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West Essex rising junior forward Zac Balz puts up a shot vs. Elmwood Park in Bloomfield Summer League action in "The Pit" this past Wednesday night. The Knights are now forced to reload after graduating six of their first eight players from a fine 19-7 squad last winter. (Photos by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

West Essex's Brett Reo eyes the basket as he goes up shot vs. Elmwood Park

West Essex coach Mike Llauget talks to his Knights during a timeout

West Essex's guard Austin Goldberg puts up shot in Bloomfield Summer League game vs. Elmwood Park in "The Pit" at Bloomfield High School.

West Essex forward Michael Iaccovara (15) puts up one-hander vs. solid interior defense of Elmwood Park in Bloomfield Summer League contest.

West Essex rising senior guard Parker Rakotci penetrates as he helps make the Knights' offense flow well during summer league hoops action.

West Essex A Reloading Team
In Bloomfield Summer League
By Steve Tober

BLOOMFIELD- In ‘The Pit’ at Bloomfield High School on a recent summer evening there wasn’t any sign of Bengal legends such as Paul Lape or Todd Tripucka running up and down the hardwood in the 'old-time' atmosphere that is part of the color of the annual Bloomfield Summer Basketball League which utilizes multiple gymnasiums.

However, there were a number of young hoops squads seeking their personalities and potential rotations for 2015-2016, including one such as West Essex, which must replace six of its first eight players, including two of the top players in recent history off a 19-7 squad that gave Chatham all it could handle before falling in the North 2, Group 3 state sectional semifinals this past March.

There is a full weeknight slate of games throughout the next few weeks heading into the playoffs later in July in the hoops loop put together by Bengals head coach Pat Brunner and featuring potentially strong Essex squads such as Bloomfield, West Orange and West Side, and also potentially promising suburban squads such as the Knights of WE.

Wessex defeated Elmwood Park in a fast-paced contest after Clifton roared past a rebuilding Caldwell squad which must also replace most of its roster off a successful team this past winter campaign, one which finished second behind Newark Arts (8-2 to 9-1) in the Super Essex Conference-Independence Division.

For the Knights, assistant coach Mike Llauget rotated eight players this past Wednesday night in Bloomfield Summer League action, including the team’s one holdover starter, rising senior forward Cooper Salmon, along with a promising rising senior guard in Parker Rakotci and a number of rising juniors who will be vying for playing time in early December when official pre-season drills get into full swing, including rising junior forwards Michael Iaccovara, Brett Reo and Zac Balz junior guards Austin Goldberg and Jake Smith and sophomore forward Heith Calb.

“We had 11 seniors graduate including six of the top eight kids in our rotation and four of five starters,” said Llauget, who came in with head coach Billy Humes four years ago to take the reins of the program. “A lot of the kids competing now were playing for varsity spots last season but always had someone in front of them.

“Now, they are ready to step up and we’re going to need them, especially with the seniors we lost off of last season’s team.”

Gone are the team’s two best players, high-scoring shooting guard Gary Lombardi and productive point guard Jon Agolia along with the hustling Magliaro twins, Luke and Dom, plus forward Jakub Adamowicz.

Salmon, a 6-1 swingman, was a solid role player, while rugged rising junior forward Oliver Ortman, currently sidelined with a sprained ankle, also saw action as part of the rotation.

In watching the Knights in a wide open summertime atmosphere in ‘The Pit’ it appears that the smooth passing Rakotki has the poise and presence to make his impact in the backcourt looking ahead.

“You lose guys and you have to reload, and that’s the case for a lot of teams in this league and summer is a great time to see how the pieces might begin to fit,” continued Llauget. “We have a bunch of hard working kids who put in the time and love to compete and we’ll keep playing hard as a group.”

West Essex utilizes a 2-3 matchup zone, one that can confuse opponents with its wrinkles, and the players do a nice job making adjustments in it.

“We try to do some things a little unconventional in the 2-3 matchup, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful with it,” said Llauget. “Our kids buy into what we’re trying to do, and that’s meant some success for us on both ends of the court.”

Now, the work gets harder without Lombardi’s deft touch from the outside filling the cylinder and Agolia no longer around to drive with authority to the hoop.

“New faces will emerge and that’s part of the fun of what we do at this time of the summer,” said Llauget. “The Bloomfield Summer League is a good place for us, that’s for sure.”

Caldwell Another Essex Team That Must Reload In '15-'16

The Chiefs (15-9, 11-3), who finished second to Glen Ridge (17-7, 12-2) in the SEC-Freedom Division last winter, were hit just about as hard as West Essex by graduation, losing top forwards Hunter Smith, Nick Berlangieri and Brian Zales to graduation, although the team will return one of the SEC’s better point guards in rising senior Austin Scott.

Mike Fess, the former West Orange and Montclair Immaculate head coach, who has helped Chiefs head man Mike Mancino for several seasons with Caldwell, was on hand Wednesday night to guide the Chiefs vs. an athletic Clifton squad which dominated action for the most part.

Upcoming Bloomfield Summer League Schedule:

Tuesday, June 30:

5 p.m.: Verona vs. Kearny

6 p.m.: West Orange vs. West Side

7 p.m.: Livingston vs. Morristown-Beard

8 p.m.: MKA vs. Bloomfield


Wednesday, July 1:

5 p.m.: Livingston vs. West Orange

6 p.m.: Cedar Grove vs. Millburn

7 p.m.: Caldwell vs. Oratory Prep

8 p.m.: Bloomfield vs. West Side

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Caldwell applies the interior defense vs. Clifton in recent Bloomfield Summer League action as the Chiefs being their rebuilding process in June and July.

Caldwell and Clifton players battle for rebound in their summer league game

Longtime area coach Mike Fess, a veteran assistant at Caldwell, talks to his Chiefs during timeout in Bloomfield Summer League game against Clifton.

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