Thursday, June 23, 2022
O’Koren returns to courts where it all began St. Joseph Courts renamed, honoring former Carolina, Nets standout forward When Mike O’Koren was a little boy growing up in Jersey City, he always dreamed about one day playing basketball at the famed courts that sit behind St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, just a stone’s throw away from the O’Koren family residence inside the Pavonia Gardens housing projects near Dickinson High School “For us kids, this was our Madison Square Garden,” O’Koren said. “I spent so much time here playing and learning.” So O’Koren used to make the two-block journey from his home to the courts at St. Joe’s, just trying to absorb so much about the game he loved to play. One of his first coaches at St. Joseph’s CYO program was Ron Steinmetz, better known as “Stymie” to the basketball faithful of Jersey City. Stymie knew early on that O’Koren, better known as “Little” to the people of his hometown, would develop into a good player.
Monday, March 28, 2022
Jenna Gaglioti had somewhat of a conventional life before two years ago. The 30-year-old Jersey City resident attended St. Peter’s University, graduating in 2013 with a degree in biology. Before enrolling at St. Peter’s, Gaglioti was a student at John Jay High School in New York, where she played basketball and softball. She credits her brother Michael and sister Danielle for giving her the inspiration to become an athlete. Back then, Gaglioti was all set to attend nursing school. But something sparked a fire in Gaglioti after she was mugged a handful of times near St. Peter’s and was physically assaulted by someone she had just ended a relationship with. “I was dealing with some rough phases in my life,” Gaglioti said. “My brother always taught me to defend myself. I tried power lifting and started to get into body building. But honestly, I found those things to be a little boring.” At that time, Gaglioti just happened to be walking past Gleason’s Gym in Manhattan and had a revelation. “I wanted to learn how to box,” Gaglioti said. “I used to follow boxing all the time. I was raised by good parents who always instilled in me that women could do whatever they wanted to do, as long as they put their mind to it. That was me.” Gaglioti trained for approximately two years before a friend of hers named Johnny Lopez said he was going to a gym in Jersey City at Public School No. 6. That’s how the unlikely pairing of aspiring boxer Gaglioti and respected local trainer Luis “Mosquito” Gonzalez took flight. Gonzalez has been working with aspiring boxers in Jersey City for the Jersey City Recreation program for the last 30 years. “Johnny introduced me to Mosquito and we instantly hit it off,” Gaglioti said. Gonzalez has worked with his fair share of female boxers over the years. “I guess I’ve had about 50 or so females of all ages,” Gonzalez said. “My doors are always open for females. I’ve been watching females get involved in the sport for a long time. I always treat them equally as I treat men. It’s crazy how I got involved with Jenna. Johnny walked into the gym and told me he had a friend who was interested in getting involved. I didn’t know who she was. I just needed to take a look at her to see how serious she was. And I could tell right away that she was a boxer. Jenna had no idea that Jersey City had a boxing program. Once she knew, she came to the gym every day. And I could see that she worked harder than most men. She just doesn’t stop.” Soon after the first meeting, Gonzalez asked Gaglioti about her goals with the sport. “She said she wanted to fight pro,” Gonzalez said. “I said to her, ‘Can you do this?’ I told her that it was all about her and whether she was willing to put in the time and the work. I could see right away that she had a very professional approach. She said she didn’t want to fight as an amateur. She wanted to step into the ring and see how it goes.” “When I go into the gym, I am very disciplined,” Gaglioti said. “I think I’m harder on myself than anybody. But I felt like I was ready.” Gonzalez wanted to make sure, so he brought Gaglioti to other local boxing people like trainer/promoter Bobby Rooney of Bayonne.
