Panthers New Head Coach Brings Back Stars From Past to Help Restart Boys Basketball Program
PERTH AMBOY, NJ—One of two major cities in Middlesex County, Perth Amboy has had a rich history in boys basketball. With the likes of the late Bill Buglovsky and his protege, Ray Newman, who is still coaching today in the Metuchen boys basketball program as well as John Mazurek, Neil Kennett, and Edwin Santana, the Panthers were always a well respected program if not feared, especially in its heyday.
Unfortunately, times changed for this program. Once a dominant presence in Middlesex County with numerous county and sectional championships as well as a state title from 1968 along with many 1,000 point scorers, and even a couple 2,000 point scorers, Perth Amboy has struggled in recent years in a high school boys basketball world not forseen by many 50 years ago. The Panthers have had their moments though over the past 30 years or so, but they have not come as often as they did back in the days of Brian and Blake Taylor.
For example, there was the great 1992-93 superteam that included the likes of Jose Urena, Rah-Shun Roberts, Adam Rivera, and Ronald Snipes that dominated the GMC for much of that season before being stunned by South Brunswick in the 1993 GMCT Semifinals at Rutgers. Yours truly saw that team up close and personal while being a volunteer coach with Jeff Lubreski at South Plainfield that season. It was the opening round of the GMCT, which was the last year of only a 16 team field before the open tourney format was introduced in 1994.
The Tigers managed to squeak in as the 16th seed ahead of the likes of Colonia, Sayreville, and Spotswood among others thanks to a late season overtime win over Carteret (38-34) at home. SPHS faced the daunting task of playing top seeded Perth Amboy at in the opening round at Middlesex County College, and fell behind 18-1, and trailed 33-14 at the half en route to a 76-32 defeat to the Panthers although the Tigers played South Brunswick twice, and lost to the Vikings by an average of six points per game in the two meetings, and led 36-25 on opening night before giving way to a 20-4 fourth quarter Viking surge to lose 45-40.
There were other teams prior to that, which had similar potential. The 1990 Amboy team also dominated much of the 1989-90 season including wins over a John Somogyi coached St. Joseph’s team in Metuchen during the regular season. Those Panthers were known for the Killer C’s of Cross, Carpenter, and Juan Collazo, who all were very proficient from beyond the arc. Sam Pritchard, who made the 1990 All GMCT Team, was also a key contributor. Unfortunately, like the 1992-93 Panthers, this team experienced heartbreak in the form of a last second loss to a J.F. Kennedy team (54-53) led by Lenny Reyes and Jamie Panko, and coached by Ken Pace in the 1990 GMCT Championship. Ray Mulero made two free throws with no time left to lift the Mustangs to the title.
The 1985-86 Amboy team, which was coached by John Mazurek, consisted of the likes of Andre Heard, William Penneyfeather, and Ray Valentin, defeated the Gary Battle and Fred Herzog led Colonia Patriots in the 1986 GMCT Quarterfinals before losing to New Brunswick in the semifinals. The 1988 team led by Ray Stewart, and had a supporting cast that consisted of Darryl Cross and John Carpenter, defeated the likes of Buck Jenkins, Melvin Nelson, and Adam McLaughlin in the opening round of the GMCT at MCC, but then lost to top seeded St. Peter’s in the Elite Eight before reaching the Central Jersey Group 4 Semifinals at South Plainfield, where they lost to Manalapan.
There have also been several instances since 1992-93, and that included the 1998-99 Panthers coached by Kennett. Those Panthers, led by the likes of Ralph Lora, who ended up being a 1,000 point scorer at Kean University, received the 14th seed In that year’s tourney. After defeating 19th seeded Edison in the preliminary round, Amboy forced 3rd seeded North Brunswick into overtime, and then pulled out the road win in the extra session to advance to the 1999 GMCT Elite Eight. There, at MCC, the Panthers defeated 6th seeded St. Peter’s to become the lowest seed ever to reach the GMCT Final Four. In the semifinals, the Panthers would come up short against 2nd seeded Colonia.
