“It’s fantastic; things are going well. I can’t be any happier than I am now,” Giraldo said.
The coach is never at a loss for adrenalin going back to his playing days at Marist High School in Bayonne and Monmouth University, where he scored 1,749 career points and finished first in steals and second in assists at the NCAA Division I school. He played on the 1995-96 team that earned the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“We have kids who can shoot the ball and run up and down the court and who are quick,” Giraldo said. “We’re not going to out-physical or be bigger than most teams.”
Giraldo succeeds longtime Matawan coach Tom Stead, who stepped down to become director of athletics at Lakewood High School. Stead coached the Huskies to their finest season two years ago with a program-best 24-5 record and their first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title since 1957 behind Jason Dunne, who went on to a college career at the University of Hartford.
Only one starter, Mergim Gyjrigi, returns from last year’s team that went 15- 12 and lost, 50-47, to Manasquan High School in the Central Jersey, Group II semifinals. Sharp-shooting guard Joe Piscopo is the top player who graduated.
“We’re finding our niche, getting guys who can shoot the ball good looks,” said Giraldo, whose season opener is 6:45 p.m. Dec. 18 hosting Neptune High School.
The Huskies had a tri-scrimmage with Lakewood and Notre Dame High School Dec. 7. They had home scrimmages against Barnegat High School Dec. 10 and Governor Livingston High School Dec. 12, followed by a road scrimmage against Freehold Township High School Dec. 15.
“I want to make sure they’re competing all the time,” Giraldo said. “It’s a high-energy team where every play is fast paced.”
Gyjrigi, a 6-foot-3 senior, scored nine points per game last year, but Giraldo said he likes that he has stepped forward to a leadership role after playing in the shadows of Piscopo and Dunne, who starred on the section championship team. Giraldo said he is happy how the players developed while in a fall league in Linden that included teams from the Patrick School in Elizabeth, Snyder High School in Jersey City and Roselle Catholic High School, where Giraldo was an assistant coach the past eight seasons. Roselle Catholic reached the Tournament of Champions the last three years, winning the overall title this past season and two years before that.
Giraldo also played on Marist’s team that advanced to the 1992 Tournament of Champions finals, losing, 46-42, to Shawnee High School. Marist was ranked No. 3 in the nation in USA Today at the time.
Giraldo’s teams that reached the Tournament of Champions as player and coach beat nationally acclaimed St. Anthony High School to win the Non-Public B title all four times to get to the state showcase.
He also played internationally in five different countries: Colombia (Piratas of Bogota and Paisas of Medellin), where he was a three-time MVP; Venezuela (Trotamundos of Valencia); Portugal (Ginasio of Figuera de Foz); Germany (Poco Izerlohn); and Argentina (Obras Sanitaria). It gave him the experience he used toward his coaching career and the importance of being committed to hard work.
Now he is trying to guide Matawan’s players to understand the commitment needed to compete at that level.
It starts with Gyjrigi, a power forward who can hit the jump shot, rebound and handle the ball.
“[He is] an extremely good shooter with good basketball IQ who can fill in for a lot of spots,” the coach said.
Randy Myers, a 6-foot-3 senior forward with high energy and good rebounding ability, is expected to contribute. Junior Pat Hennessey is a good shooter who will be asked to play an expanded role along with 6-foot-2 sophomore Reggie Towiah and 6- foot-2 sophomore guard Michael Dunne, Jason’s brother.
Giraldo said Michael Dunne can shoot but has to learn to play on the varsity level.
Sophomore Zaire Jackson is extremely quick at the point guard spot, Giraldo said. Joe Bueckers, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, is the tallest player.
“We’ll look to be extremely aggressive on defense because we have extremely good guards who can put on the pressure,” Giraldo said.
Mike Pelkey remains as varsity assistant and junior varsity coach and John Saffiano is freshman coach.