SCOREBOARD 1-11-09The dramatic turnaround of Memorial basketball A six-win team last season, upstart and undefeated Tigers rolling this year

If you ask Memorial High School head boys’ basketball coach Ryan Raparelli about the 2007-08 season, chances are that he won’t want to talk about it.
“I really don’t want to remember it,” Raparelli said. “It was a total nightmare. Nothing went right. We were a senior-dominated team and had high expectations that never happened. I thought we had some good players, some good guards and I thought we could compete. We just didn’t come through.”
The Tigers ended the year with a dismal 6-15 record. It was time for the coach to turn the page and look forward to the season ahead.
But when Raparelli surveyed the situation, he noticed that he had an inexperienced team that played other sports in the fall.
“We had four football players and a soccer player whose bodies were worn down and not ready to play basketball when practice began,” Raparelli said. “They weren’t ready to deal with basketball. I had members of the faculty asking me how the team was looking and I honestly had to say that I didn’t know what to expect. I said that I could tell them later on, but I really didn’t know. At first, I really thought that we were behind last year.”
Great, just what Raparelli needed. Another disastrous season. Or so it seemed.
“But we had a decent summer together,” Raparelli said. “We made it to the semifinals of the Teaneck summer league and we held our own in the Jersey City [Recreation] league. We played some good competition over the summer and that got us ready.”
So when the practices began in earnest, Raparelli thought he had the makings of a competitive team – maybe.
“I liked the team chemistry,” Raparelli said. “That was a good sign. They had this swagger about them and I absolutely liked it. They felt like they were going to win every time they stepped on the floor. They expected to win.”
Almost sounds too bold and brash, coming from a team that won all of six games a year ago. But the attitude meant a lot to the coach.
“It absolutely said a lot to me,” Raparelli said. “When they expect to win, they have this cockiness that you can’t teach and that helps.”
But it almost might come off as being a little narrow minded, especially the way the Tigers floundered so much last season.
“We have game-time players who are ready to play,” Raparelli said. “They’re not practice players. They’re ready to play. They go after it and play together.” The Tigers went right after it from the very first game. In the Memorial Tip-Off Tournament to start the season against neighboring rival St. Joseph of the Palisades and their heralded newcomer, 6-foot-10 Khalil Brown, the Tigers came out and earned a solid victory.
“It was a good test,” Raparelli said. “St. Joe’s has a good team and we came out and played well.”
They’ve been playing well ever since, having earned victories in each of their first seven games. They won both their Tip-Off Tournament and the Kearny Christmas Tournament. Last Monday, they defeated Hoboken. It’s been a remarkable turnaround, going from a 6-15 doormat to a confident undefeated HCIAA Coviello contender.
“I’m pleased, but I’m not satisfied,” Raparelli said. “But to be honest, I didn’t expect the turnaround to happen this fast. It’s pretty amazing.”
Perhaps the leader of the Memorial resurgence has been senior forward Hussein Abd-El Maksoud, who may have the longest name in Hudson County basketball history, but he has the statistics to back up the name.
The 6-foot-5 El Maksoud has exploded onto the scene this season, after seeing limited action a year ago.
“He was in and out of the lineup last year, but he’s worked so hard,” Raparelli said. “He’s really grown into his body and his game has improved so much. To be honest, when he was a freshman and a sophomore, there were coaches who said that he would never develop enough to help us out. But now, he’s really developed and I’m impressed with his work ethic and his drive.”
After only seeing limited time last season, El Maksoud is averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds per game.
“Every game, he’s getting a double-double [meaning double figures in points and rebounds],” Raparelli said of El Maksoud, who was named the Most Valuable Player in both tournaments this season.
Another key player has been power forward Jonathan Munoz, who only stands 5-foot-11, but the junior is scoring 14 points per game and grabbing eight rebounds.
“He’s the heart and soul of the team,” Raparelli said of Munoz. “He’s a vocal leader.”
Senior Andrew Kaplan is the team’s point guard.
“He’s the floor general and he does a good job distributing the ball,” Raparelli said. “He controls the flow of the game.”
Fellow senior Michael Kuzurian, the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year last spring during the baseball season, is also doing well for the Tigers on the hardwood.
“He’s a knock-down shooter who has made some clutch shots for us,” Raparelli said. “He answers the call.”
Sophomore David Almonte is a 6-1 swing forward.
“He’s our best defender and he’s still developing as a player,” Raparelli said. “He’s going to be a good slasher to the basket.”
Alex Caprio, another sophomore, adds depth to the frontcourt at 6-2.
“He’s definitely our most athletic kid,” Raparelli said.
Senior Shawn Corraliza is a 5-10 guard who comes off the bench and provides solid defense. Senior Marvin Regalado is a 6-3 center who provides height and rebounding ability.
Needless to say, basketball is fun again in West New York. The Tigers are doing well and believe it or not, they’re undefeated.
“They absolutely believe that they deserve to win,” Raparelli said. “They play with confidence and that’s what a coach likes to see. Everything right now has been positive.”
Sure better than a year ago.

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