Staff photo / Greg Macafee
Warren JFK’s Michael Condoleon, left, drives to the basket against teammate Jaden Rishel. Both are expected to be key contributors for the Eagles this season after leading the team in scoring last year with 14.6 and 16.1 points per game, respectively.
WARREN — The Eagles are hungry.
After making a trip to the district title game a year ago and coming up just short, the Warren JFK boys basketball team is ready to follow through on its aspirations, and it’s in a good spot to do so.
Outside of seniors TJ Harden, who averaged 4.8 points per game and provided the Eagles with some size, and Antwan Brown, who scored 5.3 points per game, Warren JFK returns everybody.
Leading scorers Jaden Rishel (16.1 ppg.), Michael Condoleon (14.6 ppg.) and Nick Ryan (13.7 ppg.) are all back along with Nico Ciminero, who chipped in with 4.6 points per game last season.
“We’re hungry as a whole, and I mean the expectation every year has been to win a district title, and I know they are still recovering from that fourth quarter collapse last year,” Warren JFK coach Mark Komlanc said. “But I think it made them grow as individuals and as a team.”
After a solid run through the regular season last year, the Eagles played their way into a district title matchup with Mathews, where they held a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Mustangs came storming out and outscored the Eagles 18-8 in the final frame to force overtime, where they eventually earned a two-point victory, 61-59.
“We have that loss in the back of our minds, and we’re going to use it as motivation as we go through this season,” Condoleon said. “I think it’s going to propel us to go even further than we did last year.”
While they may not have the senior leadership this season, Komlanc has a group that has played together since the 4th or 5th grade. It also helps that he already sees them as upperclassmen because of the experience they have on the court.
“This group of juniors has been playing since they were freshmen,” Komlanc said. “Their experience with the regional finals when they were freshmen, we had three guys on that team that were playing big minutes. So their expectations are high, and I think they are approaching it as they are seniors this year. Even I forget that they are juniors. So that’s a nice thing to have.”
Normally at this time of the year, the Eagles are playing catch-up with other teams as they wait for the football players to join the team after making a deep run in the playoffs. While the football team is still playing — it faces Newark Catholic on Saturday in the state semifinals — the basketball team is full of depth and has already gotten to scrimmage a few teams.
While guys like Ryan and Condoleon are happy to see their classmates make another deep playing run in football, they are glad to get to work on the hardwood as well.
“It’s definitely nice, we’re still missing like two or three from football,” Condoleon said. “Usually in past years, we’ve been missing a lot more. But we’re hoping they win and hoping they go to the final.”
As always, the Eagles will have plenty of speed and athleticism this year, and Komlanc said this might be one of the best shooting teams he’s ever had during his time at Kennedy. They’ll press teams defensively, and they’ll look to run in transition to take advantage of that speed that guys like Condoleon and Ryan showcased on the soccer field in the fall.
So, when it comes down to things they’ll have to be successful at this year, it will be their play around the hoop. With their lack of size, the Eagles will have to rebound well in order to stay in games.
“We’re really athletic. We’re not big, but we’re quick,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have to rely on some of our guys, even our smaller guys, to grab some rebounds. But we’re going to rely on pressing and playing fast to run other teams out of the gym.”
The Eagles may get a few reinforcements after football season is over. Senior Pat Valent provided the Eagles with a little bit of size last year, but the offensive lineman is committed to Rice and is still undecided on whether or not he’ll play this season, according to Komlanc.
“I’m telling him to just wait till that season is over, and focus on that one,” Komlanc said. “But, I’ve let Pat know that we have a 3XL with his number on it if he wants to come out. That would be great because he is a senior leader, and the kids look up to him and he’s played the last three years.”
If anything is for certain, there is a winning tradition at Warren JFK and the Eagles had a ton of success during the fall season. The boys soccer team made a run to the district title game. The boys golf team made an appearance at the state tournament and the football team just recently won their third straight regional title.
Now, the Eagles are trying to bring that success to the winter sports season.
“I feel like every guy on this team is super competitive, and all we want to do is win,” Condoleon said. “So going to the district final in soccer, I feel like we’re just going to have that same taste in our mouth to go back there in basketball.”