Setter Boys’ Basketball Rebounds After Pandemic Disruption


photo Ally Dolores

Co-captains Marcus Shields and Jared Vargas defend their basket against Lab Museum United.

The boys’ basketball team has gone through a roller coaster season, but one thing most fans can agree on is that the Setters have overperformed this year. The team’s unexpected success is built on veteran players coming into their own and new players showing grit and tenacity.

Returning players have fulfilled their purpose and showed the effect that Coach Lee’s philosophy has on players who are willing to put in the work.

Star co-captain and senior Jared Vargas went from scoring a conservative eight points per game to a dynamic 23 points, recently putting up a 46-point performance against East Side Community. He feels like he has to be an “example” to the team as captain.

Jared has been deemed as a “killer” and an “assassin” by Coach Lee. When asked about the possibility of making the playoffs, Vargas responded with a confident “Hell, yeah!” which is what all Pace fans want to hear from their co-captain.

Returning standout Marcus Shields, senior, had a quiet bump in all his stats as he went from averaging eight points, three rebounds, one assist to 11 points, four rebounds, and one assist in his second year as co-captain. Shields shows players that a full commitment pays off by being the one with the most experience on the whole team, something the coaches already knew.

Role player, Alsseny Diallo, junior, has blossomed into a potential star this year. From barely seeing much court time last season, to exceeding expectations this season. With 54 points 32 rebounds and 11 assists with six games remaining in the season and playing in all the games so far, showing he just needed more time on the court.

Who is pulling the strings on this team’s success? Court general, Omar Martinez, junior, with his unorthodox basketball build and even more unorthodox back-to-the-basket guard play style. Last season, his role as a back-up point guard limited him to two assists. This year, Coach Lee let him off the leash. Martinez is playing most of the game and having five assists per game.

New players have given the team a bit of spirit by getting their hands dirty behind the scenes. Seniors Patrick Cespedes and Mohamed Haydara, and junior Leslie Ormsby have the perfect combination of rebounding and defense, having 123 rebounds as a trio.

For years, the boys’ basketball team was the gem of the Setter sports program, outperforming the other sports programs with back-to-back undefeated seasons and deep playoff runs. The Setter basketball team was a force to be reckoned with but all this came to an end once the pandemic hit.

Head Coach, Mr. Lee was not able to play the kind of basketball he wanted, being stripped of the three- to four-year development that most starters get on his teams. Due to this, the past couple seasons have been disappointing compared to prior years. In addition, two key players were expected to return, Josmar Acevedo and Iziah Gonzalez, who Coach Lee said were the “best at the end of last year.”

Being bumped up a division from BIV last year to BI this year has been a difficult task due to the team facing more challenging competition.

Accounting for the hardships this season, the Setters have exceeded expectations. Even Coach Lee stated that this year’s team has performed “over” his expectations and that it would be “hard” for him to say he expected the team to be where they are this year.

But what was the team’s big struggle last season and what is the difference this season? The list is extensive. There were a number of first-year seniors that missed out on development and two freshman classes with the 2021-22 school year being sophomore’s first year in the building. This created a team where their experience was scarce.

Coach Lee claimed that in last year’s team, “none of them earned court time which is dangerous” and this year’s players have “earned their court time.”

Vargas attributes this year’s success to team play, stating last year’s team was “all good individually and couldn’t work as a team.” He feels that in this year’s team “everyone is working together on defense, and offense is still an issue.”

Mr. Suriel has taken on the role of assistant coach, filling a void left by past assistant coaches Pino and Lapointe. Coach Lee also coaches girls’ volleyball in the fall so coaching two teams back to back can be draining for Coach Lee. This lack of help that Lee faced led to him “lagging a little bit,” but new Coach Suriel’s arrival has given Lee and the team “more life,” says Lee. Lee is glad to have a coach that he “likes and respects and especially can lean on.”

Coach Suriel is not someone new to Lee’s system as he was a former Setter from 2011-13. Suriel knows what it’s like to play team basketball and particularly without a “basketball body,” as Lee likes to say. Coach Suriel thinks that with an assistant coach, the program will become “more productive” as it’s “hard for one coach to reach 20 players.” Coach Suriel also feels like the team’s shortcomings this season are accredited to the lack of “dog” in players while playing defense.

Due to this, Coach Suriel feels like this season is a “developing year” for the team so they can one day reach the final eight again, just as Mr. Suriel did in his days as a Setter.

The Setters’ identity is in peril and will likely never return to the former glory that it had pre-pandemic for a plethora of reasons. At the top of the list is the fact that fewer high schoolers are willing to “buy in early,” Lee stated.

Secondly, the school has been blessed with a college-level coach like Coach Lee. How long will the setters have this high quality of coaching? With Coach Suriel’s addition, will the Setters be able to rise to the occasion and return to deep playoff runs in future? Only time will tell.

In the meanwhile will this year’s team be able to make that final push to return the Setters to playoff glory? All of this is uncertain but with established coaching, a mix of veteran and promising players. However, the future looks nothing but interesting for the current and future achievement of Setter basketball.