Spotswood boys’ hoops team turns to team concept

By Jimmy Allinder


When the Spotswood High School boys’ basketball team plays the season opener Dec. 16 at home against Carteret High School, the Chargers will place the smallest lineup on the court in Steve Mate’s 21 years as head coach.

While that could be a concern for many teams, it shouldn’t be a problem for Spotswood, which is a member of the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Blue Division. Mate has proven many times that regardless of the obstacles his teams have to overcome, they still win — and this year should be no different.

“We don’t have the elite player that does everything well we’ve had in the past, so our success will be determined by how we buy into the team concept,” Mate said.

That means more emphasis will be placed on what Mate does best: game-planning tailored to opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. The strategy was tested in preseason scrimmages, and the coach said he’s seen improvement, although the system hasn’t been fully developed.

The rotation blends a combination of experience and youth. Junior Abdullah Nieskens starts at point guard, who Mate said is a player whose time has come after two seasons learning the ropes with the junior varsity team and seeing spotty varsity minutes.

The tallest starter is senior J.T. Vento, who is just 6 feet 2 inches tall and is the most athletic player on the team. An outstanding baseball player, Vento races up and down the floor with seemingly no speed limit, which will make Spotswood’s patented run-and-gun offense more effective.

Senior Andrew Fuzesi’s outside shot-making ability will contribute to the scoring, and he will be complemented by Vento’s younger brother, Matt — a sophomore who can connect from long range.

Mate considers junior Vinnie Guardiola to be the glue of the team because of his defensive ability and how he contributes to the offensive flow. Junior Justin Dekovics’ accuracy from the perimeter will prevent opponents from concentrating on stopping Fuzesi and Matt Vento, thus each will get open looks.

Others hoping to see playing time include senior Matteo Tavella and juniors Derek Buhl, Nate Carone, Solomon Tyson, and Dominic Teseiro (transfer from Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen).

After the season opener, the Chargers visit South River High School Dec. 19 and Metuchen High School Dec. 23.

South River

If South River runs into difficulty this season, it could be because the Rams play a much more demanding schedule.

After years of being a member of the Gold Division and feasting on the GMC’s smaller schools, South River has moved up to the Blue Division, which is made up entirely of larger schools. As odd as it sounds, if the Rams are to contend for the division crown this season, it will need to play even better than last year’s 18-11 team.

It won’t help that five seniors graduated, including the team’s leading scorer and one of the state’s top 3-point artists, Mario Nigro. On the bright side, a host of outstanding sophomores are back with a season under their belts, which should provide stability.

Derrick Whitaker, Michael DeSantis and Zachary Rafano all started last season as freshmen and will carry much of the load. The rest of the rotation includes senior Jaryn Bullock, juniors R.J. Fischer and D’Juan Ross-Jackson and sophomores Silvio Cruz and Divine Mayes. Senior Matthew Pietrzyk and freshman Jayvon Taylor will seek playing time.

“Even though we move up to the Blue Division, we plan to compete,” head coach Rodney Harris said. “Regardless of the score, we’ll battle to the end.”

South River will receive its indoctrination into the rough-and-tumble Blue Division when it opens Dec. 16 at Bishop George Ahr High School, which is stocked with three outstanding transfer players. The home opener will be equally challenging, as perennial division power Spotswood pays a visit Dec. 23.

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