Hudson Catholic flew nearly 1,300 miles last season to have its run in the City of Palms Classic end in the quarterfinals by a team located a little more than 10 miles from the Jersey City, New Jersey, school.
Hillside (N.J.) Patrick School proved to be the measuring stick for the Hawks in the City of Palms and later in the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association Non-Public B final where they were beaten by double digits each time.
With a strong senior class that includes two top-25 recruits and a top-100 recruit, No. 6 Hudson Catholic (2-0) considers winning the 45th Annual Culligan City of Palms Classic as a prerequisite to accomplishing its ultimate goal – winning the New Jersey Tournament of Champions in March.
“We wanted to be able to give ourselves the opportunity to come back and win this thing,” Hudson Catholic coach Nick Mariniello said. “I think it’s great competition. I think we have the pieces. There’s a lot of things we need to work on to get better.”
Mariniello may not have loved what he saw in the COP opener Monday, but what was apparent in an 84-52 victory over Webster Groves (Mo.) was this is a team with a Big 3 and a strong group of underclassmen who make this team among the favorites in the 16-team draw. The Hawks will face Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern in a quarterfinal at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
Hudson Catholic went 26-4 last season, including three wins in the COP over Washington D.C. Maret, Mableton (Ga.) Pebblebrook and Philadelphia Neumann-Goretti, before Patrick School denied it a state title and a trip to the Tournament of Champions.
“We’re all focused on same goal (this year),” said 6-foot-4 guard Luther Muhammad, an Ohio State signee.
It may be hard for any team in the country to match the firepower of Muhammad, point guard Jahvon Quinerly and forward Louis King.
“These guys finally understand – they’re going to college – it’s not about them. It’s about putting ourselves in position to win the Tournament of Champions,” Mariniello said.
In an offense that pushes the tempo with minimal dribbles and smart passing, Quinerly is the perfect floor general. The uncommitted No. 21 senior according to ESPN, Quinerly, who finished with 18 points and six assists Monday, dedicated himself to leading the team this season rather than focusing on his own accomplishments.
“My goal is to make the players around me better,” said Quinerly, who’s also has taken an interest in guiding the team’s younger players.
“Those younger guys have a lot of respect for us so they lock in when we’re speaking to them. We’ve been in their shoes before. We played varsity as freshmen. We just give them great advice and try to lead them as best we can.”
The 6-foot-8 King, an Oregon signee, has come a long way since playing in Fort Myers last season. ESPN’s 23rd-ranked senior developed a deadly long-range jumper that was on display Monday when he finished with 30 points on 11-for-14 shooting, which included six 3-pointers.
While King is a double-double waiting to happen, Mariniello believes Muhammad to be one of the best two-way players in the country. In addition to his 11 points and five assists, he came away with two steals on a night where Hudson Catholic held Webster Groves, a top-10 team in the country, to 36 percent shooting.
“If I don’t score, my man doesn’t score,” Muhammad said.
Mariniello would have liked to have seen a smoother, faster transition game, something the Hawks are quite capable of.
Because that’s what it will take to be considered New Jersey’s top dog when it’s all said and done.
“I feel like New Jersey has the best basketball in the country,” Muhammad said. “So I feel like the TOC is like a national championship.”
A successful stay in Florida this week is a big part of the process.