NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -- The New Providence boys basketball team spent the last couple of seasons in the rarified air rubbing elbows with the Union County elite.
That history-making stretch culminated with the Pioneers winning the Group 1 state championship over Burlington City last March. Head coach Art Cattano capped his 36th season on the job with a hard-fought loss to heavy favorite Newark East Side in the first round of the Tournament of Champions.
Cattano is back for his 37th season, but most of that storied cast of players from the state championship team have graduated. The holdovers are senior guards Sean Dillon and Owen Kovacs.
New Providence opens its season at home Monday at 1 p.m. against Morris Catholic.
Dillon, a point guard who will continue playing basketball at Division 2 Seton Hill University next year, is an ideal cornerstone for a new group of Pioneers to build their own legacy around. Last season, Dillon was one of four players on the team to average more than 10 points per game. He finished with 11.2 points per game, a team-high 9.0 assists a game, 66 steals (also best on the team) and 53 3-point baskets, which was second on the team.
Kovacs will move from a regular rotation reserve last season into a starting role this year. The quarterback on the football team, Kovacs was a reliable outside shooter and an athletic spark off the bench for the basketball team last season.
An experienced backcourt will be counterbalanced by a rebuilt front line, with junior forwards James Reilly and Tim Walsh and junior center Carsten Schumm. Sophomore guard Nick Bissacia will back up Dillon and Kovacs.
"We are very excited about this season," said Cattano, whose career record is 524-322, "and look forward to competing at a high level every day in practice and games."
Although Dillon is a definite asset, how the rest of the team will gel is still unproven. A seasoned point guard with a winning pedigree and a legendary coach who has won two state championships offer hope that 2019-2020 will be another fulfilling season in New Providence.
"It's too early to tell (our strengths and weaknesses)," Cattano said, "however we have great team chemistry."
Following Monday's opener, the Pioneers will make their traditional appearance in the Chatham holiday tournament, beginning Friday, Dec. 27. New Providence will play Chatham, Madison and Somerville in the tournament.