Friday, January 22, 2016

Pink Whistle: Nutley vs. South Orange-Maplewood

South Orange-Maplewood in the huddle between quarters. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

BY RAY FLORIANI

Nutley, NJ -­ Saturday, a busy time for high school, travel, and recreation basketball. A host of available games, from nine in the morning to nine at night. On tap last Saturday was a fifth-grade girls contest here in Nutley, the town just across from my Lyndhurst home, separated by the ‘majestic’ Passaic River. The venue was the Parks and Rec Complex, a nice facility with a good floor, ample lighting and just about a half-mile from my favorite Dunkin' Donuts stop.

My partner on the game is Frank Saul, whom I have worked with on a few occasions. His dad, known as ‘Pep,’ was a Hall of Fame standout at Seton Hall. A banner hangs in the Walsh Gym rafters in his honor. The focus on the game today is the fifth-grade girls not being allowed to full court press by league law. Thank the Lord. Two teams pressing would degenerate the game into a widespread scrum, a foul fest with neither team really learning a thing. NBA coach Lawrence Frank is one opposed to pressing at lower levels, and eloquently noted, “learn the trade before you learn the tricks.” We greet both coaches and agree, on this level, free throw shooters can step over the line (given the diminutive size of many). They just can’t shoot and sprint in for a potential rebound.

Nutley is hosting South Orange-­Maplewood, and right off the tip Nutley took the lead and was in command. Nutley is running a nice zone offense, nothing complicated while featuring a high and low post. As the game goes on, it is evident Nutley’s number 21 is skilled. She is about 5­-9, good size for fifth grade, can pass out of the high post as well as rebound and score in close. South Orange-­Maplewood struggles to get anything going and trails 10-­3 at the half.

During the break, Frank and I discuss the game a bit. Then his thoughts turn to Seton Hall playing at Providence a little later. I told him I was impressed with the job Desi Rodriguez has done to date and how the poor chemistry of last season will not resurface. Frank is impressed with Isaiah Whitehead, whom he feels is like Oscar Robertson in terms of versatility.

Just before the half started, I talked a few minutes with the South Orange­-Maplewood coaches. Both played for and are frequent graduates of New Jersey City University. The head coach said, “we are working with these kids regularly and guarantee by the time they hit seventh grade they will win the (Suburban) League.” I had to admire their patience and enthusiasm. Their players, it should be added, are the fortunate ones, having good role models who know the game instructing them.

The second half sees the visitors play better. They cut down on turnovers and run their offense better than the first 16 minutes of the contest. The fourth quarter was their best. Their ‘big,’ about 5­-7, played well the final half, especially that final quarter. She just seemed to be more comfortable on the floor and was decidedly more effective than that first half.

The final score is 28-­11 in Nutley’s favor. Despite the one-sidedness, it was a nice game to work. I told the South Orange-­Maplewood coaches they should reach out to Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella to get the girls to a few Hall games. Seton Hall is in South Orange, and it would be a great experience for the girls. The coaches wholeheartedly agree. Frank is off to watch the Hall. We work well together and anxiously await the next time we are crewmates.

It was encouraging to see the South Orange-­Maplewood parents encouraging their daughters after the game, trying to accentuate the positive, something that should not be assumed nor taken for granted as these young kids learn the game.

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