UNION – Three basketball coaches will be making debuts – one in each game – as the 4th Annual St. Jude Classic will tip off Friday at Union High School’s Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium.
An Opening Night boys’ basketball tripleheader features:
Plainfield vs. Union at 4 p.m.
Linden vs. Piscataway at 5:30 p.m. and
Westfield vs. Rahway at 7 p.m.
Plainfield is now guided by alum and former assistant coach Mike Gordon.
Anthony Drejaj was promoted to head coach at Linden at the end of July, while Jim McKeon is now the new head coach at Westfield.
Union is guided by head coach Kevin Feeley, now in his eighth season at the helm of the Farmers. Feeley’s record is 90-91, including four winning seasons and one .500 finish.
Union has finished above .500 the past three years, including last season’s 16-11 mark.
This is the third year in a row that the St. Jude Classic is taking place on Opening Night. The first one occurred in early January of 2016.
“We’re really excited,” Feeley said. “We were able to secure three varsity boys games this year and are appreciative of the teams giving up home games.”
Feeley reported that so far funds totaling $21,000 have been raised the first three years.
“Our goal is to try to beat what we did the year before,” Feeley said.
Feeley also said that communities have been more behind the event, with local businesses donating food or money or whatever was necessary to help the fundraising effort.
All proceeds go to the St. Jude’s Pediatric Research Hospital in Manhattan.
“Two women – Cheryl Fiske and Dana Bobertz – do all the stuff behind the scenes to really make the event go,” Feeley said. “Cheryl does everything around at school and Dana (former UHS cheerleading coach) is in charge of the student section – the Farmer Fans.”
Feeley has two part-time starters back – seniors Val Julien and Ezra Glover – in addition to Columbia transfer Russ Ayala – a starter the past three seasons for the Essex County Cougars of Maplewood and South Orange.
“Ayala is your old-school, prototypical point guard,” Feeley said. “He distributes and handles the ball well and is a good defender. He can hit the open shot and make the guys around him better.”
Julien and Glover are also guards.
“Both started on and off last year, Val more than Ezra,” Feeley said. “Julien is our all-around guy – one who can rebound, shoot, defend and basically do whatever is asked of him.
“Ezra can shoot from the outside and also get to the rim.
“We’re not a very big team this year, so we will be relying on our guard play.”
Union has scrimmaged against Woodbridge, Bishop Ahr, Bridgewater-Raritan, Irvington and Dickinson.
The Farmers remain situated in the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division, but the division is different this year. It includes just these four teams: Union, Elizabeth, Plainfield and Union Catholic.
St. Mary’s of Elizabeth moved up to the Watchung Division and Elizabeth down to the Mountain.
For the first time there are five divisions, including the River Division.
“Again, we have only six scheduled (division) games,” Feeley said. It’s a little difficult to get out-of-conference games, but everyone is in the same situation.
“We secured Linden and Roselle Catholic from the higher division and also play every team from the lower division.
“The nice thing is that we see more and more teams. However, it’s their option to play you – they have to agree to play you, they are not forced to.
“What was nice for us was that the schools in the division below us agreed to play us.”
A link to Union’s donation page is http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR/TeamUpVarsityAS/Events
Events for St. Jude
Events for St. Jude
Val Julien (6-2) guard
Ezra Glover (6-1) guard
Russ Ayala (5-11) guard
Andrew Sanborn (5-11) guard
Rache Thomas (6-0) guard
Ahmirr Robinson (6-3) forward
Aaron Myrick (5-8) guard
Markeith Hinnant (5-8) guard
Jakin Edmond (6-2) forward
Ronn Flood (6-1) forward
DREJAJ CHOMPING AT THE BIT
Linden’s opener – which will be the first game of new head coach Anthony Drejaj’s tenure at the helm of the Tigers – got here pretty quickly according to the former Seton Hall Prep star.
“Once it was Thanksgiving everything has come so quick,” Drejaj said. “Especially this year. Football season flew by. I wish it would have slowed down a bit.”
Linden scrimmaged Passaic, Old Bridge and Asbury Park and on Tuesday was to have its final scrimmage at West Orange.
“I can’t wait for Friday to get here,” said Drejaj, who after West Orange will next concentrate on becoming familiar with Piscataway.
Linden, with Drejaj as an assistant coach, participated in the first St. Jude Classic and was also in it last year when the Tigers opened with a 67-32 win over Westfield.
“First of all it’s for a great cause,” Drejaj said. “Anything that can be done for child research, sign me up.”
Union and Elizabeth produced a highly-dramatic, back-and-forth clash last year, with the Minutemen coming out on top by the score of 67-63 in single overtime. Phil Colicchio is now the head coach at Elizabeth, where he graduated from in 1984.
Drejaj does not have a player who is considered a returning starter, but does have three kids in his first starting lineup – senior Gerby Janvier and juniors Nashawn Holmes and Amir Williams who saw time off the bench a year ago.
Dremar Hopkinson, a 5-11 junior, is the point guard, while transfer Yasin Willock, a 6-10 junior, is the team’s new center. Willock played on the Westfield JV last season. His cousin Abraham Kromah played at Linden, graduating in 2017.
“There’s a lot of new stuff and a new system, so each player is finding his role,” Drejaj said. “You don’t just get the hang of it in two weeks.
“We expect to get better as the season goes. A few wins early should help the process quicker. We’re just trying to develop a winning attitude.”
PG Dremar Hopkinson, (5-11), junior
G Nashawn Holmes, (5-11), junior
G Gerby Janvier, (6-0), senior
F Amir Williams, (6-4), junior
C Yasin Willock, (6-10), junior
Isaac Thompkins, (6-1), junior
Schadrac Petit-Homme, (6-4), senior
Ryan Sampson, (6-0), junior
Zyair Desire, (5-11), junior
Zion Marshall, (5-11), junior
RAHWAY COMING OFF FINE SEASON
Although the Indians lost leading scorer Keyshawn Cummings to graduation, head coach Jeff Lubreski still has talented senior Zion Pendleton in the mix.
Rahway was the last team in Union County to lose last year after a 16-0 start. Four weeks later the Indians lost a heartbreaking 51-49 decision at home to Colonia in the North 2, Group 3 quarterfinals and finished 23-4.
WATCHUNG DIVISION (4 schools):
St. Mary’s, Elizabeth
MOUNTAIN DIVISION (4 schools):
VALLEY DIVISION (4 schools):
SKY DIVISION (5 schools):
RIVER DIVISION (5 schools):
* * *
Roselle Catholic (8-0)
St. Mary’s, Elizabeth (6-0)
Johnson (9-1) and
New Providence (9-1)