WARREN – The Eagles are hungry.
After taking a trip to the district title game a year ago, the Warren JFK boys’ basketball team is ready to pursue its ambitions and is in a good place to do so.
Aside from seniors TJ Harden, who averaged 4.8 points per game and added some greatness to the Eagles, and Antwan Brown, who averaged 5.3 points per game, Warren JFK are all returning.
Leading scorers Jaden Rishel (16.1 pp), Michael Condoleon (14.6 pp) and Nick Ryan (13.7 pp) are all back, along with Nico Ciminero, who posted 4.6 points last season scored per game.
“We’re hungry overall and I mean the expectation has been to win a district title every year and I know they’re still recovering from last year’s fourth quarter meltdown.” Warren JFK coach Mark Komlanc said. “But I think it has grown them as individuals and as a team.”
After a solid run through last year’s regular season, the Eagles played their way into a district title matchup with Mathews, where they held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs stormed out and beat the Eagles 18-8 in the final frame to force overtime, where they eventually clinched a two-point win 61-59.
“We have this defeat in the back of our minds and will use it as motivation for this season.” Condoleon said. “I think it will push us to go even further than last year.”
Even if they don’t have the highest lead this season, Komlanc has a group that has played together since 4th or 5th grade. It also helps that he already sees them as upper class given their experience on the pitch.
“This group of juniors has been playing since freshman,” said Komlanc. “Their experience of the regional finals when they were freshmen, we had three guys on that team playing big minutes. So their expectations are high and I think they’re approaching it as seniors this year. Even I forget they’re juniors. So that’s a beautiful thing.”
Typically this time of year, the Eagles are playing catch-up with other teams while waiting for the football players to join the team after a deep run in the playoffs. While the soccer team is still playing — they face Newark Catholic in the state semifinals on Saturday — the basketball team is full of depth and has already fought off some teams.
While guys like Ryan and Condoleon are happy to see their classmates have another good run at football, they’re happy to be working on the hardwood too.
“It’s definitely nice, we’re still missing two or three in football,” Condoleon said. “We’ve usually missed a lot more in recent years. But we hope they win and get to the final.”
As always, the Eagles will show plenty of speed and athleticism this year, and Kolanc said this could be one of the best shooting teams he’s had during his time at Kennedy. They’ll be pressuring teams defensively and trying to take turns running to capitalize on the speed guys like Condoleon and Ryan showed on the soccer field in the fall.
So if it comes down to things they need to be successful at this year, it will be their game of the hoop. Because of their small size, the Eagles need to recover well to stay in games.
“We’re really sporty. We’re not big, but we’re fast.” said Ryan. “We’re going to have to rely on some of our guys, even our smaller guys, to get some rebounds. But we will rely on pressing and playing fast to drive other teams out of the arena.”
The Eagles could get some reinforcements after the football season is over. Senior Pat Valent added a bit of greatness to the Eagles last year, but the offensive lineman is committed to Rice and is still undecided on whether or not he will play this season, according to Komlanc.
“I tell him to just wait until this season is over and focus on this one.” said Komlanc. “But I did let Pat know we have a 3XL with his number on it in case he wants to come out. That would be great because he’s a senior leader and the kids look up to him and he’s been playing for the last three years.”
If anything is certain, Warren JFK has a winning streak and the Eagles have had a lot of success this fall season. The boys soccer team ran to the district title game. The boys’ golf team performed at the state tournament and the soccer team recently won their third consecutive regional title.
The Eagles are now trying to bring this success into the winter sports season.
“I feel like everyone on this team is super competitive and we just want to win.” Condoleon said. “So if I go to the district finals in football, I have a feeling we’re going to have exactly the same taste in our mouths going back there in basketball.”
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