Friday, March 25, 2022
Bob Fazio fondly recalls his days as a basketball player at a place that was then called St. Peter’s College. “When I played, we had some unbelievable teams and had some unbelievable times,” said Fazio, the school’s No. 5 all-time leading scorer with 1,590 points. “It was a great place to play. It was a lot of fun back then.” Fazio, the Union City native, had the great fortune of having played at the Jersey City Armory and Yanitelli Center when it first opened in 1976. As the Peacocks prepared to play in the biggest game in the school’s rich basketball history, facing Purdue in the NCAA Sweet 16, Fazio, now the president of the prestigious Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, recalled some of his favorite moments as a Peacock. “I remember playing Oregon with Ron Lee and Greg Ballard in the NIT in Madison Square Garden,” Fazio said. “And there were 19,500 fans chanting, ‘Let’s Go Peter’s.’ That was one of my best memories. I remember the first time we played in the Garden, we played Manhattan and they were ranked No. 15 in the country. It was the Saturday before Christmas and the Garden was sold out. We pulled off the victory and made the back page of the (New York) Daily News. Playing in the Garden was so special. I was on the team when we opened Yanitelli Center and I scored the first four points in the building’s history. I made sure no one else was getting the ball that game. My wife (Maureen) said to me the other day that I remember every play of every game and I honestly do.” That’s why Fazio had a gigantic sense of pride when the Peacocks advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, becoming this year’s media darlings, getting attention from all the major media markets like the New York Times, ESPN and the Dan Patrick Show. “I’m very proud and very happy,” Fazio said. “It’s a great thing for this team.” One of Fazio’s teammates was Ken Markowski, a Jersey City/Bayonne boy who was also a 1,000 point scorer at the place affectionately called “Harvard on the Boulevard.” “My hardest working teammate was Bobby Faz,” Markowski said. “He would fit in perfectly with the Peacocks of today.” Markowski currently lives in North Carolina, but his heart never left Jersey City. He fondly recalled one of the greatest Peacocks of all time, namely Elnardo Webster, who unfortunately and ironically passed away this week at the age of 74. “Guys like El were men compared to us,” Markowski said of Webster, who scored 1,163 points in just two varsity seasons with the Peacocks. Webster was part of the famed “Run Baby Run” Peacock team of 1968 that upset Duke in the NIT quarterfinals. “Guys like El, Harry (Laurie) and Teddy (Martiniuk) taught us to be tough. I remember going to practice in the Armory, but we had to wear sweatsuits, because it was always so cold.” Rick Baker was another member of those SPC teams with Markowski. “I remember going to watch those great St. Peter’s teams practice when I was in high school,” Baker said. “When I was a freshman with Marko and Keith (Cerruti), we would scrimmage against the older guys like Teddy Martiniuk and (former New Jersey state senator and later U.S. Congressman) Albio Sires.” Cerruti would go on to become a respected basketball official, but is more remembered for his on-the-court altercation with Larry Fogle of Canisius, who was the nation’s leading scorer at the time. “I enjoyed every minute of it,” C erruti said. “I remember Marko making a great 360-degree move in the NIT against Ron Lee in mid-air. It was one of the most unbelievable moves I’ve ever seen. Seeing my friends Marko and Ricky improve as much as they did was a thrill. It was a great time to be involved in college basketball.” Cerruti and Baker both literally grew up blocks from the SPC campus, so watching the current Peacocks do as well as they’re doing means a lot to both long-time friends and teammates. Another former Peacock great is Daren Rowe, a New Rochelle, N.Y. native who played for the Peacocks in the mid-1980s, eventually earning All-MAAC and All-Metropolitan New York/New Jersey his senior year playing for head coach Ted Fiore. “I’m really happy for this team, happy and proud, as proud as a Peacock,” said Rowe, who was an assistant coach at Montclair State under Fiore and eventually became Fiore’s replacement at Montclair State when Fiore retired seven years ago. “I think it’s great that this team is getting the recognition that they deserved. This team doesn’t back down to anyone. I’m