Morris Hills strives to be more consistent

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Morris Hills 2012 season review

 No one was more disappointed in the Morris Hills boys basketball season than Scarlet Knights’ coach Andrew Maclay. Morris Hills posted a 10-16 mark that might be a little misleading considering the quality of its NJAC-American Division rivals Mount Olive, Sparta and Pope John. However, early exits in Morris County Tournament and state tournament play support the fact that the Scarlet Knights didn’t reach their potential during the 2011-12 season.

“My expectations of last year’s team were probably pretty lofty,’’ Maclay said. “They did the best they could.. I appreciated the fact that every night they got out and competed. The schedule I put together for them — maybe they weren’t quite ready for it. That got us off to a tough start but you can’t make excuses. You can’t make excuses for how we played well against some teams that were much better than we were and then played as poorly as we did against some of the teams that weren’t. I’m looking for guys who are just going to be consistently competitive. The big thing is just competing every night no matter what the situation. Up 30 or down 30, they have to compete all the time.’’

Matt Szkola (33) figures prominently in Morris Hills’ plans this year. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Season highlights

The Scarlet Knights hovered around the .500 mark most of the first half of the season before some setbacks finally put them under the break even mark. Triumphs included victories over West Milford, Vernon, Jefferson, Morristown and Kinnelon. Morris Hills did post an MCT win by pounding Butler 56-37 in a prelim game at home. As the 16th-seed their next opponent was No.1 seed Morristown-Beard. After an early scare the Crimson topped MorrisHills 65-48. Their state tournament showing was a brief one. They were ousted by Old Tappan 58-43.

Senior leadership

Morris Hills did have some seniors that stood out. Ranell Bell was a talented guard who showed flashes of brilliance on the court but lacked the consistency to keep the Scarlet Knights winners. Bell will continue his basketball career at Misericordia.

“Ranell was explosive,’’ Maclay said. “When he was on, he was fun to watch. At any time he could go for 20 points. When he was on it was fun. We’re going to miss his athleticism and getting around the floor. He opened things up for other guys because teams concentrated on him. We’re going to miss that. We don’t have anyone that opponents might feel the need to key on.’’

Evan Staikos also put together some surprising nights. The bulky senior forward got a lot of points on putbacks and short jumpers. He was a force on the boards.

“He was a guy that by the end of the year he had some monster games over the course of the season,’’ Maclay said. “He had games that he had 17 (points) and 24 (rebounds). It was nice to see for us. He really put his time in.’’

Danny Escobar also provided rebounding and defense for Morris Hills. He plans to continue playing basketball at County College of Morris. Brian Kelly had a solid year at guard. He plans to go to Rowan University but his athletic future may lean more toward baseball. 

Eric Schrader (5) will expand on his role on both the offensive and defensive end of the court for Morris Hills. (Photo by Mark Kitchin.)

Future prospects

The Scarlet Knights have some good depth and return some players with experience. The point looks to be in good hands with senior Doug Olsen and sophomore Matt Szkola battling for playing time.

 There will be a lot of versatility at the shooting guard, small forward and power forward positions. Quincy Jules, Brian Walls, Szkola and Rob Sihlanick are among the players he will mix and match.

“Quincy is a transfer from Parsippany Christian (last year),’’ Maclay said. “He missed a large part of the year. He kind of had a tough time figuring out where he fit in. I’m looking for big things from him.’’

Walls is a tough-as-nails athlete that excelled at shooting guard/small forward. Sihlanick played a lot of jayvee minutes last year and excelled off the bench. Perhaps, he can take his role one step further. Much of the power forward spot may be determined by the health of Dylan Washington, the brother of last year’s starter Derrick Washington.

“Dylan is a kid who I thought was going to get significant minutes last year,’’ Maclay said. “Unfortunately in the middle of his freshman year he blew out his ACL. Before our last (preseason) practice of the year, he tore his meniscus and missed last year. He’s the x-factor. I don’t know what I’m going to get with him. He’s about 6-foot-3 but he’s very long. He’s very athletic. He rebounds the basketball well. He blocks shots. He’s just does a lot of things from an athletic standpoint.’’

At 6-foot-5 Eric Schrader looks very capable at center.  A force off the bench last year, he’s developing into a good defender in the post and can rebound and score on the inside.

Overall, Maclay likes the mix and believes that it’s a group that can work well together.

 “We do have experience,’’ Maclay said. “It’s not the kind of group you would think of when you graduate five seniors. We needed every one of these younger guys to step in at different times in the season. I think they enjoy playing together. They like getting out and running around together. We will have six seniors again this year which is nice.’’

Morris Hills will have to scramble to fill the void left by the graduation of Ranell Bell. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Off-season plans

Morris Hills attended DeSales team camp in late June. The Scarlet Knights brought two teams, about 16 players in all to compete.

“It’s a weekend,’’ Maclay said. “It’s similar to Rutgers camp like most team camps are set up for nowadays. Friday night you play two games. You get there and you have some court time. You play three or four games the next day and then two games on Sunday and you are out of there.

“It’s more of an opportunity for me to get some of the younger guys that are coming into the school and are going to be freshmen to come and bond with our guys.’’

Morris Hills has a team in the Morris Knolls Summer League. Apart from the usual open gyms, the Scarlet Knights also run a clinic for the youth teams in the area. Much of the clinic is run by the players. It not only helps the team bond with the community but the act of holding the camp re-enforces the fundamentals of the varsity level players, too.

“It’s just a fun atmosphere to get the kids interested in the program,’’ McClay said. “It makes them think. I’ve always thought that the best way to learn something is to teach it. When you have to explain it to somebody else and put it in a way that they can understand it, it makes you work a little harder to do it.’’

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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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