Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pink Whistle: Hoop Heaven Spring League

BY RAY FLORIANI

Allendale, NJ - The return to action after the completion of a busy winter of officiating and coverage. The Hoop Heaven Spring League utilizes the Hoop Heaven facility in Waldwick, NJ, as well as several locations around Bergen County. Late April saw four games, three of them girls’ games, all contested at Brookside School in Allendale, NJ.

April 21: Allendale 26, Gryphon 16
I do not know what Gryphon is or stands for. They are a sixth-grade team from Bergen County in Northern New Jersey. Here they are facing Allendale, playing in their home gym at Brookside School.

I have often noted how I am against teams at this level pressing the entire game. It is better to learn the game, especially on defense, at half court. Allendale pressures, but utilizes it like a blitz in football, not for the whole game but as an element of surprise.

The script is repeated several times. Gryphon trails and uses their size to get it to a one-possession affair. Allendale pressures and gets the lead back to double digits. The pressure plus sound dribble penetration on offense are too much for Gryphon to overcome.

Allendale finishes a solid win. In their defense, Gryphon set solid, fundamentally sound screens. Commend the coach on her team setting better screens than some high school teams. She enjoyed the compliment, but went on to list the things her club needed to work on. Every group has that list. Some longer than others.

Ring City 34, Hoop Dreamz 28
The teams are warming up. Coach Billy Armstrong is watching his eighth-grade Hoop Dreamz club from center court. Billy is one of my favorite coaches to work for. He played for Bob McKillop at Davidson in the late nineties, and to this day, speaks regularly with his former coach. To no surprise, he employs the Davidson offense, tailored to the level of eighth-grade girls.

Upon saying hello, I mention to Armstrong his alma mater edged mine in the Atlantic 10 tournament. “What school?,” he asked. “St.Bonaventure,” I replied. Armstrong noted he was at that game.  I mentioned I was as well, on press row covering a heartbreaking yet thrilling contest. “Hey,” he said. “Your (Marcus) Posley kid could play.” My reply: “Your Jack Gibbs did quite the job as well.”

Perception: I spent a few minutes with Armstrong and you do not know if the opposition’s parents and/or coach notice. To devote ‘equal time,’ I introduce myself to the Ring coach and chat briefly about her team before wishing the best of luck. Perception can be huge in officiating.

Early in the game as Hoop Dreamz runs their offense, I think back to that Bonaventure-Davidson game. Quick reminder to myself: Put that Friday night at Barclays behind, as there is a competitive game here demanding 100 percent effort and concentration.
Hoop Dreamz leads by four at the half. In the second half, Ring City abandons the dribble handoff offense to go into an attack-the-basket mode. That seems to ignite Ring City, as they post a hard fought 34-28 victory.

Armstrong exchanges postgame pleasantries with us, the Ring City coach and team. After meeting with his team briefly, he is on the way out. A stickler of fundamentals, Armstrong had to be upset over two deciding factors. One, the inability to close out on Ring City’s No. 13, who buried three second-half three-pointers; the other, several unforced turnovers, very uncharacteristic of Armstrong’s teams. Rest assured those points would be addressed at the next practice.  

April 28: Allendale 19, Saints 15

The Saints hail from Essex County. St. Catherine of Siena, based in Cedar Grove and a school for whom I have enjoyed working better than two decades, is involved in several spring leagues. On this night, they have made the trip to the Hoop Heaven League with a game in Allendale. The sixth-grade competition has the Saints up against Allendale Travel. The Saints coach, a personable lady in her forties, puts the team through a few pregame offensive sets. The Saints use their size to build an early 8-2 lead. Allendale has only five players at the start. Gradually, the latecomers arrive. With girls also playing in soccer and softball leagues in the spring, late arrivals are more the norm. The addition of the additional players allows Allendale to regroup and close out the half with a one-point lead.  

The second half sees Allendale, as they did last week, use the press as an element of surprise. The pressure allows the home team to maintain a lead. The Saints have difficulty on defense stopping Allendale’s penetration. The visitors incur a number of reach-in fouls. The game is aggressive, with players sometimes hitting the deck. Coaches are looking for a call on every sequence. Bottom line: They are competing, we as officials are taking care of business, and basketball is a physical game. Allendale is far from perfect from the line in the stretch. They hit enough to keep the Saints at bay and close out the win.

After the game, both the winning and losing coaches do commend us for our work. Our scorer suggests the tape of this game might not end up in Springfield. At any rate, the teams competed, which is what it’s all about.


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