just prideful, joyous and ecstatic for this team.” Rowe said that he has been able to connect with some of his former teammates, as well as other Peacock alumni, during the Peacocks’ improbable run to the Sweet 16. “I’m glad to see St. Peter’s finally getting some respect,” Rowe said. “I’m not surprised with what we’ve done. We’ve always been known as a defensive-minded, hard-nosed team. We’ve always been good defensively.” Rowe said that his teams always just “went out and played.” “This really has brought back a lot of great memories,” Rowe said. “Watching this team brought back thoughts of great teams, great teammates. We were a close-knit group.” Rowe’s coach Fiore didn’t want to detract from the incredible coaching job done by current St. Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway. “He deserves all the credit,” said Fiore, the second winningest coach in St. Peter’s basketball history. “Shaheen has done a great job with this team. He really got this team prepared to play in the tournament. I’m really happy for Shaheen and his team.” John Dunne, the current head coach at Marist College, was the head coach at St. Peter’s when the Peacocks last made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, ironically losing to Friday night’s opponent in Philadelphia Purdue. Dunne also has fond memories of his days coaching the Peacocks. “I think there’s always going to be a sense of pride,” Dunne said. “I think it’s fantastic, what they’re doing, representing the MAAC. It made me think back to the whirlwind that we went through (back in 2011). It was a frenzied time, but this is even more so. It’s intensified now because it’s the Sweet 16. But it certainly brings back memories, memories that last a lifetime.” Fazio is proof of that. “I am the greatest champion for St. Peter’s basketball,” Fazio said. “I loved the place. I love giving back to the school. You can’t buy the feelings I have for the school.” Feelings that obviously never fade long after the final buzzer sounds.
Thursday, March 10, 2022
When the high school basketball season began a few months ago in early December, the Union City High School girls' team found themselves in a bit of a predicament. The Soaring Eagles lost their first five games of the new season. A year after having to miss a majority of their games due to COVID-19, the Soaring Eagles were on the wrong side of the ledger five straight times to begin the new campaign. A lot of other teams might have folded up the tents and given up on a season after five setbacks to start the season. But a lot of those teams aren't coached by Carlos Cueto. Cueto, the former St. Anthony High School and University of Richmond point guard, had made stops along the way coaching with the famed St. Michael's CYO program in his adopted hometown of Union City, where Cueto was raised. He then also was the head boys' coach at Secaucus High School before taking the position as girls' basketball coach in the district where he has been a long-time teacher. Cueto remained determined even after the brutal 0-5 start to the season. "The girls were all surprisingly upbeat even after the 0-5 start," Cueto said. "They just kept showing up for practice, kept their heads up and kept working hard. They never once quit. That says a lot." Sure does, because the Soaring Eagles made it all the way to the recent Hudson County Tournament finale, where they lost to Bayonne, 39-23, in a shocking offensive freefall. It was almost as if someone put a steel lid on top of the Soaring Eagles' basket and kept the ball from falling through the nets. That loss was on a Saturday afternoon. "We had not much time to be down on ourselves," Cueto said. "It was such a quick turnaround from Saturday to Monday." The Soaring Eagles earned the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA's North Jersey Section 1, Group IV bracket, so that was good news. "We were the top seed, so it meant that we never had to leave playing at home," Cueto said. "We could just stay home and relax." Well, the Soaring Eagles didn't exactly take it easy in the postseason, taking their game to the state sectional without having to climb on a bus. They defeated Barringer, 62-32, in the opening round, then moved on to knock off Columbia of South Orange/Maplewood, 53-36 in the sectional quarterfinals, beat Paterson Eastside, 52-41, in the sectional semifinals and finally handled Morristown, 48-37, to capture the first-ever state sectional girls' basketball championship in school history.
