Owls basketball coach reflects on an injury-riddled season

The way to describe the 2014-15 season for the Highland Park High School boys varsity basketball team can be summed up in two words: INJURY RIDDLED.

“I’ve never seen a season with so many injuries at one time,” said Derek Nobles finishing his eighth season at the helm as the Owls boys head varsity basketball coach. “These injuries hampered our stability.”

The squad moved from the Blue Division to the Gold Division this season. The competition was tough with the likes of South Plainfield, Spotswood, Bishop Ahr and Carteret last year.

“Our expectations were pretty high when we moved into the Gold Division,” said Coach Nobles. “It was hard in the Blue Division when you play teams like Spotswood  a Group 2 school or Carteret which is Group 3. Moving down a division was more comparable to the team we had and our goal was to finish around .500,” the coach added.

Highland Park had only three wins on the season, and team chemistry and spirit suffered because of the deluge of injuries. They did however get some solid performers from their upperclassmen, namely 6-5 senior center Will Jacob-Perez, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds this season.

“Will is a great leader and came into his own this season….He is a very versatile and composed player,” the coach said.

Junior guard Will Chen, 5-10, is a solid ball handler and the team’s second most consistent player. Stalwart was 6-1 junior guard Noah Painter, averaging around 10 points and 7 assists during the campaign.

“Noah is our strongest ball handler. We asked a lot from him. He took control of the offense. He has matured a lot and we expect big things from him in his senior year,” Mr. Nobles said.

Senior Dondre Willburn, a 5-7 guard missed most of the season with a wrist injury. Junior Matt Ambrose a 6-0 swingman who plays forward and guard is a talent that the coach likes because of his effort on the boards and his good shooting ability. Matt played the last five games after missing most of the season with a bacterial infection for stitches in his cheek suffered after a collision with a fellow player during practice.

“Matt would have been one of more consistent players had he not missed all the time,” said the coach. “He is a good rebounder and a decent shooter.”

Another junior player who should be on target to contribute for next season is 5-6 junior guard Piney Arp. Coach Nobles considers him to be one of their top shooters from long range. “Piney is a little bit undersized but he is our three-point specialist, ” the coach said.

Justin Sims, a 6-2 sophomore guard and one of the better players for the Owls had a promising season ahead, but missed the entire 2014-15 campaign with a torn ACL suffered in the season opener. Another player who missed a lot of the season because of injury was 6-1 sophomore guard Na’eem Ghee.

However, Highland Park’s most athletic player, 6-0 sophomore forward Nasir Boykins, had a solid season. “Nasir does a little bit of everything for us. He rebounds, is a great passer and does the dirty work for us, scrambling for loose balls. He is a strong player,” Mr. Nobles said.

The Owls have a lot of ability and talent. Can next season’s team play to its potential and strive for greatness?

Simply put: “Staying healthy is key,” concluded the coach.

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