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Jan 05, 2022

Brookdale Men’s Basketball Team Led by Talented Freshmen

By Tim Morris

The one sophomore on Brookdale’s roster is a veteran of the 2018 national championships squad, 6-foot-2 guard Fes Cabrera. Photo courtesy of Tom Smith, Brookdale Athletics

Things have fallen in place quicker than would be expected for a freshmen-dominated roster like that of Brookdale Community College’s men’s basketball team. Thirteen of Head Coach Paul Cisek’s 14 players are freshmen and yet, they have played well enough this season to be ranked 14th nationally (they’ve already defeated No. 12 Middlesex, 90-82) – so much for growing pains.

“The big thing for me is that we’ve started to share ball,” said Cisek of BCC’s fast start (7-0). “What happened is the kids started to adapt from high school to college. Scoring is a lot different. The players are more mature and more physical. You have to run your plays. You need more time. It takes teammates. We’re sharing the ball well.”

Cisek credits Brookdale being invited to play in the Jersey Shore Summer League this past summer as a big factor behind the team’s gelling quickly for the 2021-22 campaign.

“The league is very competitive,” Cisek pointed out. “I saw a lot of guys progress from the first game to the last. Our kids got better. It was good for them.”

With summer league experience behind them, Blues came flying out of the gate. Defense has been a big reason for the team averaging 90 points a game. It has fueled the transition running game, leading to a score of fast-break points.

“Our defense is very aggressive with our man-to-man traps,” Cisek said. “It’s causing turnovers and leading to fast-break points.”

Bad news for Brookdale’s opponents later this season is that the defense is only going to get better. Cisek explained that as the season goes on, Brookdale will rotate its defenses and give offenses even more looks. From strict man-to-man to half-court man to 2-3 zone press, the Blues will throw it all at opponents.

The one sophomore on Brookdale’s roster is a veteran of the 2018 national championships squad, 6-foot-2 guard Fes Cabrera, of Perth Amboy. Following the championship campaign, where he was the team’s sixth man, Cabrera decided go to work. With the pandemic impacting the economy, he returned to Brookdale this fall and has been just what the young Blues needed.

“He has matured and brings energy,” said Cisek. “He goes all out. The other plays see how hard he plays.”

Cabrera has been sparking the offense, averaging a team-high 22 points a game. He is also leading the club in rebounds, averaging just under nine a game. 

Cabrera hasn’t had to do it alone offensively, which is why the Blues sit atop Region 19 in the early going (6-0 in Region play). Hackensack’s Kevin Mateo (17.1), Matawan’s Andre Wells (12.6) and Matawan’s Niles Halliburton (11.7) are averaging double figures, making Brookdale’s offense difficult to defend. Ryan Neely (Freehold Borough) provides shooting off the bench, and Devin Strickland (South Brunswick), Coby Sylvester (Passaic), Dan Golaszewski (Sayreville) and Dasan Jones (Bergen Charter) provide backcourt depth. Wells, Cabrera and Mateo and been working well together with all three averaging more than three assists a game. Wells is the starting point guard. The Blues are a well-rounded club. Besides shooters like Cabrera, Mateo, Wells and Halliburton, the team has size inside, forcing teams to defend the paint and providing space for its guards. Jackson Liberty grad Tim Gjonballa, who is 6-foot-8, is among the leading forces in the paint.

“He’s very skilled,” Cisek said of his center. “He’s getting better and has a good upside.”

Andrew Solomon (Manasquan) is 6-foot-5 and Ronn Flood (Union), 6-foot-3. Flood is one of Brookdale’s best defenders, according to Cisek.

Brookdale is also deep, which has allowed the Blues to keep constant pressure on clubs and wear them down. In the victory over Middlesex, Brookdale outscored Middlesex 53-40 in the second half for a come-from-behind win.

Cisek is excited about Brookdale’s future with those 13 freshmen. That future, it has turned out, is now.