Another trophy has been added to the overflowing awards case at St. Anthony High School. There are now 28 of the gold fixtures floating around the tiny downtown Jersey City school, in different areas, different trophy cases. One place of prominence is constructed and then has to be altered, because yet another NJSIAA state championship trophy has been presented to the school’s legendary and epic basketball program.
No other New Jersey school comes close to the basketball success that St. Anthony has achieved under its Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley, one of only three high school coaches to ever gain induction into the prestigious basketball sanctum.
It was believed for the longest time that St. Anthony was in pursuit of a record held by Cheyenne of Wyoming, but that number was contested by a sports historian. Now, the record for state championships nationwide is unknown and the thought isn’t even brought up any longer at St. Anthony.
But the 28th state championship – won last Saturday when the fabulous Friars dismantled Roselle Catholic, 53-37, at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River – is historically significant in many ways.
One, it’s the first for the Friars since 2012, which may not seem like much to most people, but is like a lifetime for St. Anthony.
Just how significant? Well, senior guard Jagan Mosely, the heart, soul and identity of this current crop of Friars, wears the numeral zero on his St. Anthony uniform.
“That’s because it’s the number of state championships he’s won here,” Hurley said. “He was that determined.”
Two, it’s important because the Friars defeated Roselle Catholic, the nemesis who beat the Friars in the Non-Public B state championship game in each of the last three years.
St. Anthony has had its share of rivalries over the years, with legendary battles with St. Patrick’s of Elizabeth coming to mind. But no opponent had the Friars’ number like Roselle Catholic had over the last three years. Plain and simple, the Lions owned the Friars like no one ever had before.
“It showed the resolve of the older kids, particularly Jagan,” Hurley said. “For the last couple of years, we just weren’t ourselves. Because of my age [Hurley will turn 69 this year], I was beginning to feel a little self doubt. I became paranoid about what could go wrong again. It wasn’t lost on these kids that a significant amount of time had gone by since the last one.”
Sure enough, there was plenty of reason to have doubt. The Friars lost an amazing 12 basketball players this year to transfers.
“The kids left because they didn’t see themselves getting a varsity uniform,” Hurley said. “It is insane what is going on with transfers.”
The Friars also lost their share of players to injury, including all three of the much heralded incoming transfers from overseas. For example, Daniel Mading, who was projected to be an All-State caliber forward, was injured in the preseason and never really showed the talents that earned him a scholarship to Arizona State, where former Friars Bobby Hurley and Rashon Burno head the coaching staff. One kid hurt his back, another tore the ACL in his knee. At the end of the year, Kaleb Bishop, the Friars’ last big guy at 6-foot-9, suffered a high ankle sprain that ended the FDU-bound Bishop’s season.
In the preseason, Hurley thought he was about to coach the tallest collective team he ever had, but as it turned out, he had to revert back to the kind of players Hurley knows best – guard play.
“We had a bunch of tough, physical guards,” Hurley said. “We had guards who could defend, who could rebound and get the ball off rebounds and put it back in the basket.”
Most of Hurley’s teams have been guard-oriented in the past. None had to endure the adversity that this team did and remain undefeated at 30-0.
“The fact is that we’re St. Anthony and we’re supposed to be good,” Hurley said. “But the fact that we’re undefeated right now is amazing. We started 11 different kids this year. It’s really amazing how this has happened. I stood in amazement for a second the other day and said, ‘How in the world could this happen?’ But we had a bunch of guards who had the chemistry thing, a group of guys on the same page who all had the same goals and all wanted the same thing.”
Now, here’s the third and final important reason about this state championship team.
It could very well be the last one.
That idea might be hard to fathom, but it’s very true and Hurley even addressed it.
“This might be the last one,” Hurley said. “If we didn’t get this one this year, who knows when the next one would happen? That’s why my wife [Chris] and I went out for three celebratory dinners after this one. It was a long time coming for us and it might have been a long time coming again. I’m coming to the fragile end of my coaching career. Who knows if I’ll ever be in the same position again? We may not see a championship again for the next couple of years.”
There’s always the idea that the school is on the verge of closing. That idea is almost addressed annually, like the school’s annual fiscal report. Hurley was made the president of the school two years ago, a move that was thought to be the last ditch attempt to save it. So there’s another reason why this could be the last one as well.
“If we didn’t win this year, my goodness, it would be even more difficult in the future,” Hurley said.
The idea that the state championship game heroes were guys like Idris Joyner and Juvaris Hayes, two seniors who spent their entire careers with the Friars and worked their way up the food chain to get on the floor. They were patient and waited their turn. If there weren’t injuries to the others, they might not have gotten a chance to play.
Hayes had 13 points – second to Mosely’s 16 – in the title game and grabbed seven rebounds, going up against guys in some case nine inches taller than him.
Joyner had eight points and seven rebounds, again battling guys much taller.
“Once we lost Bishop, those two guys had to step up,” Hurley said. “I’m so proud of them.”
And Mosely was Mosely, proving once again why he’s the best player in the county.
“Whatever is needed to do, he’ll do it,” Hurley said. “I try to be careful with the way he practices, because I play him so much. Mosely has been phenomenal. I’ve been giving him a chance to play point guard. He already plays the two and the three. He has been getting time at the four [power forward] and by the end of the game, he’s played all five positions. He was on three teams in a row that got to this point and lost. The pressure on him was intense.”
But the Friars survived and thrived. They’re state champs once again. They head to the Tournament of Champions now, facing Teaneck after press time Thursday and more than likely St. Augustine again in Trenton on Monday night for the chance at their 12th T of C championship and another undefeated campaign. Savor it, because it could very well be the last one.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.