EAST ORANGE – The East Orange Campus High School girls’ basketball team has what it takes to duplicate or even better last year’s success.
That’s a lofty expectation. After all, the Jaguars were one of the best teams in the state a year ago, as they won the Super Essex Conference-American Division and Essex County Tournament titles before winning a sectional championship for the second time in three years, finishing with a stellar 25-3 record.
But head coach Derrick Johnson has strong faith in his team, even though they lost point guard Kyiarah English, guard Angel Osagie-Erese and forward NyAsia Franklin to graduation. English has continued her career at Bucknell University.
“We have players who have been in the mix for a couple of years and they are buying into what it takes to get to the next level,” said Johnson, entering his 13th season as the Lady Jaguars head coach. “I have a pretty solid squad this year. I mean, we’re not as talented as we were last year, but I think we have some role players who are becoming more than role players.”
The Jaguars defeated divisional foe Bloomfield Tech, 67-47, Friday, Dec. 18, at EOCHS in the season opener.
The Jaguars return a nice group, led by senior guard Marvellous Osagie-Erese, a four-year starter and Angel’s sister. Indeed, Marvellous plays like her name.
“She is very intelligent; a relentless defender, a relentless competitor, makes the great decisions,” said Johnson of Osagie-Erese, who had nine points, 11 assists, 10 steals and six rebounds in the season opener.
Osagie-Erese and Sahara Crawford, a senior returnee, both will share point guard duties. Crawford had 11 points and six rebounds in the opener.
The Jaguars also have an experienced frontcourt with 6-foot-1 Barbara Jackson and 6-2 Jessica Woods, both senior forwards. Moriyah Jordan, a 6-3 center, saw some time last year as a freshman and will see her role increased. Jackson grabbed 11 rebounds and Jordan had 14 points in the opener.
Johnson is excited about two freshman guards, Brianna Mills and Lakel Willis. They will learn a lot from Osagie-Erese and Crawford, noted Johnson. Mills had 11 points in the opener.
“They are energetic,” said Johnson of the freshmen. “Brianna Mills is an excellent defender; a heady point guard. Brianna Mills is like Angel (Osagie-Erese) where she has that motor and keeps coming and coming. Her offensive game is more polished than when Angel was a freshman. Lakel has a lot of upside. She is a big guard who can guard and run the floor. She is the first freshman guard that I’ve been around who rarely misses layups.”
After beating Paterson Eastside in the state North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 final last year, the Jaguars’ hopes of winning the state Group 4 title were dashed with a heartbreaking loss to Franklin in the state semifinals. It was the second straight year that Franklin ended the Jaguars’ season. In the 2013-14 season, Franklin beat EOCHS in the North 2, Group 4 final, denying the Jaguars a repeat title. After a one-year stay in Section 1, the Jaguars are back in Section 2 this season.
Indeed, the Jaguars are determined to get over the proverbial hump and get a shot at the Group 4 state championship. So what it will take to accomplish that goal?
“Believing in themselves,” said Johnson. “Believing that they are talented enough to get to the next level. We can defend. We have a big team. We can defend very well. If they believe in themselves and believe in our philosophy, we can go very far. We’ve been there and know what it feels like. That loss last year left a bad taste in their mouth and we’re hungry to get back.”