The Hudson Catholic boys’ basketball team has captured the last four Hudson County Tournament championships in a row.
And there’s no question that the Hawks are shooting for five straight this season, especially with the talented group they have returning.
The Hawks were 24-4 last season and lost to St. Anthony in the NJSIAA North Jersey Parochial B North sectional championship for a third straight year.
There’s good news this year: Hudson Catholic’s enrollment increase has pushed them into Parochial A, so the Hawks won’t have to face the Friars in the state tournament for the time being.
They could face off with St. Peter’s Prep in the state tourney, but the two teams face each other in the regular season anyway.
Veteran coach Nick Mariniello, who doubles as the athletic director at the school, likes the character of his team. He also has to like the talent, especially the array of top guards that the program has.
“Obviously, we set some high standards,” Mariniello said. “We have expectations to play at a very high level. We play some very good teams in out-of-league games like Blair Academy, the Patrick School and Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia. We also play New York schools like All Hallows and Cardinal Hayes as well as Pope John from Sussex County. I went aggressive with our schedule to get us ready for the state tournament.”
Leading the way for the Hawks is 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly, who was a Third Team Hudson Reporter All-Area selection last year. Quinerly is coming off labrum shoulder surgery in the offseason, but he appears ready to go. He averaged 12 points per game last year. That number should increase this year.
“He had a very good summer playing AAU basketball,” Mariniello said. “He has a very nice game and has the potential to be a great player.”
Quinerly already has a host of NCAA Division I offers (about 15) and he’s only a sophomore.
The same can be said for his backcourt mate in Luther Muhammad, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward who can do everything on the floor. Muhammad has 10 offers already.
“He plays very hard,” said Mariniello of Muhammad, who averaged nine points per game as a freshman last year. “He can defend multiple positions. He also had a very good summer playing AAU ball. He has a good leadership skill already.”
Junior Patrick Strzala is a 6-foot-3 guard/forward. Strzala has missed some of the preseason due to injury and may miss the season opener Friday night against Elizabeth.
“He definitely can make open shots,” Mariniello said.
Junior Tyheem Burno is the team’s top defensive player. The 5-foot-11 Burno was a member of the Hawks’ football team that went to the NJSIAA Non-Public Groups 1&2 state championship game.
“I think he’s Division I in either sport,” Mariniello said. “He’s definitely our best defender.”
Marion Williams is the team’s lone senior. The 5-foot-10 Williams is an explosive player with the ball.
“He can get to the rim in a hurry,” Mariniello said. “He’s also a good defender.”
Chino Rodriguez is a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard who has transferred to Hudson Catholic from Florida. His family moved north and Rodriguez needed a place to play basketball. They were referred to Hudson Catholic.
Precious Ikediashi is a 6-foot-6 raw sophomore from Nigeria who came to Hudson Catholic from Edison Academy in Florida. He should be able to help the Hawks later on this season.
Danny Rodriguez is a 6-foot-5 freshman who will get to see time with the varsity right away, but he also needs some seasoning. Rodriguez (no relation to Chino) should be a good one.
So the Hawks look to make it a “five-peat” in Hudson County.
“We expect to compete for a county championship,” Mariniello said. “I like the makeup of our guards. Quinerly and Muhammad have a chance to be very special players. Quinerly is also an honors student, so we’re proud of that.”
The Hawks open with Elizabeth, then have to face Blair Academy in the Tip-Off Challenge at Caldwell University on Sunday…
Hudson County, and in particular Union City, lost a true sports legend last week, when Nick “Whizzer” Mastorelli passed away. No one knew the Whiz’s true age. The guess here would be in the late’80s, but some said that Whiz was in his ’90s.
Whizzer held a variety of titles during his days working with kids. He worked for Union City Recreation and was a dedicated Biddy basketball and baseball coach. He helped 53 kids with no chance at all of going to college to get scholarships to the University of Vermont, where he attended school.
Whizzer was also a great athlete during his day, a four-sport star at his beloved Emerson High School. He went on to become the president of the Emerson Athletic Hall of Fame, an organization that provided tons of scholarships to Union City kids, even after Emerson merged with Union Hill to form Union City High School seven years ago.
Whizzer was also a former deputy mayor in Union City and dedicated committeeman who was actively involved in politics.
Mastorelli was truly a giant in Union City and northern Hudson County, even if he stood only 5-foot-7. He was one of a kind and no one could ever duplicate all he did, especially getting all of those Hudson County kids to college on scholarships to the University of Vermont.
He was also an avid reader of this newspaper and this column and wrote countless letters to the editor and to the sports columnist, making appearances at the offices in Hoboken to drop off letters and memorabilia. He truly loved this paper and it’s a loss we won’t be able to replace.
Rest in peace, Whizzer. You did real good here…
In closing, Lincoln football standout Frank Darby was selected as a First Team All-State honoree by NJ.com and Advance Media. He is the first Jersey City public school football player to earn All-State honors since Lamont Jeter of Ferris in 1993…–Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.