Ray alongside Pat Larezza, whom he worked with in Blake Tournament finals. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
UPPER SADDLE RIVER, NJ - The final day of the week long Blake Tournament is reserved for consolation and finals in all brackets. The games are at the grade school(s) in this northern New Jersey suburb, virtually a stone’s throw from the New York border.
I was fortunate to get the call for two championships, and I ended up working with good friend and good official Pat Larezza. The first time we met, she was coaching her daughter’s grade-school team. Glen Mezzatesta and myself had the game her team won easily. Afterward, she came up to us and said, “Thank you for a great job. You let the kids play and do not call ticky-tack stuff.” I returned the thank-you and said a lot of my work in high school is in Jersey City; in fact the day before, I had worked a St. Anthony scrimmage. “Say no more,” she said smiling, “that is real basketball.”
Before the games, I reminded Pat of that and she remembered that Saturday morning vividly. More importantly, our order was to discuss the possibility, or probability, of seeing pressing in game one and be ready with our areas of coverage.
6th Grade Girls: Upper Saddle River 28, Wayne PAL 24
On this level, pressing is allowed the entire game. Last time out, we discussed what that entails at this level. The situation comes up again. At the half, the teams have combined for 24 points and 20 fouls. The score is tied at 12. Both teams are pressuring full court from the inbounds pass on. What we have is a scrum, a foul fest by players not skilled in defensive fundamentals and trying to put on pressure. On offense, both teams get the ball in, take a few dribbles and try to complete a long touchdown pass. No semblance of half court offense is displayed by either team.
Players on both teams have a habit of getting an offensive board close to the basket and instead of a putback, dribble outside for a shot. Interestingly, the coaches do not address this, nor do they address any occurrence where we call a foul and the fouler shrugs her shoulders and/or gives us the rolling eyes. Seeing that situation not remedied, during one dead ball Pat says to the kids, “Ladies, let’s play basketball,” to which I add, “a novel idea.”
Numbers-wise it is a close game. Upper Saddle River is up five late, but Wayne answers to cut it to two. With fifteen seconds left, the hosts finish a transition basket off a long pass and are home free.
Talking with Pat afterwards, I mention that the winning team should feel good about their accomplishment. The coaches, however, should recognize the team deficiencies and correct them next practice. Caught up in the euphoria of a championship, that isn’t always the case. We also discussed body language. Neither of us were thrilled with the incessant fouls and lack of flow. She agreed our demeanor and body language on the floor gave no hint of our displeasure. It sounds trivial, but good body language is vital to an official’s credibility.
Sixth-grade champions Upper Saddle River. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
5th Grade Girls: Mahwah 28, Ridgewood 23
On this level, no press until the last two minutes of each half, a godsend. I chat briefly with the Ridgewood head coach, who played collegiately at Bywn Mawr College. I talked about my theories of eliminating pressing on lower levels and she agreed, citing the needs for younger kids to grasp half court and basic fundamentals first.
From the outset, you can see this was a better game execution and tempo-wise than the first. Both teams utilized zone a good part of the game and both teams ran a simple but effective zone offense. Coaching. Mahwah grabs an early lead which is never lost. At the half, they are ahead 18-11. Not surprised, given her college experience - the Ridgewood coach is in a total teaching mode with her players.
In the second half, the difference is a consistent six to eight points in Mahwah’s favor. It is sort of deceptive, as Ridgewood is in reach, but the game feels like a 15-point difference. Ridgewood’s strength is in their center, No. 34. She has size, but more importantly, a soft touch out to about eight to ten feet. She gets to the line and hits with a better percentage than some players in high school. I did not check the book, but of Ridgewood’s No. 23, it is safe to say she had 19 points. During a late game timeout, Pat noted how both coaches are doing a great job with their teams. She did add from personal coaching perspective, “I would double team No. 34. When I coached, if a team had a star, I doubled her and dared the others to beat me.” The difference in the stretch never gets under two possessions as Mahwah closes it out.
As noted, the game had a much better flow and tempo than the first one. Ridgewood’s coach was enthused by No. 34’s play, but did add secondary scorers must emerge. A positive note is their regular season has yet to start, so there is plenty of time to work things out.
Two in the books, two championship games decidedly different in nature. The constant of it all on this Sunday, everyone competed hard with the hopes of earning the trophies and champions’ T-shirts.