Red Bank Catholic senior Cyril Arvanitis, right, charges past a Rumson-Fair Haven opponent in a Jan. 13 game. Hal Brown photo
Red Bank Catholic senior Cyril Arvanitis, right, charges past a Rumson-Fair Haven opponent in a Jan. 13 game. Hal Brown photo

Based on its 10-1 record as of Jan. 14, it’s easy to assume the Red Bank Catholic boys’ basketball team has talent. But the character that lies beneath the surface is equally impressive, as witnessed by what the Caseys’ players did for head coach Tyler Schmelz last year.

Prior to the season, Tyler lost his father, Steven, who was a popular figure within RBC’s inner circle. Steven would coach the team in the spring and fall leagues when his son was unable to have contact with players due to NJSIAA rules. He also did some scouting. 

“He just really loved the program,” Schmelz said. “When he passed it was pretty painful. My seniors this year and a couple of the kids who graduated last year knew my dad pretty well. They set up a Mass for my father at St. James [Church, Red Bank]. It was a really good time for me because our spiritual [leaders] helped set it up and all the kids on the team were there for me.”

It was the perfect reflection of what the RBC program has become since Schmelz took over at his alma mater in 2016. He served as JV coach the two previous years. 

“A lot of the stuff that was really important to me had been established by the kids that came before this group,” Schmelz said. “This group is a little more basketball talented. But they do the things I like – playing hard every day, being positive, being a good teammate, enjoying being on the team and being a basketball player. When I first got started those were the things that maybe weren’t a priority … like making it fun and enjoyable, and finding success by working hard.”

To view a photo gallery of RBC's Jan. 13 win against Rumson-Fair Haven Regional, click HERE.

Schmelz’s best teaching attribute may be his simplistic approach. He tries not to over-complicate things and remains true to his main objective as a leader of young men. 

“I always remind myself this is supposed to be fun,” he said. “I’m supposed to be an educator and make it fun. Hopefully by playing for me, it helps them in the long term.” 

Schmelz has three seniors who have been with him for four years and have bought into his way of thinking – Cyril Arvanitis, C.J. Ruoff and Alex Bauman, who are all starters – along with sophomores Gioacchino Panzini and Zach Meeks. 

Bauman, an all-state tight end in football, has been the starting point guard since his sophomore year. At 6-foot-4 he is quick and agile and possesses the quality every floor general needs. 

“His best skill is probably his intelligence,” Schmelz said. “He knows the game very well and does a little bit of everything.” 

The coach describes Ruoff and Arvanitis as “gym rat type basketball players” who play year-round and love the game. Both can shoot from the perimeter and penetrate to the hoop, and also do the little things that go unnoticed to win games. 

Schmelz noted, “They’ve played a lot of basketball games and have a ton of experience. When we went to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals two years ago, they were two of the big reasons we got there. They started as sophomores and really stepped up during that run.” 

Panzini and Meeks have size and athleticism and are “great kids on and off the floor; they’re really fun to coach. I feel lucky to have them,” Schmelz said. Although Panzini is more of a guard and Meeks more of a forward, both can score inside, handle the ball, shoot and defend well.   

Rotating in are football hero Alex Brown and Tyler Burnham, who have also started some games, along with Colin Cavanaugh, Ryan Prior, Wyatt Haselbauer and Luke Iasparro.

Panzini leads the team in scoring (9.5 points per game), rebounding (60), blocked shots (24) and steals (13), but the Caseys are far from a one-man show. They are the essence of a true team in which everyone contributes. 

Entering its Jan. 13 game with Rumson-Fair-Haven, eight players contributed in the stretch that brought their 38 points to 101; eight had between 11 and 28 assists – showing how well the team shares the ball – and six had between 21 and 60 rebounds. 

“They’re very unselfish,” Schmelz said. “We have a lot of very smart, experienced players who have played a lot of basketball and they all get along very well. … There’s times where I’ve told them to be more aggressive and look to shoot because they pass on shots they should take. But it’s always better to be like that than to have kids who want to force up shots for themselves.”   

The coach added that all 11 of his players could start for another team and each has a special skill set that they have meshed with each other. The competition is so even throughout the squad that the second team will sometimes defeat the first team in practice. 

“Every day practice is a battle,” Schmelz said. “It’s super competitive.”

The Caseys’ lone loss was by three points to Holmdel in the WOBM Holiday Classic championship game, which they avenged with a 46-40 regular-season victory Jan. 8. They face a major test Jan. 15 against Shore Conference rival Christian Brothers Academy of Lincroft, as CBA was 9-0 as of Jan. 12. 

It should be another in a long line of huge battles for RBC, which had high expectations this year due to its talent and experience. But Schmelz does not want anyone thinking about the Shore Conference or state tournaments until the time arrives; the focus should be the here and now. 

“You could think down the line of all the things you can win, but once the season starts, the best way to get the things you want is to concentrate one day at a time,” the coach said. “That’s always been my mentality. Don’t talk about things that are happening in the future with the team. You get to what you want in the future by thinking about doing the best you can today. Enjoying the journey is the best part.”