Thursday, November 3, 2016

Pink Whistle: Hoop Heaven League

Coach Frank Muggeo with his Hoop Dreamz team. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

WALDWICK, NJ - After several months and a fairly light schedule that yielded no girls games, there was an assignment with the ladies. Sundays in the fall have been reserved, following the NFL pregame show, for the Hoop Heaven League. Each time until October 23, the schedule called for a boys’ game or two, but it was back to the ladies this past Sunday.

Cresskill 35, Morris Magic 21

A fifth-grade contest with some of the better traits of the girls/women’s game evident: Running an offense, looking for teammates and screening to get shooters free. Ah, yes, those screens. We are in a two-man officiating game and my partner is a good friend and excellent official, Ken Wilson. Our game is going well, but if there is anything to take from it, it is the vigilance of catching illegal screens. It is tougher in the two-man game, as a lot of screening may happen off the ball. Being alert for that is paramount and something to store for future reference.  
The Magic trailed early and struggled on offense. In the second half, they had success on guard penetration against the Cresskill man-to-man. Cresskill then went zone and the Magic did not have an answer. Not an uncommon scenario, especially on this level.

The day before Halloween, I had two games in the league being contested at Brookside School in Allendale. Game one is a girls’ contest, and entering the gym early affords a chance to chat with a coach and good basketball friend (yes, we officials have some coaches as hoop friends). Frank Muggeo assists former Davidson standout Billy Armstrong at Bergen Catholic High School. On the side, both Armstrong and Muggeo exemplify their love of the game, coaching several girls’ travel teams. Today, Frank has the fifth-graders and will fill in for a fourth-grade coach in game two, heading to Waldwick High School thereafter for another game. “On weekends in the fall, it is gym-to-gym coaching,” he says, not with an air of complaint, mind you. We discuss related aspects regarding the game in general, and Frank tells me about his son trying to walk on in Phil Martelli’s tryouts at Saint Joseph’s. Invariably, my alma mater comes up.
“So you’re a St. Bonaventure guy,” Frank says. He goes on to say how many college coaches visit Bergen to recruit their players. “The college coaches are friendly and cooperative,” Muggeo said, “but Mark Schmidt of St. Bonaventure was outstanding.” Frank went on to say how he discussed the game and specific sets with Schmidt. “Coach Schmidt even brought me to his car, showed me his notebook, gave me material and gave me his cell phone number to reach out to him. He was great.” Schmidt did not get the player he was recruiting. It didn’t alter the situation, though, as Muggeo or Armstrong still have a respected coach to reach out to should a question arise.   

Hoop Dreamz 28, Bergen Basketball Academy 8

The game sees Frank’s Hoop Dreamz sixth-grade team get out to an early lead and never look back. The halftime lead is 11-1. My partner was delayed coming from another game, so an official from the prior game stayed. At the half, he had to leave for another assignment, so yours truly worked the final half solo. This is not difficult to work alone from a running standpoint. On this level, though, the kids can be ‘all over the place’ and their orientation (or lack of it) on spacing really necessitates two pairs of eyes.

The second half goes smooth. I am sure on a few occasions that I miss things being screened by other players. To their credit, no one on either side complains about a missed call.

The Dreamz pressure was too much too handle. In addition, the axiom you ‘can’t teach height’ was in force. Dreamz had a few big girls that cleaned up on the offensive boards. A tough outing for Bergen. To their credit, they stayed with it, running their stuff and competing to the end. To her credit, the head coach stayed in a positive teaching mode, giving the girls something to take away and build on. That is coaching that the win-loss ledger fails to capture.    

Pink Whistle note from the recent past: The Northeast Conference media day gave the great opportunity to meet and talk with new Wagner coach Heather Jacobs. A few years ago officiating an AAU tournament at Bayonne, my timer was Tara Flynn, a former Bayonne star who was playing for Division II Adelphi. I quickly got out the pen and pad after my games were done. Interview time. The Swish Appeal article would focus on the difficulty of going from high school to Division I. Not many realize the Division II demands are tough as well.

A hard-working, well-conditioned athlete, Flynn told me the first week of practices were so tough, she would be crying on the phone to her father, saying she wanted to quit. She didn’t, and went on to enjoy a nice career at Adelphi.

Her coach at Adelphi was Heather Jacobs. Hearing the story, Jacobs knew it well. She also knew Flynn would hang in there, tough it out and emerge a solid player. Flynn was a Northeast-10 Conference Academic Honor Roll member in each of her eight semesters at Adelphi. Today, she is an assistant at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, NJ. She proved her coach right with her drive and persistence.

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