Graduation of “Big 3” will make Morris Knolls decidedly different next season

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Morris Knolls season review 2012

The 2011-12 season was an exceptional one for Morris Knolls boys basketball. Their success will make it all that much harder to adjust to life without the talented trio of Niko Kotoulas, Esaun Mobley and Kevin Miller swarming about the court.

Morris Knolls finished with a 20-7 record and registered some significant victories but now they have to start it up once again without the size and ability of those talented and experienced athletes. The Golden Eagles believe they can use the past triumphs to stimulate more success in the future.

“There was a lot of progress here at Morris Knolls,’’ Golden Eagles coach Ken Ferrare said. “Were very proud of the team, the players, the coaches, the parents, and I was glad to be a part of it. Hopefully, it will build something that we could have continued success with.’’

Michael Signer (32) is one of many Golden Eagles players who will be asked to take his game to the next level. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Season Highlights

During the season, the Golden Eagles were dominating and humbled at turns. They won 12 of their first 14 games. One of those losses was to juggernaut St. Anthony’s of Jersey City, a contest that was lobbied for by the players. Morris Knolls went unbeaten against Morris County opponents until falling to Randolph on January 25. In the MCT it defeated Roxbury and Mountain Lakes before falling to Mount Olive in a wild semifinal contest. That defeat came during a bad stretch in which Morris Knolls also lost to Mendham in a regular season home game that turned the National Division of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference into a tri-championship regular season title with Randolph and Mendham. The Golden Eagles enjoyed a home win over Memorial in state tournament play, but fell to Hackensack 64-63 in a game that was both thrilling and excruciating.

Niko Kotoulas is taking his basketball skills and leadership qualities to Johns Hopkins in the fall. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Senior leadership

There were very few area teams with as much senior leadership as the trio of Kotoulas, Mobley and Miller provided. From the moment they stepped on the court as freshmen, they played major roles in the ascent of the Golden Eagles program.

“You could see something was building,’’ Ferrare said. “They generated a ton of excitement over the past four years. … From day one, they all wanted to play, they all played AAU and got better and then senior year they flourished. To have two them become All-County was fantastic and coaching them in the (Morris-Sussex) All-star game was a lot of fun.’’

Kotoulas, a 6-foot-5 forward was an endless source of points and rebounds. He finished as one of the school’s few 1,000-point scorers. He averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and one block a contest. Also a brilliant student, he will continue his career at Johns Hopkins University.

Mobley ran the offense, handled the ball, directed play and more often than not took the shot himself, fearlessly driving to the rim. He had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists a contest.   

“We recognized as a freshman that we had a very talented point guard, who was going to be a great high school player,’’ Ferrare said.

Mobley will continue to play both football and basketball at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts.

The 6-foot-8 Miller towered over most opponents, adding points and rebounds to the Golden Eagles offense while also blocking and altering shots on the defensive end. He will attend school and play at FDU-Florham.

“Kevin always had height and he was always willing to work on his skills,’’ Ferrare said.

Brian O’Neill (2) should prove to be a steadying influence at the point for the Golden Eagles. (Photo by Mark Kitchin.)

Future prospects

The Golden Eagles will not lack experience but they will definitely have a different look. Other than the “Big 3” everyone else is returning and there are big shoes to be filled.

“We’re going to be balanced,’’ Ferrare said. “We used to run a lot of sets for Esaun and Niko to drive. Everybody basically moved out of the way and let those guys drive.

“We will miss some size. These kids want to play. They enjoyed the success a lot and they’ve been working hard. They understand that 75 percent of our points are leaving so somebody has to score them.’’

Brian O’Neill, who came off the bench and played some point guard, will take over Mobley’s duties on the court.

“He’s improved a lot and he’s going to be a very solid point guard for us,’’ Ferrare said.

Michael Signer and Chris Stark will have to set the tone for the inside. They do not have the length of Kotoulas and Miller but they do have some worthy attributes.

“Chris and Mike are 6-4 each so they have some size,’’ Ferrare said. “We will run different sets and play differently but we still want to run. We enjoyed running last year. We will try to get out on the break whenever we can.’’

Aaron Arizmendi and Connor Rich have gotten stronger and should provide terrific options out on the wing. Hugo Jimenez missed much of the off-season so far because of a concussion, but Ferrare expects him to be healthy by the fall. Connor Flaherty and Robbie McCormack, who served on the bench last year, will also see a chance for increased playing time. 

“We have depth,’’ Ferrare said. “We don’t have any star power but we can make up for it with depth and good hard work.’’

Off-season plans

The Golden Eagles have had a good off-season. They already had stints at Albright (a weekend camp in Reading, Pa.) and William Paterson, which holds two-game, four-day, camps throughout the summer. Because of renovations, those games are being held at the Wayne PAL. Apart from its own town clinic, the Morris Knolls Summer League has become very popular and will continue action until the end of July. The Golden Eagles have three teams in the league, so even their younger players are busy during the summer.

An addition to the staff should also pay dividends. Former Morris Hills coach Joe Ansaldi will be instructing the freshman this year. Ansaldi, who was previously an assistant at FDU-Florham,  has been lifelong friends with Ferrare and they would often share basketball ideas even when they were coaching rivals.

It will all help the Golden Eagles who, now that they have established a foothold among MorrisCounty’s elite, want to be a consistent force. They know what is expected. Now they have to do the work to achieve their goals.

“Role players (from last year) are going to have to step up,’’ Ferrare said. “We’ve got a lot of experience coming back but were going to have to see who really steps up.’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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