Veteran MKA coach Tony Jones knows that his Cougars will have an uphill battle while being elevated into Super Essex Conference's third division, the Colonila, especially as they start the new season minus 10 players from last winter. (Photo by Gene Nann-genenann.smugmug.com)
A Very Young & Inexperienced MKA
Set To Face Rigors In The SEC-Colonial
|By Steve Tober
MONTCLAIR- Tony Jones loves to teach the game of basketball. Of course, he also enjoyed coaching outstanding talents such as current NBA all-star Kylie Irving when the Boston Celtics guard was a precocious high school freshman and sophomore playing for two seasons at Montclair Kimberley Academy now a decade ago before he transferred to state power St. Patrick’s of Elizabeth to finish his scholastic career.
After all, it never hurts to have talent on hand and Jones has had his share of superb players and fine teams during his first 17 seasons at the helm of MKA hoops. Even last season’s 17-10 squad which finished second to North 2, Group 1 sectional finalist Glen Ridge in the Super Essex Conference-Independence Division had its definite positive moments en route to yet another strong finish to cap the 2017-2018 campaign.
But it’s never easy for any small public or private school once June comes around, which in the case of the Cougars not only saw graduation deplete much of last winter’s rotation, but there were also two key transfers, including the team’s bona fide big man, current 6-8 junior Luke Kolaja, who decided to move his talents to Blair Academy where he is joining the likes of Seton Hall Prep transfer Jabri Abdul-Rahim, one of the nation’s top juniors, on a high level prep school hoops program.
Then, add in the fact that two expected returnees in November – starting guard Trey Wilson (fractured collarbone) and reserves forward Jack O’Connell (concussion protocol) - are not available to start this basketball season due to football-related injuries, which simply adds more obstacles in terms of reality hitting home rather hard since Jones and company enter the soon-to-be-unveiled 2018-2019 season without 10 members of last winter’s varsity squad.
Adding to the challenges ahead is in accordance with SEC guidelines for revising divisional alignments on an annual basis - and since MKA was one of the top two teams in the Independence last season - the Cougars were elevated up a division this season to the Colonial, the third of five divisions in the SEC and amongst a challenging array of teams that includes the likes of Newark Tech and University in addition to Friday night’s season-opening opponent Irvington (7 p.m. at MKA’s Fairleigh Dickinson Gymnasium).
The Cougars will be a very young squad and the only players with varsity experience suiting up for the opener will be sharp-shooting 5-10 senior guard Andrew Friedman, who was part of the 8-man rotation all of last season; and 6-3 senior forward Adam Erbes, who missed all but three games in 2017-2018 due to an injured knee which he has since had surgically repaired, went through the rigors of a full fall football season and appears fully ready to go this winter on the hardwood.
“It’s going to be a year of growth,” said Jones who is 253-204 in his first 17 seasons at the helm. “There will be struggles, but our goal is to get better, and hopefully you’ll see a much better team in February than you do in December.”
Jones has been known to implement elements of coach Bill Self’s motion offense at Kansas among other wrinkles he has added through the years as he preaches getting everyone involved in a pass-oriented offense that works on getting the open shot, which he will stress with this season’s youthful squad.
“This group is a lot of fun to work with and we’re enjoying every day at practice, which has been great,” continued Jones. “I look forward to seeing these players improving as we continue forward.”
Among the players trying to work themselves into the opening night lineup have been 5-9 junior guard Nahome Hagos and a pair of 6-1 sophomores, Noah Wolk and Bennett LaLonde.
Three freshmen – 6-0 Isiah Udofia, 6-2 Dillon Sachs and 6-3 Brennan Columbia-Walsh – could all find their way into noticeable varsity playing time as the season unfolds.
Juniors such as 6-0 Payman Mahdi and 6-2 Cole Jacobson along with 6-0 senior Aidan Williams are among the others on the varsity squad this season.
MKA will once again enter the NJ Prep Holiday Tournament at Oratory Prep, Dec. 28 and 29, opening up action vs. Morristown-Beard, 3 p.m., Friday, the 28th. Newark Academy and the host Summit parochial school are the other two teams in the 4-team event.
COUGAR CLIPPINGS-In addition to sixth-year assistant Anthony Rea, the school’s head football coach, returning to the staff, jayvee coach Pete Jensen is also back to help out on Jones’ staff, while a new member to the boys hoops coaching circles is former MKA head girls coach Jess Bishop….Jones said he should probably have a better idea in January as to when or whether or not Wilson will be able to return to the hardwood for his senior season. The standout running back-receiver-defensive back is a Football Championship Subdivision and D3 football recruit…Patience will also have to be the course of action with O’Connell who as of early December had not yet been cleared to play through the concussion protocol….MKA will return to regular season action after the holidays when it travels to Newark on Friday, Jan. 4, to face Weequahic in a 7 p.m. tip-off.
Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister
MKA basketball does not know yet when or if standout senior point guard Trey Wilson (2) can make it back this winter season on the hardwood as he continues to rehab from a broken collarbone suffered during this past fall's football season. (Photo by Doug Allen)
Tony Jones has remained a steadying force behind the success of MKA basketball for the past 17 years as he begins season No. 18. (Photo by Gene Nann-genenann.smugmug.com)
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