BELLEVILLE, NJ — Jim Catalano was a great basketball player at Belleville High School. In his junior season, the Bucs won about 15 games, which is pretty impressive considering the program’s struggling history.
Catalano, a 1967 BHS graduate, is a member of the Belleville Hall of Fame.
Now in his second full season as the head coach of the BHS boys’ basketball team, the Bucs are tasting the same kind of success. In fact, this season arguably is the best they’ve had.
The Bucs, who won 15 games last season, finished with a stellar 19-8 record after losing to Snyder in the first round of the North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 state tournament on Monday, March 2 at BHS. The Bucs were the No. 8 seed. Snyder was seeded ninth.
Catalano, who was a longtime head college coach at New Jersey Institute of Technology, won his 700th career game when the Bucs beat host Millburn, 55-48, on Friday, Feb. 28, in the regular-season finale.
What makes this season even more impressive is the fact that the Bucs have dealt with several injuries and other issues.
Senior Danny Castillo, their top shooter, had heart surgery before the season started and hasn’t been back at school, though he was able to attend a Bucs game last week, much to the delight of Catalano and his team.
Senior Zier Stevens suffered a hand injury; sophomore Shanne Laquindanum was sidelined with an injury for about two months; and junior Mo Kuku missed about six weeks due to a family-related issue.
The Bucs also are extremely young, with a sophomore-laden roster. Despite their youth, the Bucs have become great learners.
“They concentrate; they pay attention; they buy into everything that we’re doing,” Catalano said.
The most thrilling win of the season came in the Essex County Tournament as sophomore Ethan Laquindanum hit a three-point buzzer-beater to lift the 21st-seeded Bucs to a 52-51 win over 12th-seeded Bloomfield in the preliminary third round on Feb. 6 at Bloomfield HS. It was the Bucs’ 11th straight win. The next day, the Bucs lost to fifth-seeded Central in the round of 16.
Senior guard Hector Castro unquestionably is the team’s best player.
“He is just a great high school player,” Catalano said. “He really tears up the stat book. He averaging about 20 points a game, nine rebounds, five assists and three-and-a-half steals. He was close to a quadruple-double four times this year. That’s kind of unheard of, at any level.”
In addition to Shane Laquindanum, other key sophomores are Nasir Bey and Richmond Casino.
Senior Gio Torres is the team’s primary shooter.
Indeed, Catalano has been ecstatic for his team this season.
“The kids have really done a great job,” he said.
Catalano was hired to be the Bucs coach for the 2017-18 season, but got sick a few games into the season and missed the rest of the year.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include the result of the Bucs’ state tournament game.