MAPLEWOOD – The Columbia High School boys’ varsity basketball team features a deep roster this season.
Though they only have three seniors, the Cougars have plenty of players who are adequate enough to give opponents fits.
That’s a nice luxury for second-year head coach Eugene “Bam” Robinson and his staff.
As the No. 12 seed in the 16-team field, the Cougars last season had a Cinderella run in the postseason in which they lost to top-seeded Ridge at the buzzer in the semifinals of the state North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 tournament to finish with a 9-16 record. It marked the second straight year they lost to Ridge in the Section 2, Group 4 semifinals.
CHS is looking to fill the void left by the graduation of guard Michael Runcie and forward JC Beaubrun. Runcie finished his career as the Cougars’ all-time leading scorer with 1,393 points, breaking the previous mark of 1,254 held by Mark Bryant, a former NBA player and current assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The returning seniors are 6-foot-5 center Henry Voorhees, and forwards David Rancine and Kevin Bostic. Junior guard John Reed is another returnee. They will be supported by a good mix of sophomores and juniors, most of whom were members of last year’s undefeated JV team.
“We have a lot of returning guys, but at the same time we are really inexperienced,” Robinson said. “We only have three seniors. We got a big sophomore and junior class, and we got one freshman (guard Russell Ayala), who we think is going to be pretty good. But a lot of guys logged a lot of minutes. We’re anxious to get started.”
The Cougars will tip off the season Dec. 18 at Newark University.
In addition to Ayala, other key newcomers include sophomore forward Brandon Robinson, who is coach Robinson’s son; sophomore guard Briezh Askew, junior forward Coobee Darcelius, sophomore guard Brandon Askew, and sophomore 6-5 forward Stephan Gabriel. Other players who will look to contribute are junior guard Matthew Derlius and senior center Malachi Smythe.
With a young core, coach Robinson has reason to feel excited about the future.
“It should be a fun group to watch in the next couple of years,” he said.
The Cougars recognize the daunting challenge of competing in the Super Essex Conference-American Division, which is the highest division of the conference. That’s why they are looking to protect their home court and try to steal a few games on the road.
The offense will come around, but defense will be the key to their success.
“We just got to defend,” coach Robinson said. “I think we have the ability to be a really good defensive team. We just have to focus on doing our job and stick to the techniques that they are taught, and they’ll be fine.”
The following are other upcoming games: