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April 3, 2014


(Newark, NJ) – During its Wednesday, April 2, 2014, meeting at the Hall of Records, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored basketball teams from two Newark public high schools for winning 2014 state championships: the Group 1 State Champion Malcolm X Shabazz Girls Basketball Team, and the Group 3 State Champion East Side Boys Basketball Team.  The Board’s commendations were presented by Freeholders Carol Clark of East Orange, Rufus Johnson of Newark and Gerald Owens of South Orange.

Members of the N. J. Group 1 State Champion Malcolm X Shabazz H. S. Girls Basketball Team were honored by the Board during its April 2nd meeting at the Hall of Records.  The players are pictured above with Freeholders Carol Clark (3rd row, 2nd from left), Gerald Owens (3rd row, 4th from left) and Rufus Johnson (back row, center).  Also pictured is Head Coach Vanessa Watson (1st row, 3rd from right).  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

The Malcolm X Shabazz High School Girls Basketball Team re-affirmed itself as New Jersey’s premier girls basketball team by first capturing the 2014 Group 1 State Championship and then going on to win the 2014 Tournament of Champions.  In state tournament competition, the team first defeated Arts H.S. (60-31), Bloomfield Tech H.S. (74-38) and then New Providence High School (56-34) to win the North 2, Group 1 Sectional Championship, before going on to defeat Midland Park H.S. (78-46) and then Haddon Township H.S. (80-49) to capture the Group 1 State Championship on March 16, 2014.   The team then competed in the Tournament of Champions where it first defeated St. Rose H.S. (53-44) and then Manasquan H.S. (69-55) to capture the Tournament of Champions title on March 24, 2014.

The Lady Bulldogs finished their season with an outstanding 33-1 record during which they also went undefeated (12-0) in the Super Essex Conference as its champions, and won their 6th straight Essex County Tournament Championship (17th overall and 12th in the last 13 years).  They were also ranked by The Star-Ledger as the #1 team in New Jersey and the #4 Team in the country according to USA Today.  The team also tied two state records this year; first, by winning back-to-back Tournament of Champions titles for only the second time in the 26-year history of the tournament, matching the achievement of the Shabazz teams in 2002 and 2003; and second, by tying the state record of six TOC titles overall.

Shabazz, which has long-established the standard for excellence for girls basketball in New Jersey, previously won Group 3 state championships in 1983, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009; then moved to Group 2 where it won four consecutive state championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013; before moving again, this time to Group 1, to win the 2014 state championship.

The team was comprised of the following members: seniors Doniyah Cliney, Zaire O’Neil, DeAshia Jones, Altiliyah Butler, Naquaisha Rattray, Syonah Williams, Briana Franklin and Rahkiya Abdullah; juniors Acestra Robinson, Ivana Negron, Robin Engleman and Al-Quannisa Loyal; and sophomoreKayleen Ocasio.  It was coached by Head Coach/Athletic Director Vanessa Watson and Assistant Coaches Jania Sims, Deborah Wilkerson and Simone Baskerville.

“Basketball is in my DNA, especially when it comes to girls and women’s basketball”, said Freeholder Carol Clark, “because I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of having coached at the high school, collegiate, AAU and Youth Games levels.”  “I mention that”, she added, “because I also coached your Head Coach, Vanessa Watson, in the summer Rucker League, when she was a little girl, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that she has gone on to become an outstanding coach, mentor and legend, in the sport.”  She also complimented the team by saying that she has always referred to the state tournament as the “Shabazz Invitational.”

“It gives us great honor to come here and be recognized by you, and to know we have the support of our freeholders, our city and our county”, said Coach Watson.  “We put a lot of time in, and it just proves that hard work pays off.”  She went on to say, “I always want to be sure our players are prepared for the next level, and it makes me feel good as a coach when a former player calls me to say, ‘coach, thanks a lot, because I can handle this now, you really prepared me’, because that’s what it’s all about.” 

Speaking on behalf of her teammates, senior Zaire O’Neil, who was also named to the All-State 1st Team, thanked the freeholders saying how much the team enjoys coming to the Hall of Records each year, adding, “With our success, at times there are people who want us to lose, but it’s good to know that we do have people on our side.”

Members of the N. J. Group 3 State Champion Newark East Side H. S. Boys Basketball Team were honored by the Board during its April 2nd meeting at the Hall of Records.  The players are pictured above with Freeholders Carol Clark (2nd row, far right), Gerald Owens (2nd row, far left) and Rufus Johnson (back row, center).  Also pictured are Principal Dr. Mario Santos (front row, far left), “Coaches of the Year” Bryant Garvin and Anthony Tavares, and Assistant Coach John Thomason.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

The Newark East Side High School Boys Basketball Team won the 2014 Group 3 State Championship when it defeated Ewing High School, 83-56, at the Rutgers Athletic Center on March 16, 2014.  In State Tournament competition, the Red Raiders first defeated Governor Livingston H. S. (53-14), Mendham H. S. (55-41), Orange H. S. (63-56) and then Summit H. S. (54-25) to win the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 Sectional Championship, before going on to defeat Teaneck H. S. (54-47) and then Ewing H.S to capture the Group 3 State Championship for the second consecutive year, and only the third time in school history.  The team earned the right to compete in the Tournament of Champions where it defeated Roselle Catholic (46-45) to reach the championship game.

The team finished its season with an outstanding overall record of 30-2, including an 11-1 record in the Super Essex Conference.  It also won the Newark Public Schools Christmas Tournament Championship and the Essex County Tournament Championship, was ranked by The Star-Ledger and NJ Hoops as the #2 team in New Jersey, as the Tri-State’s #2 team by MSG Varsity, and as the country’s #14 team by USA TODAY.

The team was comprised of the following members: seniors Abdul Lewis, Elijah Afuola, Akbar Hoffman, Jamar Gilbert, Re’Quan Lynn, Ismael Sanogo and Antonio Willis; juniors Jibreel Ahmad, Ahmad Harrison and Taj Price; sophomoresDeshaun White and Arthur Mitchell; and freshmen Amadu Benbow, Elijah Olaniyi and Darnell Brodie.  They were coached  
by Head Coaches Bryant Garvin and Anthony Tavares, who were recognized as “Coaches of the Year” by The Star-Ledger and MSG Varsity, as well as Assistant Coaches John Thomason, Troy Long, Edwin Mendez, Daniel Sharpe, Lamar Williams and Uron Hawkins.

Freeholder Rufus Johnson began the presentation by saying, “As an East Side alumnus, I am very, very proud to stand before you today to honor a great team that I’ve seen grow into one of the city’s and the state’s powerhouses, the East Side High Red Raiders, who are back here again for the second year in a row as Group 3 State Champions.”

Speaking of Coaches Garvin and Tavares, Principal Dr. Mario Santos said, “No team becomes great by accident, and these two gentlemen are the visionary leaders who brought out the potential of their players to win a state championship.”

After congratulating the Shabazz girls, Coach Garvin spoke proudly of his team, saying “I have to take my hat off to my guys”, pointing out that it was only their first time in a Tournament of Champions title game, “but they battled and they didn’t quit, and we look forward to being back there again.”  Coach Tavares also spoke about the growth of the boys’ basketball program at East Side, which traditionally has not been a basketball power, saying “We look to the Shabazz model, because Coach Watson does it right”.  “We’ve now won 3 state championships and two in a row, and although we’re not there yet, we hope someday people will talk about East Side in the same breathe as Shabazz.”

Freshman Elijah Olaniyi, speaking on behalf of his teammates, said “I’m glad to be a part of this East Side team, and hopefully, or most likely, we’ll be back again next year.”


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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders




Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695