by Andrew Garda
The celebration started early for the Immaculate Conception High School girls basketball team during their 63-18 win over Bloomfield last Thursday, Jan. 9.
Less than two minutes into the first quarter, the game was halted in order to celebrate senior Nasira Williams’ 1,000th career point. Williams, who finished the game with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals, is Immaculate’s leading scorer on the season at 12.8 per game.
“It’s a testament to all the teammates that she had that got the assists for her, making sure she keeps getting the basketball,” said head coach James Kreie. “It’s just nice to see when hard work pays off because that takes a long time. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s pretty cool and good to watch. I’ve been blessed to see it a couple of times and it’s good stuff.”
Kreie said it’s also a special moment for the whole Williams family.
“Mom and dad have been driving her around for the last 15 years letting her play basketball, making sure she’s getting better at basketball.”
Williams was a big part of why the Lions (5-4, 2-1 SEC-American) took off to an early lead Thursday, making multiple shots from long range while also racking up steals. The rest of the team took their cues from her intensity, stifling the Bengals on both sides of the floor, holding them to just six points in the first quarter and nine in the first half.
Aside from Williams, the Lions were paced by junior Olivia Wooten’s game-high 18 points, while sophomore Niyah Whitten had eight points and both senior Jailyn Lucas and junior Bukky Akinsola scored seven each.
Junior Sydney Echevarria-Briscoe led the team with 10 rebounds while senior Azatah Lawrence had six.
With a 43-9 lead at the break, Kreie was able to get a lot of his bench players involved, something that excited the starters as they cheered hard from the bench every time a backup scored a point or made a steal.
“It was good and all the girls were on the same page, they love when that happens,” Kreie said. “We ran our stuff to the best of our ability and our full-time varsity kids love when the other kids get to score the basketball. It’s just fun to watch.”
And those kids contributed. Freshman Ariel Victor snagged a rebound, junior Damiyah Davis hit a 3-point shot in addition to her own rebound, while freshman Ariel Victor logged good minutes and contributed on both ends of the floor.
The smooth play of the Lions belies the fact that several players transferred in this season and the team looks completely in sync.
Kreie said that’s all due to the efforts of the team, not the coaches.
“It’s the kids making sure that everybody is good. The kids that were [already] here making sure that the new kids are feeling well as far as the school,” Kreie said. “The teachers, the administration, like I’ve said before, our athletic director, our principal. It’s a good family atmosphere, you know? It’s a good school.”
The Lions will gear up for the heart of their regular-season schedule in the coming weeks, having played both of Essex County’s clear top two teams — they were defeated by University, 59-35, on Jan. 7, and fell short against East Orange this past Tuesday, Jan. 14, 46-40.
Up next is a home game today, Thursday, Jan. 16, against West Orange, followed by neutral-site games Saturday and Sunday against Niagara Prep of Canada and Elizabeth. They’ll then face Nazareth High School of Brooklyn next Saturday, Jan. 25, before returning to conference play against Arts Tuesday, Jan. 28.
Additionally, ICHS figures to be among the higher seeds when the Essex County Tournament is seeded Monday, Jan. 27.
Kreie said his team is ready.
“I’m just as confident as I was when we played our first game,” he said. “The secret is just playing hard, unlocking all of our energy, making sure our bench is all up and celebrating. We can keep up with the best of the people if we sit here and play as hard as we can, [with] scrappy defense and just shooting the basketball like we know we can.
“If we play hard [like that], we’re going to be very, very hard to deal with.”