One day after defeating St. Peter’s Prep for a second straight Hudson County Tournament championship, Hudson Catholic head coach Nick Mariniello lost his father, Pasquale, after a long illness. Pasquale “Pat” Mariniello was 74 years old.
“It was a long haul,” Mariniello said. “I went to see him Saturday [in Mountainside Hospital] and he was in and out a little. He knew what was going on. He knew that we had the game against Prep for the county.”
That night, while the Mariniello family went to watch the Hawks defeat the Marauders, 56-49, to capture their second straight crown – after the last one came 37 years prior, back in 1975 – Pat Mariniello developed an infection and was gone the next day.
It’s almost unfair that Nick Mariniello didn’t get a chance to celebrate the Hawks’ second title, especially since he almost singlehandedly changed the entire basketball program at the school.
Let’s not forget that the school’s powers-that-be almost had to shut the doors, before Mariniello’s time, before the school decided to allow girls to attend classes there, a move that also helped to ward off the school’s demise.
But Mariniello turned around a totally moribund basketball program and made it a state power in four years’ time. The Hawks are No. 2 in the entire state, something that would have been totally unfathomable before Mariniello arrived.
It also helped that talented players like Reggie Cameron and Kavon Stewart decided to come to Hudson Catholic after their former school Paterson Catholic closed its doors forever.
Parochial schools in New Jersey are closing at a more rapid rate than Usain Bolt runs the 100-meter dash. Hudson Catholic was able to survive, with help with the solid basketball program.
Cameron, who has emerged as the best all-around player in New Jersey, will head to Georgetown in the fall. Stewart will go to Robert Morris.
“Before the game, I told them that they had the opportunity to do something that had never been done,” Mariniello said. “Hudson Catholic had never won two straight before, so it’s a great feat. It’s a tribute to the kids. Last year, I think the alumni were shocked that we won. Now, it’s almost expected. This one was anticipated. But the kids played a complete game.”
Although the win didn’t come easy. The Marauders were a game customer, holding the lead into the third quarter.
“I knew that was going to happen,” Mariniello said. “I told my assistants that it was going to be a close game, like four or six points either way.”
Mariniello also said that the unsung hero of the game would be Jared Hall.
“He was the X-factor,” Mariniello said of Hall, who led the Hawks with 13 points.
Hudson Catholic trailed by three points, 43-40, entering the fourth quarter, but outscored the Marauders, 16-6, in the final period to earn the title.
“We didn’t have to say anything to them,” Mariniello said about trailing going into the final period. “The kids were calm. It was business as usual. They are mature kids who have played in so many big games. There was no wavering in them. They stepped up and did a tremendous job in the fourth quarter.”
Cameron added 12 points for the winners.
“Both Reggie and Kavon had a chance to go to other schools [when Paterson Catholic closed],” Mariniello said. “They chose to come with us. Fortunately for us, it meant the world. Reggie is a special kid who has become the face of Hudson Catholic. He made Hudson Catholic a better place when he decided to come.”
Sophomore Nassir Barrino added 12 points as well. Barrino will more than likely become the poster child for the school after Cameron receives his diploma this June.
St. Peter’s had a great game from Trevis Wyche, who scored a game-high 19 points. He’s going to be a great get for St. Peter’s University, where he will begin his career in the fall.
So Mariniello got to experience the highs and lows in the same weekend. His basketball team created history by winning a second straight county title one day and the next, he’s saying farewell to his father.
“It has definitely been the most enjoyable year coaching,” Mariniello said. “They’ve all helped me get through all of this. Reggie sent me a text message Sunday morning that said, ‘If you talk to your Dad, tell him that this one was for him.’ That’s how special that kid is. I went to school Monday and I spent about 45 minutes with Reggie and Kyle McLeggan [another Hawk senior] and I wanted to make sure we stayed on course.”
Thursday morning, Mariniello buried his father. Friday night, the Hawks were slated to play their first NJSIAA Non-Public B playoff game, preparing for what could be another showdown with neighboring rival St. Anthony in the state sectional title game.
“I love my father, but life goes on,” Mariniello said. “I’m at peace with my relationship with my father, but we have games to play. He was with us in the beginning and he followed us from afar this year. I’m just in awe of the people who reached out to me since he passed away.”
Mariniello received calls from Villanova head coach Jay Wright, former St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts, Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley and Prep head coach Todd Decker, just to name a few.
“It’s really been amazing,” Mariniello said.
One of the links to that last Hudson Catholic county champion in 1975, Mike O’Koren, the former North Carolina All-American and New Jersey Nets player and coach, has been nothing but encouraging and helpful to Mariniello. Wednesday afternoon, O’Koren was among the hundreds who went to Verona to pay their respects to Pat Mariniello.
“There are a lot of people in my corner,” Mariniello said. “I’m lucky to say that.”
And now, these kids have a legacy to leave at the school, accomplishing something that had never before been done. It was 37 years between the 1975 county champ and last year. It was only a year for the second one.
“We really have come a long way,” Mariniello said.
There’s just something wrong with the idea that the coach who put it all together had to deal with tragedy at the very same time as a historical triumph.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.