By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
CEDAR GROVE, NJ - The evening calls for a fifth/sixth-grade girls’ recreation game.
The area of West Essex, in New Jersey’s Essex County, encompasses several towns but is not large by any mileage standards. Regardless, the different rec leagues have their own rules. None of these printed regulations gets into our hands.
A few years back, we started a boys’ rec game, then the one coach immediately went airborne like a jack in the box hollering ‘they are playing zone.’ I stopped the game to ask what was wrong. He showed me the rules, which we never received, that said only man-to-man defense was permitted. We said thank you for showing us regulations we never received and moved on. With that in mind? my partner and I have a pregame meeting with the coaches to go over the league rules.
On this level, there are three periods of running time with the fourth quarter having a stopped clock on all dead balls. No pressing is allowed at any time, a judicious move if ever there was one. Lining up for this one is the host Cedar Grove Panthers and Roseland Mystics. Cedar Grove takes the nickname of the high school in town, while Roseland chooses to name its team after WNBA clubs.
Early in the game, the best player on the floor takes over. They tell us as officials to try to watch teams warm up to get something of a read on their style or ability, if they are practicing ball handling, shooting free throws or three-pointers, etc. A number 11 for Cedar Grove went through an organized regimen, practicing shots from various locations. Once play started, she showed the ability to put the ball on the floor, penetrate and; very valuable on this level, make shots. She scored Cedar Grove’s first eight points as the Panthers built a 10-4 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Mystics played better offensively and midway through the third quarter, still had it at a two-possession deficit. On this level, trailing by six feels like 15. If a team has a good ball handler, they may push the ball, but that is not too frequent with fifth-sixth-grade rec. The small gym also negates transition opportunities, so our tempo is decidedly half court. No. 11 was still effective, and her teammates got into the flow, showing more confidence on offense. The fourth quarter saw Cedar Grove pull away to finalize a 23-11 victory.
I jokingly mention to my partner that the scouts may notice No. 11 and soon have her moving up to a travel team. Checking the scorebook out of curiosity, I notice she led the way with 14 points. She could have scored more, but spent most of the final half focused on getting her teammates involved. That alone speaks highly for a player on this level.