Turco, Falcons find immediate success together

Trio of local teams on state playoff bubble


Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY staff Monroe’s A.J. Rudowitz is fouled by a Spotswood player on his way to the hoop during Monday night’s game in Spotswood.CHRIS KELLY staff Monroe’s A.J. Rudowitz is fouled by a Spotswood player on his way to the hoop during Monday night’s game in Spotswood. For Monroe basketball coach Bob Turco, this season has marked an auspicious debut, to say the least.

Building on groundwork laid by predecessor Pete Lopresti, who stepped down before the campaign, Turco has led the Falcons to a 15-3 record, currently good enough to tie Colonia for the Greater Middlesex Conference White Division lead. With four games to go, Monroe has a special milestone in sight: To break the previous school record of 17 victories.

“We’ve had the number 17 printed on T-shirts and signs,” said Turco, whose club defeated Spotswood, 53-29, on Monday night. “That’s been our goal all year.”

Turco, who served a dozen years in assistant coaching posts at Carteret, Colonia and South Brunswick, inherited a core group of seniors who went 0-20 as freshmen, 2-19 as sophomores and 9-13 last year.

The team’s centerpiece — and center — is perhaps the greatest player in school history, 6-foot-6 senior A.J. Rudowitz, who in December broke the Monroe record for career points, then 1,072, and is well on his way past 1,250 now. Rudowitz, who has 22.5 points a game, to go with 13 rebounds, and between four and five blocks a contest, is also the school’s first player to sign an NCAA Division II scholarship deal — he’s heading to Stonehill College in Massachusetts next year.

“A.J. can do anything,” said Turco. “He can be a shooting guard, a center, a forward. Everything on our team flows through him.”

As for the rest of the team, no one is scoring in double figures, but there is a balanced group of contributors hitting for between four and eight ppg. Turco says a key to the success is constant practice. The Falcons played no less than 80 games, the equivalent of an NBA schedule, over the offseason. They also did five days of lifting and conditioning per week, led by personal trainer Anne Marie Germano.

Among seniors, Bernard Mitchell, a 6-1 guard who played jayvee ball last winter, came back quickly from a fractured back sustained during the offseason.

“He changed the mentality of the team as far as staying out with injuries,” said Turco. “Bernard is our best defender, and always covers the leading scorer on the other team.”

At power forward, 6-1 Kyle Horsch has an uncanny feel for rebounding, and can cover players two and three inches taller than he is, making up in quickness what he lacks in height. Horsch is averaging about six points and seven boards a night. Another senior is the reserve center, 6-3 Jonathan Franklin.

Junior Colin Horsch, who stands 6-4, is a shooting guard who has “improved tremendously,” according to his coach, and has an excellent three-point touch.

Joining him among juniors, 5-9 guard Vinnie Mahmoud has an impressive five-to-one assist-to turnover ratio, which is a boon to the offense, while Ryan Cushman (6-0) spells Mahmoud and provides a solid defensive presence. Mark Gulick, a 5-9 guard has the best three-point shot on the Falcons, Turco says, while, off the bench, 6-3, 270-pound forward Gabe Lawrence gives Monroe a formidable presence in the middle.

Lawrence missed several weeks with unexplained headaches, but has recovered and is pitching in with four points and a half-dozen rebounds a game.

Turco is extremely high on 6-3 sophomore Justin Mitchell, Bernard’s younger brother.

“He has all the tools,” said the coach. “He can dribble, shoot, post, drive and shoot three-pointers. He definitely plays older than he is.”

Rounding out the varsity, 6-1 junior guard Shamil Graham provides some stylish athleticism off the bench.

Turco has two assistants this year, in jayvee coach Paul Nelson (“my best friend since kindergarten,” Turco said) and John Bigos. They helped lead the Falcons against Sayreville last night, followed up by tomorrow’s match with South Plainfield, at which Turco hopes to see that 17th victory.

“Our slogan all year has been ‘Compete every day,’ ” he said.

But his team isn’t all about the wins and losses. On Saturday mornings, for instance, Turco also takes his entire varsity to the Academy Learning Center, where the Falcons work with autistic children.

“I think basketball is something that can be used as preparation for life,” he said, “And working with the autistic kids keeps everyone’s feet on the ground, to realize how lucky they are.”

Local teams scramble for

postseason spots

It’s crunch time for local high school hoops teams looking to qualify for the upcoming state tournaments.

For the high school basketball teams, this Saturday, Feb. 4, is the day by which they need to secure a .500 record or better to lock up a spot.

That means for a few local teams, there are only a handful of opportunities left to prove they belong in the postseason, making every matchup critical.

Heading into last night’s action, only two of the local boys squads had wrapped up postseason berths, with another team sitting on the bubble.

Both Monroe and East Brunswick (11-6) are headed to the state playoffs, while the Sayreville Bombers entered last night on the brink of elimination after a fast start this season.

The Bombers lost a tough 48-39 contest to East Brunswick on Monday to fall to 6-8 on the year. That meant they needed two wins over the next two games to get back to the .500 mark by Saturday’s cutoff. Last night, they traveled to Monroe to take on the red-hot Falcons, while tomorrow they will take on another of the GMC’s hottest teams in Woodbridge. The Barrons got off to a slow start this winter, but have emerged as one of the conference’s better teams in the last couple of weeks, during which time they knocked off No. 10 New Brunswick and No. 2 Colonia in the midst of a six-game winning streak. The went on to knock off J.P. Stevens on Saturday, and headed into last night’s game with North Brunswick at 7-8 .

That means with a win last night, the Barrons themselves would be playing for a playoff berth tomorrow night against the Bombers.

In local girls hoops, the East Brunswick girls (15-2) are the only local team with a playoff spot wrapped up, while two other teams are on the bubble.

The Spotswood Chargers lost a 45-40 contest to J.F. Kennedy on Tuesday to fall to 7-8 on the season with just today’s game with Mother Seton left on the schedule prior to the cutoff. A win means they’re in.

Meanwhile, the South River girls are another team on the edge, as they fell to 8-9 with a 63-29 loss to Cardinal McCarrick on Tuesday. The Rams will host Highland Park (0-15) later today for their shot at making the postseason.

Coming off a five-win season, and despite graduating their two leading scorers from last year, the Rams making the postseason would be one of the season’s better stories.