“It was a chore to get those nine,” said veteran head coach Drew Morano. “But we had a group of kids who worked hard every day and played hard in games. We had a lot of sophomores who played last year and gained experience.”
Morano knew that his team would be vastly improved this season.
“We had a real busy summer,” Morano said. “We played in a lot of summer leagues. We expected improvement, but we didn’t know how much.”
A year later, the Soaring Eagles have already surpassed last year’s win total. They are currently 11-3 and right in the middle of a bunch of teams jockeying for position in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League and vying for a top seed in the upcoming Hudson County Tournament.
“I have a really good feel for the rest of the county,” Morano said. “I think that there are about five or six county teams who could beat anyone else on any given night and I think we’re one of those five.”
Clearly, the Soaring Eagles are not even being considered with the elite teams in the league, like state-ranked powerhouse Hudson Catholic, who delivered a 30-point knockout punch in last Tuesday’s game.
The Hawks right now are in a class by themselves and deservedly so, considering that the team has two McDonald’s All-American players in Jahvon Quinerly and Louis King.
But the Soaring Eagles are doing remarkably well in their own right. No one could have ever imagined the Soaring Eagles to be this improved this quickly.
The Soaring Eagles were blessed by the addition of some key players via transfer.
Six-foot-9 senior forward Isaac Aguiar has been a major blessing coming to Union City after stops in North Arlington (two years ago) and Montclair Immaculate (last year).
“We’re lucky to have him because he’s a super kid,” Morano said. “We knew that having a 6-foot-9 kid was going to improve our team.”
Aguiar is averaging nearly 15 points and almost 12 rebounds per game. He had 15 points and 15 rebounds in a win last Saturday against Perth Amboy and had 17 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocked shots in a win against Dickinson – falling one block shy of a very peculiar and difficult triple-double.
“The other kids look up to him,” Morano said. “I feel like he can really do more. He’s just tapping his potential. He does a lot of things that you don’t see in the scorebook. He has great hands and coordination for a guy his size.”
Morano believes that Aguiar can play on the collegiate level.
“I have been getting calls from some [NCAA] Division I’s, but he missed a lot of time during the summer with a bad ankle,” Morano said. “We’re in constant communication with schools. He can definitely play college ball. Believe me, I love coaching him. It’s been a blessing to have someone of his caliber. We’re not used to having a guy his size.”
Another newcomer is 5-foot-10 junior point guard Gabe Johnson.
Johnson came to Union City after St. Anthony closed its doors forever last June.
“He’s a great open shooter,” Morano said of Johnson, who scored 20 points in a recent game against North Bergen. “He’s also a great ball handler. Any time you can get a St. Anthony kid, it makes your program that much better. He rarely turns it over.”
Elijah Sparkman is another transfer, a 5-foot-9 junior guard who was at Lincoln last year. Sparkman’s older brother, Jidamon, was a Hudson Reporter All-Area Football honoree for St. Anthony in 2009 and 2010.
“He didn’t play basketball last year, so he’s a little rusty” Morano said of Sparkman. “He’s a talented kid with a lot of energy. He’s one of the fastest kids I ever coached. He can also handle the ball.”
It’s good that Morano has two standout guards like Johnson and Sparkman to work with.
“They’re all excellent players,” Morano said. “We rotate those two at point guard.”
Wilmer Garcia is a 6-foot-2 junior small forward.
“He’s a good 3-point shooter,” Morano said of Garcia. “He’s also a good defender.”
Justin Garcia, also a 6-foot-2 junior but is no relation to Wilmer, brings some scoring punch off the bench.
“He had 26 in a game last year,” Morano said. “He’s a very good shooter and a good athlete.”
Christian Guzman is a 5-foot-9 junior guard.
“He’s a very heady player,” Morano said of Guzman.
Junior Lamar Pena is a 6-foot-3 forward.
“Lamar is a good slasher,” Morano said. “He goes to the basket well. He is our energy guy. He brings it every game.”
Josue LaBeet (one of the best names in Hudson County basketball this season) is a 5-foot-11 junior forward.
“He’s all energy,” Morano said.
So is Arturo Maldonado, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward.
“He’s a fundamental kid,” Morano said. “He spells Wilmer and Isaac upfront.”
So needless to say the Soaring Eagles have a very competitive squad, far better than they had last year. A far cry from nine wins, that’s for sure.
The Soaring Eagles have tough games ahead with St. Peter’s Prep after press time Thursday, then Elizabeth on Saturday before the NJSIAA state playoff cutoff date.
They should earn a high seed in the North Jersey Section 1, Group V bracket and a home game in the state playoffs in March. They should also be in the upper half of the bracket in the Hudson County Tournament, earning a home game there as well.
“I expected us to improve,” Morano said. “I just didn’t know by how much.”
Now he does.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.