High Tech gets major recognition with big win

Lasercats upset state-ranked Paterson Kennedy in breakthrough campaign

The High Tech High School boys’ basketball program has been making strides ever since Steve Ricciardi Jr. took over as head coach four years ago. The Lasercats won a total of 11 games during Ricciardi’s first two seasons, then won 17 games two years ago and 18 last season, setting new school records each time.
But Ricciardi felt that his team was ready for a breakthrough season this year, one that would push the Lasercat program to a new level.
“We have some good depth with this team and we had the best summer we’ve ever had,” said Ricciardi, the Weehawken native who is the son of former Hudson Catholic head coach Steve Sr. and a former standout basketball player at Seton Hall Prep. “We beat some good teams over the summer and we had kids playing AAU ball, against the best competition around and traveling all over. I absolutely thought we had a chance to do some nice things this year.”
So with that in mind, Ricciardi upgraded the Lasercats’ schedule to play some tougher independent teams. The Lasercats were also included in the NJSIAA’s realignment, forming the new North Jersey Tri-County Conference, facing all the larger schools in the Hudson County division.
“When I took over five years ago, that’s where I wanted to be,” Ricciardi said. “I wanted to have the chance to play the bigger and better schools. It’s the only way you can get better. I embraced the idea of playing the bigger schools. It might have been a challenge, but it’s what we wanted.”
Earlier in the season, the Lasercats faced Ricciardi’s high school alma mater, Seton Hall Prep, and battled the Pirates for a good portion of the game, until falling short in the final period.
“But we still needed to win the tougher games,” Ricciardi said. “You don’t get anything for playing a good team close.”
Last Monday, the Lasercats traveled to Paterson to take on Paterson Kennedy, the state’s No.7-ranked team, a tough Group IV program that had suffered only one loss all year, in the Freedom Fighters’ Tournament at Paterson Eastside.
And things didn’t look good early, as the Lasercats fell behind, 25-5, at the end of the first quarter.
“I’m not a big yeller, but I told them the truth,” Ricciardi said. “I told them that they were at the game to participate, not compete. I told them that they needed to play harder to compete.”
High Tech hit a 3-pointer to start the second period and the coach began to feel better.
“I think they got the message,” Ricciardi said. “Once they got back on the floor, they definitely played harder. They had to prove to everyone that they could compete with a bigger team. They have to prove to themselves that they could compete before they really could compete.”
Sure enough, the Lasercats made a miraculous comeback and knocked off the perennial state power, 69-63, to improve their record to 11-3 this season. One day later, the Lasercats defeated Ferris, 82-62, to push the seasonal mark to 12-3, well on their way to setting another school record for victories in a season.
But the win over Paterson Kennedy helped to put the High Tech program on the statewide map. Although the girls’ softball program has been successful in recent years, you really don’t get known unless you win in either football or basketball. Considering that High Tech doesn’t have football, this was their first chance at the big time.
“We talked about one thing before the game,” Ricciardi said. “You only get so many chances to play a Top 10 team. We played well against Seton Hall, but we didn’t get the job done. This puts the school on the map. We never had a chance to play and beat a team like Paterson Kennedy before. I think it’s a testament to the hard work the kids have put in. If we can defend, rebound, protect the ball and get good shots, we can play with anyone.”
That’s now been proven.
It also helps that Ricciardi has some good talent, like junior swingman Xavier Corporan, who is averaging close to 15 points per game. The 6-foot-2 Corporan can play both inside and outside.
“He can really control the game off both glasses,” Ricciardi said.
John Greenwald is a 6-5 senior center who is averaging 12.5 points and nearly nine rebounds per contest.
“John was with us when we struggled to get a win,” said Ricciardi of Greenwald, who is considering an offer to attend Stevens Tech in the fall.
Junior Dimitri Pearson is a 5-9 shooting guard, averaging 14 points per game.
“He’s a good perimeter shooter and penetrates and finishes well,” Ricciardi said.
Senior Kevin Baez is a 5-11 point guard and one of the team’s captains.
“Baez is a three-year starter for us and an emotional leader,” Ricciardi said. “He’s very vocal and holds everyone together. He also makes sure they’re always playing hard.”
Junior Derek Sierra is a 5-10 guard who provides instant offense off the bench.
“He’s had some big games for us,” Ricciardi said. “He brings the element of scoring every time he comes off the bench.”
Junior William Ventura is a 5-11 forward and another team captain. Kari Williams is a 5-6 senior guard who is a solid defender. Senior Kevin Mayaka, the soccer standout, junior Dwight Mathis and junior Danny Infante are good reserve role players.
Needless to say, things are going well with the High Tech basketball program. The Lasercats are being recognized as a legitimate Group I threat in the state playoffs come March.
“Wins like this are only going to help the confidence,” Ricciardi said. “But we have to continue from here. We can’t rest on this. We also have to develop a killer instinct. We can’t come back like that all the time.”
Especially when you’re playing with the big boys. But the Lasercats have definitely arrived. –Jim Hague

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