ORANGE – Entering his second stint as head coach of the Orange High School boys’ varsity basketball team, Jamaal Cooper has confidence that his Tornadoes will get better as the season progresses.
Sure, the team competes in the American Division, which is the highest division of the Super Essex Conference. But with improved offensive familiarity and continued strong defense, the Tornadoes hope to develop into a competitive squad.
“The strength of our team is team defense,” said Cooper, a 1998 OHS graduate. “We’re playing well defensively and attacking the ball. We’re always attacking the ball. Offensively, we’re unfamiliar with each other. But once we get the familiarity with each other, we’ll be okay.”
In his first stint, Cooper took over for longtime head coach Jacob Martin for the 2012-2013 season. Following that season, Cooper became an assistant coach at West Orange High School, under Greg Tynes, while Martin came back for his third stint as the OHS head coach. After two seasons at West Orange, Cooper is back with the Tornadoes, again replacing Martin.
The Tornadoes lost to Irvington, 55-44, in the season opener on Friday, Dec. 18, at Irvington in a divisional game.
OHS is coming off a decent 15-11 season in which it made a strong run in the state North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 tournament. As the sixth seed, the Tornadoes upset third-seeded Mendham in the quarterfinals before losing at second-seeded Chatham in the semifinals.
This season, the Tornadoes will be led by 6-foot-3 junior forward Rasheed Boyd, 5-7 junior guard Mekhi Chester and 6-foot senior guard Treyvon Bleasdel. Boyd, who is recovering from a football injury this fall, is a returning player who is an offensive rebounding machine, Cooper said. Chester, another returnee, is a solid shooter, while Bleasdel, a newcomer who moved from Kentucky, is an outstanding one-on-one, on-ball player, added Cooper.
Returning 6-3 junior forward Latrell Wilson will see his role increased this season.
Senior 6-1 guard Papouch Demosthenes is the team’s best defender, Cooper said
The point guard duties will be handled by 5-9 junior Zahier Childs. Sophomore forward Henry Jean Baptiste also will be in the rotation.
Though they may take their early-season lumps, Cooper expects the Tornadoes to hit their peak by season’s end.
“We’re in the American Division, so it’s a (tough) game every night. But we’re going to be in every game,” Cooper said. “Early, we’re going to struggle, but in mid-season, we going to turn it around and start shocking people.”