BY RAY FLORIANI
South Orange, NJ - A favorite tournament of yours truly, one first worked back in the nineties when Pitt assistant Brandin Knight was a grade school player who performed here. The tournament is billed as ‘February Frenzy,’ a takeoff on the famous March Madness. Sorrows is located about one half-mile west of Seton Hall University. It is not uncommon to see Seton Hall basketball posters on the snack bar walls and watch fans file in wearing their ‘Pirate blue.’
The assignment called for a Saturday tripleheader, with two of them girls' games. Both were first round meetings.
Saturday, February 13: St. Joe’s (East Orange) 41, Assumption (Morristown) 19
Just before the teams are ready for tip off, I pass the St. Joe’s bench and ask the coach, ‘do you have a Laurin Mincy?’ She just looks with no reply. Mincy starred at St. Joe’s and later had a good, though injury-interrupted, career at Maryland.
Joe’s gets out of the gate, running to a 20-0 lead. Both teams are full court pressing. Assumption might be better off not pressing, as Joe’s beats it with transition. The game starts sloppy, but eventually gets into a flow. St. Joe’s has the size for second chance points. Assumption can’t get anything going consistently on offense. In the tournament, there is a 20-point rule. A team up 20 cannot press, nor can the team down 20. The Assumption coach, down 20-something, doesn’t like that he cannot press. It is a good rule, as a losing (by 20 or more) team on this level will not come back with a press. Rather, the game will further degenerate into a sloppy affair. Better that they play it out in a half court setting.
I talked with the St. Joe’s mentor, coach Grayson, after the game. She is from the Midwest, and did not know of Laurin Mincy. The local Joe’s fans filled her in on her career, as did yours truly. Grayson was a final WNBA cut after trying out sick with a fever. She decided not to try again, but still plays recreationally. She is another coach the kids are fortunate to have well versed in the fundamentals of the game and always teaching.
Between the girls' games was a boys' game. The whistle was changed to black. On the baseline during a dead ball, one site manager asked “what happened to the pink whistle?” It (pink whistle) gets noticed and admired.
Our Lady of the Lake (Verona) 32, St. Rose (East Hanover) 12
Pregame, the St. Rose coach informed me the school will be closing. Each class has less than ten students, and the combination of a good public school system in the area and lack of help from the archdiocese were too much to overcome.
The start is slow, yet it is evident Lake has the better overall talent. On this level, having one player who can consistently handle the ball is a godsend. Rose finds points very difficult to come by. Lake had their share of missed opportunities, but their size extended possessions, (offensive rebounding) which they converted to build a healthy lead. St. Rose battles gamely, but just does not have the ability to stay with the ‘Lakers.’ They exit in the first round with the consolation that there are still games on their schedule in what is, very sadly, their last season and school year together.
Tuesday, February 16:
St. Thomas (Bloomfield) 43, St. Joe’s (East Orange) 22
The St. Thomas team has a really good ball handler, a number 15 who not only dribbles through the Joe’s press, but can finish or find an open teammate. St. Thomas is a good balanced team, but this young lady makes them especially tough to match up with.
St. Thomas leads 21-12 at the half. The margin could have been bigger had they converted on a few close in shots. They get out in the second half, hitting some of those shots. Joe’s deficit increases. At that point, the St. Joe’s girls were slow converting to transition defense. By the early part of the fourth quarter, St. Thomas was scoring on uncontested breakaway layups. The frustration on St. Joe’s offensive end carried over to the defense.
What seemed a possibility at the half has turned into a rout. The final quarter is almost all St. Thomas on transition runouts. St. Joe’s just does not have the answer. Thomas wins, with the next one a date in Saturday’s semifinal. St. Joe’s exits the tournament with the satisfaction, though, of winning a first-round game. Afterwards, I talk with coach Grayson and say it is a learning experience for the girls. “That’s the problem,” she replies. “Sometimes they think they know everything.”
Welcome to youth coaching.