MONTCLAIR- For a basketball program that can claim the Brooklyn Nets’ latest addition Kyrie Irving as one of its noted 1,000 point scorers, the overall approach has remained generally the same for Montclair Kimberley Academy as it was back in 2008 when Irving led the Cougars to a prep B tournament title.
The Montclair private school marches forward in very much a traditional private day-school-manner where academics clearly come first, but hoops is still very much valued as a sport to take pride in and enjoy.
In that sense, veteran coach Tony Jones likes to adhere to some of the ‘old-school’ methods such as an ‘open gym’ in the summer. After all, he’s someone who played his fair share of pick-up hoops back in the day as a scholastic hoopster at Clifford Scott when he would join his friends for summertime hoops at Columbia Park in East Orange where local legends like Cleveland Eugene might show up for a game.
It was a day and age in the late 1970s and early ‘80s when AAU basketball was still somewhat in its infant stages. The late Harry James had his own AAU all-stars and players such as Gary Garland and Clyde Bradshaw were notable ballers in the Oranges.
Today, it’s still a case of keeping things fairly simple while still providing hoops alternatives that make sense in the summer with an open gym and occasional games in a local summer league.
There aren’t the noted AAU performers on the current squad such as was certainly the case with Irving when he was at MKA and then St. Patrick’s, but the players that are on hand still enjoy the game in their own way and are preparing for what they hope will be a much better season after finishing 2-18 last winter (1-11 in the Super Essex Conference-Colonial Division).
As he prepares to enter his 19th season at the helm, Jones still enjoys the process of it all and hoops at MKA remains an important part of his coaching life.
“We open up the middle school gym three days a week in July and play a few games in the Bloomfield Summer League,” he said. “We have a good group of guys, they like playing basketball, and the good part is we have a lot of young guys who gained some valuable experience last winter.
“We had a tough season; but, while now moving up to what should be a very competitive Independence Division, I do believe we’ll be better.
“It’s just a matter of seeing how we do in the inevitable close games we’re likely to face along the way and how many of those games we can win, which will go a long way to determining just how strong we are next winter.”
The SEC-Independence, the fourth of five divisions in the Essex County league, should have a fairly evenly matched allotment of teams with an improved Belleville, Caldwell, Arts and Newark Academy all making the jump up from the Freedom Division to join MKA, Glen Ridge and West Essex.