Marc McCaffrey’s first season as Kearny’s boys basketball coach has seen its ups and downs through its 5-6 start. But as the Kardinals enter the second half of the regular season and the upcoming Hudson County Tournament, he sees a team that has the ability go on an extended hot streak.
“I’ve seen a lot of positive progression. We’re competing a lot better, even in our losses,” said McCaffrey of his team, which currently sits fourth in the HCIAL’s National Division at 3-3. “We’re competing better and playing hard, we just need some shots to fall our way. Our defensive effort has been really good. If we get a few more shots to fall our way, I think we can start rattling off some wins.”
One of the things pointing in Kearny’s favor the rest of the way is its depth. With the Kardinals’ rotation often going nine players deep at a minimum, McCaffrey is optimistic that it will keep his group fresher as the season goes on.
The depth has led to Kearny employing several different lineups and nine different players averaging at least 4.5 points per game so far.
Juniors Kevin McKenna and Will Souza share the point guard responsibility for Kearny, each bringing a different dynamic to the lineup. Souza leads the team in steals, while also averaging 6.2 points per game
“They both bring different things to the game,” McCaffrey said. “Will’s a little bit better scorer. Kevin’s a little bit better at controlling the tempo of the game.”
Fellow juniors Luis Rodriguez and Chris Ruiz are at the other guard. Rodriguez, a three-sport athlete for the Kardinals, is averaging 9.0 points per game and is the team’s leading 3-point shooter.
Junior Jonah Menedez (7.0 points per game) is another outside shooter at guard who has played significant minutes so far.
The depth is also a strength up front. Matheus Mullins, a 6-foot-5 senior, leads the team in scoring at 9.3 points per game and in rebounds at 6.1 per contest.
Older brother William has seen his role increase as he continues his inspiring comeback from leukemia.
Joining them inside is 6-foot-4 senior center Ameer Mills.
At 6-foot-0, senior forward Jayden Figuereo doesn’t have the height of his fellow forwards, but is a matchup nightmare thanks to his physicality to go with his ball-handling ability. Figuereo, who averages 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
“It allows us to play inside and out. It allows us to play different styles of offense and defense,” McCaffrey said about the quartet. “Having four guys that can rebound and run the floor (is huge).”
Sophomore Caleb Baptista and junior Genaro Sosa bring additional depth to the rotation as will senior forward Ben Cepin when he returns from injury.
Kearny begins the second half of the National Division’s double-round robin schedule on Tuesday when it hosts McNair, then goes to Ferris on Thursday. Independent games against American History and Lincoln follow, and after a division game against University Charter, the Kardinals travel to rival Harrison for a much-anticipated Feb. 2 matchup.
“I have a lot of confidence the team is going to (go on a run),” said McCaffrey. “Playing two teams that beat us early in the year in McNair and Ferris should give us a good indication of where we’re at right now, but I definitely think things are going to start going our 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.)