For Jaren Sina '13, life has certainly come full circle. The Gill St. Bernard’s basketball standout – a three-time All-State guard who holds the school’s scoring record of 2,146 points, all while playing for his father, Mergin Sina, the famed coach who put the Knights on the national map – now lives across the street from his beloved alma mater with his wife and high school sweetheart, Cassie Mireski '11, and their baby boy, Brayden.
What’s more, Jaren is following his dad’s lead as he becomes the boys’ basketball coach at nearby Bernards High in Bernardsville. “I’m excited, after growing up in Somerset County and now coaching here, it’s an excellent opportunity,” said Jaren. “It’s amazing that I’ll be in the same county where my dad is coaching. I’m going in to help the program get better and win.”
Jaren has both the experience and expertise to build a winning team. Take his time at Gill: A four-star recruit, he ranked among the top 100 high school players nationally his senior year, according to ESPN.com. As a three-time Somerset County Player of the Year, he is often credited with boosting the Knights to become a formidable force. He ended his high school career as the all-time lead scorer and assist leader in Somerset County history (averaging 21.3 points, 9 assists per game) and finished second for three-pointers, with 117 his final season.
Although being the coach’s kid wasn’t always easy, Jaren appreciated his father’s dedication. “Playing for my dad was tough, but it’s amazing what he built at Gill,” he said. “When my dad started, Gill was not known for its basketball program. By my junior year, we were the top fifteenth team in country. Now Gill has the number one player in the country. To look back and see the program when I played and now, I couldn’t be prouder.”
More than two decades ago, when Coach Mergin Sina came to Gill as a former Division 1 player and professional athlete, the basketball program needed attention. “It’s more rewarding and gratifying if you can build something that needs work,” said Coach Mergin Sina. “I started at Gill with girls’ team and struggled for a few years, but we built a culture and chemistry. Then people get excited about the program, and it builds.”
The same can be said for the boys’ squad. In recent years, GSB has emerged as one of the best programs in Somerset County and New Jersey, winning 12 Skyland Conference titles and seven Somerset County Championships. Gill alumni who pursued collegiate careers include Paul Mulcahy '19 (Rutgers), Alex Mitola '12 (George Washington), Dominic Hoffman '12 (Bucknell), Zach Martini '20 (Princeton), and Tyus Battle (Syracuse). This season, GSB will look to team-leader Denver Anglin '22, its guard named by NJ.com "one of the most dangerous playmakers in the state."
For his son, Coach Mergin Sina sees a similar career trajectory as his own. While Bernards earned a winning 9-4 record last season, this year will be building one as the team lost the bulk of its starters to graduation. Although the two men have opposite coaching styles, Jaren plans to bring the same level of devotion to his athletes.
“My dad and I are two different personality types – he is vocal and loud, and I’m definitely quieter, but I’m as passionate as my dad,” said Jaren. “He dedicates so much time to his players and the program. The way he puts in his time, on and off the court, with training during the off-season and summer camps. He’s always there for his players. Even today, players who graduated 10 years ago seek him out. I’m going to take all that from him and instill it in my program.”
In fact, Jaren already jumped ahead this past summer by running youth basketball camps in Bernardsville. Since college, he has enjoyed coaching kids at Sina’s Hoop Academy, founded by his dad in 2009, and where Jaren now serves as program director.
Just like his father, Jaren also brings his college and professional experience to his coaching. For two years, Jaren started for Seton Hall and was ranked in the top 10 in the Big East Conference for three-pointers. Named to the Big East All-Rookie team his freshman year, he still considers this his “coolest accolade yet.” Jaren finished his college career at George Washington University, landing in the Atlantic Conference’s top 10. Then came European ball, playing for Estonia, France, Austria, and Poland. While starting for the Kosovo national team, Jaren competed against current MBA players, including Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic.
“I was lucky and blessed to play professional basketball in Europe, where I got paid to play the game I love,” he said. “I played at highest level in college and the highest level in international basketball, but my best experience was playing at Gill. We had a special team. My best friends and groomsmen were on my team. Gill has a special place in my heart.”
While it may take some adjustment to root for a high school team other than GSB, Jaren is excited to start his new coaching role with the Mountaineers. As for Coach Mergin Sina, he can’t wait until Jaren grows Bernards’ basketball program so that one day father and son can compete. That would be a game worth watching.
Story by Alice Roche Cody