By Mark Kitchin
LAWRENCEVILLE — Niko Kotoulas had some fun playing with the best basketball players in the state on Sunday. The Morris Knolls forward fit in pretty well contributing 11 points for the North team. However, the honor of winning was earned by the South in a 146-128 victory over the North squad at the NJSCA All-Star Classic held at Rider University. Gill St. Bernard’s Dominic Hoffman scored 21 points and was named game MVP in the free-wheeling shootout. His GSB teammate Alex Mitola, who resides in Morris County, also had a strong performance and won the showcases 3-point shooting contest at halftime.
Morris Knolls’ Niko Kotoulas scores the first two of his 11 points in the NJSCA Classic held on Sunday.
“It was a great experience playing with a bunch of Division I athletes and future great players in college,’’ Kotoulas said. “It was an honor to be chosen. I just had a great time. I was playing hard. That’s all you can do. I had to represent Morris County. I had to attack the basket and I kind of fit in with the style of play.
“I think we played pretty hard. The defense wasn’t there but it was an all-star game so what do you expect. I thought I played pretty well today. I’m very happy with my performance.’’
Kotoulas was the only Morris County player chosen for the North squad. Kotoulas played a major role in lifting the Golden Eagles to 20-plus victories this season. He averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per contest. A 1,000-point varsity scorer, he also averaged one block and three assists a contest. Kotoulas was outstanding to the very end. He had 30 points and 17 rebounds in the season ending loss to Hackensack in state tournament play.
Many all-star showcases tend to be pick-up oriented and controlled by the guards, but Kotoulas got several opportunities to score in the second half. When Kotoulas did get the ball in the open floor, he wasn’t afraid to push the ball to the basket.
“I might play some guard in college,’’ Kotoulas said. “I felt comfortable handing the ball. It was definitely a great experience. When you come from Morris County, it’s completely different. They don’t know who you are really. You have to earn your respect and I thought I did that pretty well.’’
North’s Niko Kotoulas of Morris Knolls battles the South’s Roosevelt Cubbage of Paul VI for a rebound during Sunday’s showcase.
Kotoulas said the North team did have the opportunity to practice twice. He also played with or against a number of players in the showcase on the AAU circuit over the years. He was especially happy to be able to play with Newark Eastside’s Aaron Bodie since they played on the same AAU team when they were 14 years old. Overall, he looked and felt comfortable with the pace of the action once he got into the flow of the game.
Kotoulas put in a layup at the 12-minute mark to help the North cut its deficit 30-25. The North team did take the lead with the help of Kotoulas at one point. He hit a layup four minutes into the 25-minute second half to give the North a brief 70-69. His last points, also on a layup with 8:19 left in the game, tied the score at 108-all. However the South pulled away with a late offensive spurt.
“We couldn’t be more proud of him,’’ said Morris Knolls coach Ken Ferrare, who was among the spectators. “He represents what we are trying to do. He’s been a huge part of it. He’s such a great kid. Aside from his accomplishments on the court, he inspires everyone around him.’’
Niko Kotoulas gets a handshake from his coaches after a successful shift in Sunday’s All-Star showcase.
Kotoulas has not made a college decision yet but he is an excellent student. Johns Hopkins, Carnegie-Mellon and Columbia University are among the schools he is considering.
“He makes everybody around him get better,’’ Ferrare said. “He’s helped me individually to coach and he’s helped all the kids on our team just by his attitude and being around him. He’s a special kid.’’
Morris County basketball fans will have one last opportunity to see Kotoulas and his Morris Knolls teammate Esaun Mobley along with many other standouts from Morris and Sussex Countywhen they play in the Morris Sussex Senior Classic which will be played on Wednesday night at Hopatcong High School.