Nutley boys basketball hopes to improve with several new pieces

Nutley head coach Bob Harbison (center) is joined by seniors Josh Dick (left) and Erik Thompson (right).

On an individual basis, Nutley boys basketball coach Bob Harbison can look all over the floor and see quite a few players, who have experienced success at the lower levels with the potential of doing good things on varsity.

But with so few of those guys having varsity experience, there’s a sense of mystery with this year’s version of the Maroon Raiders heading into the start of preseason scrimmages.

“You never know until they play varsity basketball,” said Harbison. “These are kids that have been successful JV kids and have shown that they can play on offense. But you don’t know for sure until you see them day in and day out on the varsity level.”

While a lot of the rotation will be new, Nutley does return three starters from last season’s 7-17 team. Leading that group is 6-foot-4 senior small forward Erik Thompson, who after missing the first few weeks of the season, averaged 12 points per game and made 34 3-pointers in 16 contests.

“Thompson is a scorer, he can put points up,” Harbison said. “Hopefully he’ll cause some matchup issues.”

Another potential matchup nightmare and the biggest x-factor in Nutley’s season is power forward Ryan Ibrahim. The 6-foot-7 junior saw limited action last season, but gained plenty of valuable experience during the summer and has the potential to be a matchup nightmare with his ability to play on the perimeter.

“He’s a 6-7 kid who can play away from the basket and a guy that I think will cause matchup problems if he can do what he does,” said Harbison. “He started to realize what he could do in spurts.”

Sophomore Noah Smith and junior Nick Gallo are vying for the starting center job, which is open after the graduation of double-double threat Anthony Pinal.

At guard, Jordan Small, who was one of the surprises of last season, is a returning starter poised to take on a larger offensive role following the graduation of leading scorer Donte Dubose-Carter. The 5-foot-11 Small averaged 6.6 points per game last year.

“He’s just a great presence and he has a tendency to do the right things. I couldn’t take (Jordan) off the floor,” said Harbison. “He’s just one of those guys you want on the floor all the time. He’s matured to the point that he can be a leader.”

Junior Will Llanza returns at point guard after taking over as the starter midway through last season. The guard rotation is further bolstered by sophomore Michael Misner, a talented shooter with big potential, junior Giancarlo Duan and senior Josh Dick, who made 10 3-pointers off the bench last season. Freshman Tim Gordon is another promising player, who could work his way into a key role as the season goes along.

Justin Figueroa and Noah Riley are athletic junior forwards, who could see meaningful time off the bench as well as senior Nathan Arroyo, who didn’t play last season.

Nutley opens the season on Thursday, Dec. 14 at home against West Orange, in the first of four SEC Independence Division games the Raiders have in the first eight days. Nutley will also once again be in the Kearny Holiday Tournament, which  will be held Dec. 27 and 28 and also features Bard and Abundant Life.

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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)