“It’s an unbelievable date for us as an institution,” Mariniello said. “Because we’re looking at over $1 million in free college education right here. Every one of these student/athletes will be on the honor roll this semester and that’s a tribute to them.”
That was no understatement by the coach and administrator, because it was clearly the finest day in the school’s 50-plus year history of sending athletes onto major colleges with little or no tuition necessary.
Three members of Mariniello’s basketball team, namely Luther Muhammad, Louis King and Precious Ikediaski, signed letters to attend Oregon, Ohio State and St. Francis of Pennsylvania respectively.
There would have been a fourth member – and that would have been the best of all, as the state’s reigning Player of the Year and last year’s Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Jahvon Quinerly decided to re-enter the recruiting game after the school he committed to, namely the University of Arizona, was implicated in a federal probe about an assistant coach offering illegal payouts to prospective recruits.
It’s not known whether Quinerly was involved in the illegal payouts, although some news agencies have jumped the gun and reported inappropriately that Quinerly was indeed one of the players to receive a payout from former Arizona assistant Book Richardson.
Quinerly has since decided to forego that initial verbal commitment and is looking to go to another school. He was not ready to either commit to another school or sign a letter of intent, but he was certainly present as his friends and teammates had their moment of glory.
Quinerly will have his own day sometime soon. It just wasn’t the right time for him to overshadow the day of his buddies.
The other two athletes to sign letters were Jillian Ward for softball and Alanis Alvarado for volleyball. Ward will attend Fairleigh Dickinson University and Alvarado is headed up the block to St. Peter’s University.
Muhammad, the brilliant guard who has earned All-Hudson Reporter honors for the last two seasons, always dreamed of being part of a signing day since he was a grade school player in his native Newark.
“I never looked this far ahead,” Muhammad said. “But I would see other people go off to big schools and thought it would be nice. But I really never thought it could be me. I never thought I could be good enough to get that chance until my freshman year here. Then I gained some confidence. I think it’s a blessing and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
Muhammad was asked why he chose Ohio State over the 30 or so other schools that actively recruited him.
“I liked the people, the coaches, the alumni,” Muhammad said. “Everyone there shows so much love and support for the athletes. It’s like a big family. Everyone there is like one. Sure, there’s pride being part of this. It’s exciting and thrilling and I’m glad my friends are doing the same today. We’re all happy for each other.”
Ikediashi came to the United States from his native Nigeria three years ago and was able to get taken in by a host family in Hoboken, namely Abid and Andrea Rizvi.
“They’ve been the best thing to ever happen to me,” Ikediashi said. “I moved in with them and it made my life way better. They brought me in like I was one of their boys and they’ve all been so nice to me. I’m thankful to have them as a major part of my life.”
Ikediaski liked St. Francis, located in Loretto, Pa.
“I like their style of play,” Ikediashi said. “I like the relationship the coaches have with the players. It’s a school that I could go to and not be just an extra number. Everyone knows each other by names. I’m happy for this moment. That was the goal for me. I think we have the best talent in the country and I feel blessed to be a part of them.”
King comes from great athletic roots. His father, Louis, Sr. was a standout defensive back at Snyder in the late 1970s and went on to the University of Iowa, where he became an All-Big 10 player. The elder King is a member of the Hudson County Hall of Fame and is a recently retired Jersey City firefighter.
“My father motivated me to want to do the same thing that he did, but only in basketball,” the younger King said. “When I woke up today, I was in shock, because I couldn’t believe that today was the day I was going to sign. I always dreamed of this day when I was a kid.”
King said that he liked Oregon’s head coach Dana Altman and the care he showed in King’s development. King spent the summer touring with the United States national 19-and-under team that played in the World Cup in Cairo, Egypt, capturing a bronze medal.
The elder King was present for his son’s big day.
“He’s very skillful,” the elder King said. “He’s still growing and developing.”
Although he’s 6-foot-9, King plans on playing guard in college.
Ward, whose older brother, T.J. is a standout infielder for the University of Hartford’s baseball team, got noticed by FDU new head softball coach Chris Foye while she played for her travel team, the New Jersey Fight last summer.
“It means a lot, because no one has ever gone Division I from here,” said Ward, an All-Hudson Reporter honoree at shortstop the last two seasons. “Being able to sign with the basketball players is great because they’re big news. Now, I can play loose and relaxed this season, not have to worry about who’s watching me this season. We can concentrate on trying to win another county championship this season.”
Ward helped the Hawks win the school’s first-ever county crown last May.
“I wanted to stay local, because I wanted my parents to get the chance to see me play,” Ward said. “They sacrificed a lot for me over the years.”
Alvarado, a native of Puerto Rico, is a key member of the current Hudson Catholic team that recently won their third straight county championship and is ranked No. 2 in the state.
“I looked at going to St. Peter’s as the best option for me,” Alvarado said. “It’s close, right up the block. It’s much better to stay close to home.”
Richard Garibell, the school’s principal, believes that the five signings is a sign of the great things that the school is doing.
“It’s proof that we produce great student/athletes,” Garibell said. “I’m very proud of them.”
Mariniello was especially proud.
“It was one of the things I wanted to do when I took the job here 10 years ago,” Mariniello said. “I couldn’t guarantee a state championship, but I did say that our athletes could have a chance to go a college. It’s a tribute to the kids and it’s a testament to show how far we’ve come as an institution. We’re a sleeping giant that is now arriving. I’ve been doing this so long [both at Bloomfield Tech and now Hudson Catholic] that I didn’t realize how remarkable this is. I don’t get caught up in all that. If I don’t make such a big deal of it, then I’ll enjoy it more.”
It was the most impressive letter signing day locally since the famed undefeated 2007-08 St. Anthony basketball team had six players sign letters on the same day, a group that included McDonald’s All-American Mike Rosario and Tyshawn Taylor. The day would have been even more complete had the best of the bunch Quinerly had a chance to sign with his buddies.
In two weeks, the Hawks will begin pursuit of a state championship as the top-ranked team in the state and among the top squads in the nation. They won the NJSIAA Non-Public B North title a year ago, defeating St. Anthony in the process, in the final game of legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley’s storied career.
The national letter of intent signing was just the beginning of what could be a year to remember at a school that almost closed 10 years ago – and now lives on without the NJSIAA record holder in basketball championships, as St. Anthony closed its doors for good last June.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.