Sunday, February 27, 2022
Tahaad Pettiford was in seventh grade the last time Hudson Catholic won the Hudson County Boys' Basketball Tournament title, back at a time when it was almost an annual occurrence that the Hawks were crowned as the county's best. The Hawks had set a new record for consecutive county championships when they won their seventh straight title in 2018. But the streak came to an end in 2019, when Union City defeated the Hawks and a year later, St. Peter's Prep won the championship. There was no county tourney in 2021 due to the pandemic. Pettiford was in grade school, but remember knowing full well that he wanted to attend Hudson Catholic. "It was all about Coach Nick (Mariniello)," Pettiford said. "He's the reason why I came to Hudson Catholic. I knew he would make me a better player." Saturday afternoon, Pettiford showed everyone how he's a great player right now as a sophomore. The sweet shooting southpaw tallied a team-high 25 points, leading Hudson Catholic to a 60-55 win over rival St. Peter's Prep to win the Hudson County Tournament title before a packed house at High Tech High School in Secaucus. The two rivals have met each other three times this season, with the Hawks taking two-of-three. And there's a chance that the two teams could meet again in the NJSIAA Parochial A North state tournament Friday night, a game that would be played at Hudson Catholic. ' The Hawks took control of the game in the first quarter, courtesy of a 15-2 run over the final 3:43 of the quarter, with Pettiford scoring five of those points. Junior Elijah Gertrude had seven of his 12 points during that span, as the Hawks held a commanding 22-9 lead after the first quarter. Holding the high-flying Marauders to just nine points the first quarter was a credit to the Hawks' defense. "I would have to say our defense set the tone," Mariniello said. "I knew that from that point, they would be chasing after us." And a team has to exude so much energy trying to come from behind, no matter who is playing for the other team. Mark Armstrong became the all-time leading scorer in the history of St. Peter's Prep basketball with his first five points of the game and the Villanova-bound Armstrong ended with 32 points. But that meant that the rest of the Marauders managed just 23 points.
Veteran Bayonne High School girls' basketball coach James Turner knew that there was only one way to defeat Union City in the Hudson County Tournament championship game Saturday afternoon. Simply put, the Bees had to lace and tighten their collective sneakers, look deep inside their collective souls and play defense against one of the top offensive teams in the county. If the Bees were to collect yet another county crown, it had to be on the defensive end of the floor. "It was all about defense," Turner said. "We had to blitz them. I knew that the game would be won or lost in the first quarter." The Bees certainly did exactly that. They shut the Soaring Eagles out early on, outscoring Union City, 11-0, in the opening stages. It was almost a carbon copy of the last time there was a county tournament in Hudson County. In 2020, the Bees raced out to an early lead in the title game against Hudson Catholic, scoring the game's first 13 points, and never looked back. Saturday in the same location (High Tech High School in Secaucus), it was like deja vu all over again. The Bees grabbed the early double digit lead and never trailed, securing a 39-23 win over the Soaring Eagles, to capture the eighth county crown in Turner's career and the astounding and almost unthinkable 27th county title in the school's history. The prior 19 county titles were captured under the guidance and leadership of legendary Hall of Fame coach Jeff Stabile. Turner offered his team some sound advice right before the opening tip. "I told them that we had been here before (there was no county tournament held last year due to COVID-19) and that they should not let the game be bigger than you," Turner said. "I told them that they couldn't panic and that they should just play their game." The Bees' three seniors, namely Eniya Scott (headed to Fairleigh Dickinson-Teaneck in the fall on a scholarship), Julyssa Moody and Jalaiyah Smith all played like the poised senior leaders that they are. While Scott didn't have her best game, she was definitely in control and wouldn't allow the Soaring Eagles (making their first-ever appearance in a county title game) to make any sustainable run. "I think being here before made this one a little less nervewracking," Scott said. "I think we were definitely able to prepare for this game because we had been here before."
It might have been a few years in the making because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Friday night was well worth the wait. That's because Jersey City basketball legend Mike Rooney got his just rewards, when the gymnasiumn at Snyder High School was renamed in his honor. The 78-year-old Rooney was honored with a celebration at halftime of the Snyder-McNair Academic game, with a host of Rooney's basketball brethren on hand. Rooney's uniform number 32 was retired and a beautiful banner was placed on the walls of the gym with his 1,626 point total and his three-time All-Hudson County and twice All-State on the banner as well.