Columbia HS boys’ basketball coach has high hopes for team this season

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ – As a player and coach at Irvington High School, Eugene Robinson had a number of special thrills on the hardwood.

But these days, Robinson, whose favorite player in the NBA was forward Charles Barkley, is experiencing some top moments at Columbia High School. Despite having a squad with not all that much experience, the CHS boys’ basketball team did quite well in the opening month of play, posting a 4-2 mark in December.

“We showed what we could do by holding our own in a holiday tournament down the shore,” said Robinson, who graduated from Irvington in 1993. “I really feel that we can challenge for a conference title this winter, and possibly do well in the county and state tournaments.”

This season, unlike in 2018, the Cougars are competing in a lower division of the Super Essex Conference.

“It’s tough when you have to go up against teams like Seton Hall Prep and Newark East Side everyday,” commented Robinson. “But to be honest, last year we held our own for the most part. We’re still facing some pretty good teams this winter.”

Robinson, who was a fine guard with the IHS Blue Knights, knows all about facing top opponents. After all, Irvington always faced quality teams in the Watchung Conference.

“Playing in a tough league gets you ready for the postseason,” said Robinson, who enjoyed coaching against such Essex County hoops legends as Bob Farrell of Seton Hall Prep and Greg Tynes of Clifford Scott. “Guys can improve their games when they go up against the stronger teams.”

Columbia, which has a rich tradition in basketball with players like Mark Bryant and Robbie West, has been sparked by a sophomore so far. Nigel Garcia, a heady performer for his age, has been doing a fine job at point guard, setting up the CHS offense. He’s complemented in the backcourt by senior Dylan Jones, a top shooter.

“To succeed in this game, you have to be strong at every position,” said Robinson, who was one of the key performers for a group from Irvington that racked up four straight Essex County Tournament titles (1992-95) for Kurt Fenchel. “I think we have that this season.”

The big man for the Maplewood school up front is 6-foot-6 senior Jun Harrigan. The youngster has a knack for coming up with important rebounds.

The other starters up front for the Cougars are senior Luke Hayes, the starting quarterback for the 2018 football team, and 6-4 senior Brandon Dalembert, who is another top rebounder.

Off the bench, the key man for CHS is 6-2 senior forward Noah Perry. When he gets hot, he’s capable of scoring a bunch of points.

“What I really like about Noah is that he’s like a coach on the floor,” lauded Robinson. “The other players have a great deal of respect for him.”

Robinson, who vied with such great players as Terry Naylor and Ramadan Brunson, knew his players would have to step it up this winter because a couple of promising players transferred out.

“We showed our chemistry in the holiday event,” said Robinson. “I think this group knows what it takes to win.”

As a coach, Robinson feels his main job is to treat every player as fairly as possible.

“That’s what Coach Fenchel did at IHS,” said Robinson. “And hey, we got some outstanding results for several years.”

In Robinson’s senior year, Irvington came up with a big 66-62 win over Scott in the ECT final at Essex County College.

Photos by Steve Ellmore

Columbia vs. East Orange, Dec. 14, season opener. Columbia won, 48-44.