By Mark Kitchin
The Morris-Sussex Classic is basketball’s equivalent to the Twilight Zone.
It’s a place where Morris Knolls’ Esaun Mobley and Morris Hills’ Evan Staikos can share high fives. It’s a game where Chatham’s Jonathan Berntsen can thread a perfect pass to Randolph’s Julian Aiken and not feel awkward about it. A place where Morristown-Beard’s Harrison Rosemond can box out so Mountain Lakes’ Ethan Lubowitz can rebound a ball for the same team.
You get the idea – former rivals become fast friends in a game like this.
The Morris-Sussex Senior Classic will be played on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Hopatcong High School. It’s a game where transition baskets go hand in hand with a transitional game. While some of the seniors will take their skills to the college level, others may be hanging up their sneakers for good and enjoying the cheers of a friendly crowd one last time.
Morris Knolls’ Niko Kotoulas throws one down during a practice for today’s Morris-Sussex Senior Classic.
“It means a lot,’’Morristown’s Dylan Black said. “It’s an honor to be picked. We have to represent Morris County. We have to beat Sussex County.’’
On Tuesday, the players on the Morris team got together at Morris Knolls for an impromptu practice to run some standard plays and to do a little scrimmaging in order to get comfortable playing together. Black has played with or against most of the members of the Morris County team at one time or another, but he will especially enjoy playing with a friend of his.
“I’ve been playing with Esaun (Mobley) for years,’’ Black said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.’’
It was Mendham that eliminated Morristown from state tournament play this year, but Black doesn’t seem to mind that Mendham’s Drew Jacobs and Nick Maguire will be in his huddle or passing him the ball.
“It’s very weird,’’ Black said. “I actually played with Drew last season in AAU for the New Jersey Thunder. So it’s not so bad.’’
Chatham’s Jonathan Berntsen searches for one of his new teammates during Tuesday’s practice.
Unless he decides to walk on at the college level, it will probably be the last time Evan Staikos plays in a competitive full-court basketball contest.
“These are the best players in Morris County,’’ Staikos said. “So, just being able to come out and play is an honor. It’s pretty much the last big game I’m going to play so it’s going to be fun.’’
Although it’s a showcase, Staikos might be able to give his teammates a little added info on the Sussex team since Morris Hills, which finished at 10-16, played a lot of Sussex County opponents.
“We can’t lose to them,’’ Staikos said. “We played all those teams, Sparta, Pope John. Maybe I can give our guys a little scouting report.’’
Staikos admits it might feel unusual playing in an All-Star game with Morris Knolls’ standouts Mobley and Nico Koutolas as teammates, but he also has a familiarity with them that should make it easy to play together.
“I’ve been playing with Niko for awhile,’’ Staikos said. “We’ve been playing in the same church league. We’re still rivals and it is somewhat different but I’m looking forward to it.’’
Mountain Lakes’ Chris Robertson displays his dribbling skills during Tuesday’s practice.
Morris Knolls’ Ken Ferrare and Pequannock’s Jeff DeBell will be serving as coaches for the Morris team. Pequannock’s Ryan Brogan, Madison’s Matt Gilbert, Jefferson’s Drew Hall, Morristown-Beard’s Brian Bartner and Mountain Lakes’ Chris Robertson will also be playing in the contest.
The Sussex team consists of Hunter Guard of Hopatcong, Corey Szervas of Kittatinny, Nate Sammons of Newton, Owen Law of Wallkill Valley, Glenn Gaven, JaQuan Bryant, Cody Wilson and Jack Scari of Pope John, Trey Smith, Anthony DePalma and Chris McIlvaine of Sparta, Dan TIntle and Ethan Vallellanes of Vernon and Zach Arcona and Glenn Joveless of Hackettstown. The team is coached by Pope John’s Jason Hassan and Hackettstown’s Mike McDonough.