that the Bucs have only two games to show for the 2021-2022 season heading into this uncertain week that was supposed to begin with a showdown with Caldwell on Tuesday.

“I have no idea,” Catalano said. “It’s anyone’s guess. We haven’t been able to practice in three weeks. When we return, I have no idea who is going to be there. It’s definitely a challenge, not knowing who is going to suit up. It’s really getting old now, doing what we’ve had to do. The first time we were on a big floor was against Bloomfield (a loss) and we were terrible. We couldn’t shoot a three (point shot).”

Catalano doesn’t know what his team is going to look like this week.

“One day we have nine kids and the next day we have three,” Catalano said. “I give our kids a lot of credit. They bust their tails every time out.”

But what has this been like?

“It’s unbelievable,” Catalano said. “I’ve never been through anything like it. Not even close. When I get a phone call now, I’m expecting bad news. Some of the kids I haven’t seen for two full weeks.”

The Bucs put together a lineup to face Livingston and came away with a 58-44 win, keyed by Richmond Casino’s 24 points. Casino has been the Bucs’ best player thus far. The 6-foot-1 senior guard had 17 in the loss to Bloomfield and 24 in the win over Livingston.

“He’s a very good scorer,” Catalano said. “He has excellent shooting range. He can be a 20-point per game scorer for us.”

Nasir Bey is a 6-foot-1 forward who has had moments of brilliance in the past, earning Observer Athlete of the Week honors last season.

“He plays bigger than what he is,” Catalano said. “He can jump, rebound, dunk. He’s a good player for us.”

The third key contributor is 5-foot-7 senior point guard Ethan Laquindanum.

“He makes the whole thing go,” Catalano said. “He gets where he wants to be on the floor. He’s the fastest kid we have on the floor. He can strip you of the ball when you don’t know where he is. He can do everything. We have three of the best players in the county.”

Senior Terrence Folkes is a 6-foot-2 inside player.

“He plays in the middle for us and gets rebounds,” Catalano said of Folkes, the football standout.

Shanne Laquindanum is a 5-foot-11 guard and cousin of Ethan.

“He’s a good pure shooter,” Catalano said of Shanne. “He can make shots.”

There’s another Laquindanum on the Belleville roster, namely 5-foot-9 sophomore Andrey.

“He can play the point a little,” Catalano said. “He’s very mature for a sophomore. He can make shots as well.”

But who knows what the future holds for the Bucs?

“If we have three kids out, we have to get players from the JV,” Catalano said. “It’s almost like we have to play a JV team and that’s just not fair. It’s really a shame. We’ve had kids out who were tested and we didn’t get the results back for over a week. I still don’t know what the proper protocol is. Any kid that doesn’t feel good has to get tested. Who knows when they can come back? I feel bad for the kids. How are we going to make up games? Marcellino (Marra, the school’s athletic director) has done a good job trying to pick up some games for us. It’s really been a nightmare. I have no idea when they’re coming back. They are all not getting tested at the same time.”

In the meantime, Catalano just wants to hear some good news.

“I just want to get a phone call from a kid who said he can come back,” Catalano said. “There’s nothing right now that I can do about it. I really think we had a chance to win the (Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division) title. I really do.”

Let’s see what transpires in the next week.




The Belleville boys’ basketball team has been battling the omincron variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus, forcing the team to the sidelines for the last two weeks. Front row, from left, are Richmond Casino, Ethan Laquindanum and Andrey Laquindanum. Back row, from left, are Michael Bowen, Nasir Bey, Terence Folkes and Shanne Laquindanum. 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.”