Marist enjoying bounce-back season

Royal Knights already have as many wins as a year ago

Tony Romano has endured his fair share of tough basketball seasons when he was the head coach at the now-defunct St. Aloysius High School in Jersey City.
But that never deterred the hard-working and affable coach. Patience was one of Romano’s best virtues, as he was able to enjoy his fair share of success as well in his almost three-decade tenure at the school on the corner of West Side and Kensington Avenues.
However, when the school closed three years ago, Romano needed a new home to coach. He eventually became an assistant coach at Marist High School on the Jersey City/Bayonne border.
When then-head coach Vernon Freeland decided to resign, the Marist administration wasted very little time in turning the program over to Romano. It was realistically a no-brainer. Experienced and dedicated coaches like Tony Romano just don’t appear out of nowhere. It was the perfect transition.
However, Romano didn’t exactly experience instant success with the Royal Knights. In his first season a year ago, Romano had to withstand a brutal 5-20 campaign. Again, it was time for more of the patience that Romano had to display during his stint at St. Al’s. Better times were certainly ahead.
“We had a very young team last year,” Romano said. “We only had two seniors on the team. We had to take our lumps a little and I knew that we would eventually get better. I had to get a better feel of the kids. They needed to learn from me, but I also needed to learn from them. It was going to take some time.”
Romano was encouraged by the dedication of his young team.
“They just needed a little experience under their belts,” Romano said. “They played a lot together in the summer. We had some good wins in the Jersey City summer league, beating teams like Union, Dickinson, and Union City and we made the playoffs. That gave the kids a lot of confidence. They also went to basketball camps at Hunter College and Five-Star [in Pennsylvania]. That really paid off. There was also a lot more leadership on the team as well.”
So when the season began, Romano had a sense that the Royal Knights would be much improved this season.
However, the good feeling Romano had about his young team might have been diminished early by a lopsided loss to St. Peter’s Prep in the second game of the season.
“I didn’t necessarily think we’d win that game, but I thought we would be competitive,” Romano said. “It was only one game. We knew we would bounce back.”
In fact, the Royal Knights have not lost since.
After starting the season with two straight losses, the Royal Knights have won six consecutive games. They captured the title at the Roselle Catholic Christmas Tournament, defeating host Roselle Catholic and Franklin Township. Since returning back to the confines of Hudson County, Marist rolled off three straight, defeating a very good High Tech squad, then knocking off Hoboken.
Last Friday, the Royal Knights had their best win to date, a 58-57 victory over Union City to improve to 5-2. Marist already now has many wins as they had all of last season.
“We’re winning the close games, the games we lost last year,” Romano said. “And we’ve been able to beat some quality teams. We’re winning games in the fourth quarter. I think the win over Union City is a quality win.”
Sure was.
Needless to say, there is a sense of optimism at Marist these days. Sure, the Royal Knights have a lot of games yet to play. There are games against tough teams like North Bergen, Bayonne and Lincoln on tap in the days and weeks to come.
But right now, Marist is enjoying life during the basketball season again and everyone is sensing that positive atmosphere.
“It’s feeling really good,” Romano said. “The school is very enthused about the way the kids are playing. The overall morale is very good. We’re getting great support from the administration, from the student body, from the parents. Everyone is coming out to watch us. It’s been great.”
And Romano is once again enjoying the fruits of his impeccable patience.
“It’s refreshing,” Romano said.
The veteran coach also is not concerned about playing in the larger school division of the new North Jersey Tri-County Conference, after residing in the HCIAA Seglio in recent years.
“It’s always a challenge, playing against the bigger schools,” Romano said. “But it’s a good change for me, seeing other coaches and teams we didn’t see before.”
Leading the way for the Royal Knights is junior shooting guard Marvin Williams. The 5-foot-11 Williams is averaging almost 18 points per game this season.
“He’s had some very big games for us,” Romano said of Williams. “I expected that he would play well for us. He’s a great shooter, but he’s also added the ability of taking the ball to the basket with authority to become more of a complete player.”
Junior Khadeem Wilson is a 6-4 forward who has become a force down low for the Knights. Wilson is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per contest.
Jarryd Horsley is a 6-7 junior center who is also a force close to the basket.
“We do have a lot of size,” Romano said.
The point guard is 5-10 junior Justin Rosa, who is a very capable floor leader. James Matthews is a 6-1 junior who can play either guard or forward. Josh Treadwell is a 6-2 junior who has been seeing time at small forward. Brandon Walsh is a 5-8 guard who can back up Rosa at the point, but can also play shooting guard.
“Brandon is also our best on the ball defender,” Romano said.
Notice one fact about all of the aforementioned Marist players. They are all underclassmen.
“All of our starting five players are juniors,” Romano said.
That means that Marist is making the major strides toward respectability with a young roster. It’s a good sign for the future as well.
Senior Marcus Hunter, who transferred to Marist when St. Joseph of the Palisades closed last June, has also been a solid contributor. Chris Pimentel, a 6-6 senior, backs up Horsley at center. Sophomore Al-Quan Jones, a 6-0 forward, gives the Knights solid depth off the bench.
No question, things are definitely looking up at Marist.
“The kids have been real positive,” Romano said. “They want to get better and better and that’s a big help. I thought we could be really competitive and we’ve been that, other than the game against Prep. But I didn’t necessarily think we’d win five in a row. But we’re doing very well.”
And a good guy like Romano deserves to have a good team. – Jim Hague

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