HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - “I really like the way we are playing,” said Hasbrouck Heights coach Mike Cebulla. “We are really playing well as a team, guys are playing for their teammates. It is about team success, not individual success.”
Sounds like something you hear from a coach late in the season, in the midst of a winning streak, not four days before the team’s opening game.
Cebulla, who returns a team with a good mix of experience and youth, has a reason to be excited.
Start with junior center Kunga Tsering. At 6-6, he is one of, if not the biggest player in the Meadowlands Division. A two-year starter, he is the player who outsiders are expecting to be the man to lead the Aviators this year. And he has looked the part so far in early scrimmages, according to Cebulla.
“As good as Kunga has looked so far,” said Cebulla, “Steven (Faussette) has looked just as good. He is so quick, teams can’t stay in front of him.”
Faussette, started last year, but senior Anthony Palmer was the man with the ball in his hands, on his way to 1000 career points. Now Faussette moves to his natural position, point guard, with a year’s worth of experience at the varsity level, and the opportunity to do what he does best, distribute the ball.
“It is a different team this year” said Cebulla. “Steven is so quick, teams are having trouble staying in front of him. Teams have to help out on defense, and he gets the ball to the open guy. We are a lot more balanced with who will score this year.”
Faussette is only a junior, so he and Tsering not only have chemistry from having played together before, but they have another season after this one together.
They are joined in the starting lineup by Matteo Ochoa, the Aviators All-County offensive lineman. He will handle the physical stuff inside for the Aviators. Ochoa, another unselfish player, who averaged six points and eight rebounds a game for the Aviators in 2018-19.
Will Koukoutsis, a 6-2 swingman, will play one of the wings.
“Will has started out great,” said Cebulla. “He is playing with a lot more confidence than he has in the past. I think football helped with that.”
An all-league tight end, he will help out under the boards, and give the Aviators good size for a Group 1 team. On offense, he is an effective outside shooter who is not afraid to drive the ball off the wing.
Junior Brandon Govea will start at guard opposite Faussette.
“Brandon has been really good with the ball in the scrimmages,“ Cebulla stated. “He is not turning the ball over, which is key. A second ball-handler will really help with how we want to play this year.”
Remi Sanchez (6-3, 215) and Jaden Castro (6-1) have been the first two players off the bench. Sanchez is a throw-back power forward, a banger who plays with emotion, fire, and non-stop hustle. The senior can provide quality minutes for Ochoa and Tsering when needed. Castro, a junior, is a three-point shooter, who should benefit from team’s helping out on Tsering and Faussette. At 6-1, he contributes to the Aviators' length in the top seven.
Tim Cheng at 6-3, 215 pounds, is another physical inside player that the Aviators can use for depth inside. Juniors Daniel Viola and Rocco Minichiello provide depth in the backcourt, as will sophomore Jake Diaz.
Cebulla is excited about this team.
“I am really am excited by how we look so far,” Cebulla stated. “We are going to do some things this year that we have not done in the past, as far as tempo. We have the depth to do it. And we are so much better with everyone contributing, we don’t have one player dominating the ball.”
Cebulla admitted though, that it is a luxury that he has Tsering, who can use his size and skill, to take over a game when necessary.
The Aviators open Friday night at 7 pm at Becton.
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