Four years later, another Amboy team would come along that would spark the hopes and dreams of a city still clinging to memories of its historic past. The 2002-03 Panthers team was a good blend of experience and youth with the likes of senior Brett Brown along with sophomores such as eventual 1,000 point scorer Jermaine Clark and Marcus Carty. During that season, Perth Amboy showed the great potential it had by defeating eventual GMCT finalist St. Joseph’s at Amboy. Those Panthers also included the likes of the late Richie Pryce, Tyrone Burch, and Jefferson Mwango. Amboy’s season was cut short though in the GMCT Quarterfinals by South Plainfield, which began a run of five years with back to back GMCT titles and four GMCT Final Four appearances.
Perth Amboy has gone through some coaching changes since then. Santana came along and guided the Panthers to a GMCT Elite Eight berth in 2011, and a GMCT Final Four berth for the first time since 1999 in 2015. Players like J.D. Rodriguez, Hamilton Cappellan, Carlos Done, Marquise Irizarry, and Nate Melendez contributed to those teams. Former St. Anthony’s assistant, Julius David also coached the Amboy team led by Joshua Hernandez and Alfeny Javier that reached the GMCT Quarterfinals as a 12th seed two seasons ago. Now, new head coach, Jeff Gumbs is trying to resurrect the program, and looking to former players like Clark, who played college hoops at NCAA Division II St. Rose in Albany, New York and his brother Damon to help build a new tradition of winning.
Gumbs was in the program around the time Clark was at Perth Amboy. Graduating in 2006, Gumbs played with the likes of Drew Welch, Jamar Bridgeforth, Lamound McGibboney, Curtis Jefferson, and Edwin Guerra. Gumbs has remained close to the program as well as the football program, and has recently served as an assistant in both. He inherited a team that won only two games a year ago, and lost in overtime to Metuchen in the 2019 GMCT Play-In round last February. Gumbs has brought a youthful energy and a link to the programs rich past to this year’s team.
Instilling those great qualities into players like senior Quasim Jackson, who was a key contributor off the bench for the 2016-17 Amboy team that lost to Carteret in the GMCT Quarterfinals, Gumbs has got the Panthers off to a great start with a 4-1 record that has earned a No. 10 ranking in the latest GMC Hoops Top Ten with wins over two top five 2019 GMCT seeds in Old Bridge (68-60) and Piscataway (66-60). The team also has an interesting blend of youth and experience with the likes of promising freshman guard, Lorenzo Perez complementing veterans such as Jackson, Ralphy Castillo, Rafael Hernandez, Elby Nunez, and junior forward, Joseph Duran.
Jackson has been the leader of the group though by averaging 18.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 assists per game along. The senior guard, who played well for the Panthers in the Elizabeth Fall League including a win over Colonia on October 30th, has scored at least 20 points in three games this season including a season high of 27 points in the overtime win over Old Bridge on January 2nd. Hernandez, who brings a lot of energy into the game along with a relentless attack to the basket each time he sees a crease in the opposing defense, has also contributed by averaging 8.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 steals, and 1.2 assists per game.
Nunez has been a solid performer for the Panthers this season also. Nunez, who was selected to the 2017 GMC Hoops All Amboy Freshmen Tournament team three seasons ago, is averaging 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game including a 15 point performance in a nail biting 55-52 win over Johnson Regional in the Consolation Game of the 2019 John “Butch” Kowal Holiday Tournament in Rahway on December 29th.
Duran is only averaging one point per game off the bench so far this season, but has been a key cog in the middle by grabbing an average of 3.4 rebounds per contest. Perez, who has averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 assists per game thus far this season according to nj.com, had a tremendous debut performance of 18 points including 9 from the foul line to help Amboy hold off a late fourth quarter rally by Piscataway for a 66-60 victory.
Perth Amboy, which has already doubled its win total from a year ago, has a short week this week with only two games versus East Brunswick at home on Tuesday, January 7th, and on the road at Monroe on Thursday, January 9th. Both games are scheduled for 7:00 PM. Next week, Amboy will have a big test when it hosts newly crowned top ranked St. Joseph’s at home next Tuesday, January 14th. The Falcons have experienced some ups and downs early on, but recently rolled past Piscataway (79-52) on January 2nd, and knocked off GMC Hoops pre-season number one, St. Thomas Aquinas at the 2020 SFIC Festival on Sunday afternoon at Kean University.