By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
JERSEY CITY, NJ -- The time-tested coaching cliche tells us the foundation for championships in the winter is put together during the summer. There is truth behind that statement, yet the heat of the summer can be a source of success.
The Lincoln boys’ basketball team could certainly attest to that, having defeated Hudson Catholic, 64-56, to win the Hamilton Park Summer League championship this past Wednesday. The victory was significant on several counts.
In the 15-year history of this competitive high school circuit, St. Anthony won a dozen championships. Naturally, they were not in the field this year with the school having closed in June. Both Hudson, a powerful program of recent seasons, and Lincoln were in their first Hamilton Park final. With the victory, Lincoln became the first public school from Jersey City to capture the crown.
Lincoln did what was needed, playing a strong first half to establish confidence and dictate the pulse of the game. The Lions led 29-26 at halftime as junior guard Dante Darby had 24 of the Lions points.
“We were aware of it,” Lincoln coach Bill Zasowski said of Darby’s scoring. “But it wasn’t a big deal. We do not have egos, and Darby was getting his points in the framework of the offense. Besides, he got a few layups off steals, thanks to his defense. He actually passed a few open shots up to feed his teammates.”
The second half saw Hudson try to limit transition and pay added defensive attention to Darby. Stepping up was D.J. Henderson, a senior guard, scoring 13 of his 15 points after intermission to take up any scoring slack. Hudson was the beneficiary of a strong performance from Shackylle Dezonie (14 points) and Jonathan Delgado with 13. Danny Rodriguez added eight points and was strong on the boards for the Hawks. In the final analysis, Lincoln had the answers.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Lincoln lead expanded to 16 points. All good teams make that final run. Hudson had one left in them. A full court pressure defense forced a succession of Lion turnovers. The free-flowing fluid offense was struggling to get in gear. The seemingly comfortable double-digit lead was now a two-possession affair with the eternity of three minutes left. Lincoln, thanks to timely and accurate free throw shooting, was able to hang on.
Were those last few minutes a bit unnerving?
“Were they for you? They weren’t for me,” Zasowski said with a touch of humor. “Actually, I was never worried. These kids find a way to win. Hudson made their run, but I have faith and the kids do that we could make plays. Look at us as a free throw shooting team. We are not that great on the line, but when the game is in the balance, we convert. These kids are winners.”
Darby, a point guard just under six feet in height, earned MVP honors, finishing with 36 points. Henderson, as noted, added 15.
“Colleges are asking about Darby’s numbers,” Zasowski said. “I said forget numbers, the kid can just dictate the course of a game and he makes his teammates better.” Zasowski also complemented Henderson saying, “DJ is just so passionate. He wants to cover the other team’s best player.”
That mindset epitomizes the entire team. Lincoln has enjoyed its moments of success. On a consistent basis the girls’ program, headed by former Lion and Saint Peter’s standout Tom Best, gets more recognition.
“These kids want to be challenged,” Zasowski said. “They work hard, they are tough kids, but there is not an ego problem among any one of them.”
The Lincoln mentor realizes there is work ahead.
“Hudson did not have their entire team and neither did we,” Zasowski said. “That is the nature of summer ball. At the end of the day, this championship reminds each of our guys we can win. We will face Hudson during the regular season. They have won the Hudson County title several years in a row. If you want to win the counties, you have to go through Hudson.”
Make no mistake, this summer left an impression.
“This,” Zasowski said, “puts us on the map.”