Standing above the crowd as a freshman

North Bergen’s Jimenez a dominant force right away

A few years ago, North Bergen High School head girls’ basketball coach Dan Reardon remembers receiving a phone call from his wife, Kim, who happens to be the school nurse at North Bergen’s Robert Fulton School. “Kim told me that she was doing heights and weights of all the kids,” Reardon recalled. “She told me about one girl who was 5-foot-6. I said, ‘That’s great, honey, but what’s the big deal?’ Kim said, ‘Well, she’s in the fourth grade.’ ”

And that’s when Reardon first took notice of his current freshman sensation, Lauren Jimenez, who has not stopped growing since her days in fourth grade.

These days, Jimenez stands a solid 6-foot-3, heads and shoulders – and arms and hands as well, for that matter – above everyone else.

But Jimenez is not just a tall 14-year-old girl. She’s talented – probably as good of a center you’ll find in Hudson County.

“She has great hands and feet,” Reardon said. “She’s put together well. She gets up and down the floor well. She has soft hands and that’s uncommon for a girl her size.”

Jimenez credits her basketball prowess to her father, Antonio, who was a standout during his playing days at Memorial High School.

“My father started playing with my older brother, Christian, in the backyard,” Lauren Jimenez said. “But I was always there watching. I knew I wanted to play, so my father let me play with them.”

Added Jimenez, “My father taught me about the certain spot on the backboard, so that’s what I aimed for when I shot. When I shot, I always thought backboard first.”

That technique has helped as Jimenez has begun her high school career, because she has been unbelievable in her field goal shooting percentage.

“Lauren doesn’t take a lot of shots,” Reardon said. “But she doesn’t miss many either.”

Last week, Jimenez had her best string of games in her fledgling high school career. She connected on 30 of 44 from the floor in four games, reaching double figures in points and rebounds in each game.

Jimenez scored 11 points, had 12 rebounds and blocked an amazing 11 shots in a win over Emerson, followed that up with 13 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks against Ferris. Then, Jimenez scored 23 points (shooting 11 of 12 from the floor in the process), grabbed 13 rebounds and had two blocks in a victory over Paterson Kennedy and capped the week with a 16-point, 13-rebound, five-block outing against Dickinson.

For her efforts, Jimenez has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Although Jimenez has been playing competitive basketball for a long time, including a stint with the New Jersey Crusaders, a respected AAU program based out of East Orange, she still felt a little apprehensive about beginning her high school career.

“I was a little bit nervous before my first game,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t want to mess up. It was all new to me. But since that first game, I haven’t been nervous since. I am surprised I’ve done so well. I never thought I would be able to do so much. I really thought I was going to do worse.”

Reardon is totally impressed by the things his fabulous freshman is able to accomplish right away.

“She’s able to catch the ball in traffic,” Reardon said. “If she gets into trouble, she’s able to tip the ball to herself. She does some amazing things. She definitely has some athleticism.”

Having a talented big player like Jimenez has altered the way Reardon has coached this season, as Jimenez has led the Bruins to a 9-4 record thus far.

“We’ve always been guard-dominated,” said Reardon, who began his 14th season as the girls’ basketball coach at North Bergen last December. “Having Lauren has forced me to learn the meaning of having a high-low offense. I kind of knew what it was, but we never had a chance to use it. It was never a part of our offensive philosophy, because we never had the players to run it.”

Reardon is also impressed with Jimenez’ demeanor.

“Lauren is very personable and the other kids on the team are drawn to her,” Reardon said. “It’s not just because of her size. It’s because of her personality. She’s friends with everyone, older kids, kids her own age. She also doesn’t get intimidated easily and she’s so fun to be with. She’s not like any freshman we’ve ever had.”

While Jimenez’ brother has walked away from a possible basketball career, Lauren knows that her future is very bright.

“I still have to work on a lot of other stuff,” Jimenez said. “I want to work on my low post moves, as well as working on my shot and my dribbling. I know that I want to play in college some day. My Dad tells me not to think about it, because I have a lot of time left. But it’s hard not to. I just hope people recognize me.”

It’s hard not to notice Lauren Jimenez, considering she stands out in a crowd, in size, in stature and in her play. “It’s been a lot of fun,” Jimenez said. “As a freshman, I never expected any of this. I really like it.”

Apparently, so does everyone else in North Bergen, as long as Jimenez keeps posting double-doubles and swatting away shot after shot.

“As much as I like Betty [Mendieta, the school’s all-time leading scorer who is currently playing at Adelphi University], Lauren just might break all of Betty’s records,” Reardon said. “She’s had 12 straight double-doubles, which we’ve never had before. It’s really almost been too good to be true.”

Sure seems that way.

“I don’t want to count my chickens, because she has a long way to go,” Reardon said. “But it’s been quite remarkable.”

Sure has – watching Lauren Jimenez become the center of attention. – Jim Hague


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