With no returning starters and very few players who have even played meaningful minutes, Kearny boys basketball coach Bill Mullins could easily bemoan the lack of certainty within his roster.
Instead the message has been that with such uncertainty comes opportunity for his players to seize a prominent spot.
“This is an opportunity, it’s their time,” said Mullins. “This is their time to step up.”
That initial opportunity came on Thursday for the Kardinals and it was one several made the most of, with a 55-28 victory over BelovED Charter of Jersey City. Six different players recorded six or more points in the win and, in total, eight players scored as Kearny aims to improve upon last season’s 7-14 record.
“It’s always nice to win on opening day, especially with a young group. It builds up their confidence,” Mullins said. “For a young and inexperienced group we did a really good job in the scrimmages and we’re playing hard. We’ve been practicing hard and we’re trying to get better everyday.”
Leading the way for Kearny on opening night was junior Matheus Mullins, who scored 14 points and made four 3-pointers.
With older brother William, the top scorer and rebounder from last year out of the season due to illness, the younger Matheus is the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-6 and will have to shoulder a lot of the load that is left by William’s absence.
“They each have their own style,” Bill Mullins said about his two sons. “Matheus had a nice opening day, he’s got a pretty good outside shot. They always played together, but now Matheus is going to have to step up to the plate. And he’s capable of it.”
Despite his stature, Matheus Mullins has played primarily on the perimeter. The same could be said for the rest of the roster as Bill Mullins views his roster as one entirely composed of guards.
“We’re trying to develop the overall talent on the team,” Bill Mullins said. “I want them all to become basketball players that can play any position on the floor.
“We have to all play and all have to run. We have to be able to dribble the ball, shoot the ball. They’re players, more so than positions. We do not have much size, but we hope that our quickness and playing fast will help us.”
Helping with that fast pace is starting point guard Shamar Bailey, a 5-foot-11 senior who had eight points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals in the opener. Sophomore Kevin McKenna, who sank two 3-pointers on Thursday, can also play the point.
Senior Melvin Castro is a guard who is strong to the basket and used that to put up nine points with six rebounds in the win over BelovED Charter. Another sophomore, Luis Rodriguez will see extensive time in the back court, along with senior Brian Argudo and junior Jonah Menendez
Senior Jose Escalante (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) is the strongest player on the team and will usually draw the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best big man. Junior Jayden Figuereo (6-foot-0) also will see a lot of time at forward, but can also step out and make shots from the outside.
Daniel Valentin, Benjamin Cepin and Christopher Ruiz are also vying for playing time and working their way into the mix as well.
Kearny hopes to continue its winning ways during a difficult three-game week that started at Belleville on Monday, Dec. 19, before home contests with McNair on Wednesday and Passaic on Thursday.
The Kardinals host their annual Kearny Christmas Tournament on Dec. 28-29 with Nutley, Abundant Life and Marion P. Thomas Charter also competing in the event.
“We believe in these kids,” Bill Mullins said. “We think we can put a competitive team out there. We’re hopeful that we’re going to be a competitive team and get some wins. The kids have been very responsive and I hope they keep that way.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)