Morris Catholic has Grande plans

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Morris Catholic 2012 season review

David Grande has coached basketball at all levels, ranging from grade school to Division I college. So nothing surprised him when he was able to finally meet his players at Morris Catholic for the first time in late October of 2011. He was chosen out of 42 coaches that applied for the job. It didn’t matter who played on the team, all Grande required in order to coach was a little support.

“I wanted a program that had the backing of the administration,” Grande said. “The program had the backing of the president, vice president, principal and board members headed by Bob Mulcahy, the ex Rutgers Athletic Director. We had the support to build this program up and take it to a different level.’’

It will take some time to rebuild the Crusaders’ program coming off a 6-19 record and graduating their top scorer but maybe not as much time as one might think. Grande has big plans for his squad that may include some out-of-state traveling and some unorthodox ideas at least for the upcoming season. The young team has plenty of exuberance and Grande believes that with some energy, confidence and a little luck the Crusaders can turn around a program that has been ineffective in recent years.

Season Highlights

The Crusaders biggest highlight last year may not have been in a game but in a practice. Early on in the season, Morris Catholic took a trip to play Malvern Prep in the Philadelphia area and turned it into a rare opportunity.

 The highlight was that the Sixers let us practice at the Wells Fargo Center,’’ Grande said. “We had the whole place to ourselves. I knew the head of their tickets. I became good friends with him and I have season tickets to the Sixers. He asked the operations people and they said no problem.’’

Grande is a Philadelphia native. He played his college basketball at Drexel University. Although he is the owner of his own chemical company, he has dedicated the last 27 winters to coaching basketball. His last varsity high school head coaching position was at Oratory Prep in Summit from 2000 to 2005. He was an assistant coach at New Jersey Institute of  Technology when it jumped from Division II to Division I in 2008.

When he was hired last October and had very little time to get to know his team compared to most opponents. Morris Catholic did get its first win early – in the second game of the season against Parsippany High – and had sporadic success during the season.

“We almost upset Madison,’’ Grande said. “We almost upset Chatham. We were up two at home after three quarters. We had some good experiences.’’

Morris Catholic lost to Morristown High 55-41 in Morris County Tournament prelim action. Despite their record, the Crusaders were accepted for a state tournament bid to fill out the Non-Public B North bracket. Morris Catholic fell to Hawthorne Christian 62-43.

Senior Leadership

In many of last year’s games the Crusaders lived and died on the jump shot of Darius Osorio-Vega. A prolific perimeter shooter, when the senior guard’s shots were falling Morris Catholic had a chance. The Crusaders’ last victory of the season came when Osorio-Vega ran wild. He scored 39 points including seven 3-pointers in a victory over Roxbury. He knocked down more than 50 3-pointers last year. Paul Shapiro, a rebounder and inside scorer, and shooter Antoine Garfield have also graduated from the Crusaders program.  

Future Prospects

Morris Catholic doesn’t have tremendous size or depth but they are developing team chemistry and have a tight core of players coming back. Andres Sproul mans the point for now but the Crusaders standout is more prized for his defense.

“He’s a junior,’’ Grande said. “He is our best defensive player on the floor. He can shoot it. He’s quick. He can really play defense.’’

Sophomore Zack Williams played on varsity for the second half of the season. He can also shoot the ball and is working on becoming more assertive on the court. Jay Flaherty, a transfer from Jefferson High school, will also help bring the ball up the floor. C.J. Drury was the third leading scorer and second leading rebounder last season. The defensive stopper has been slowed by a concussion during the summer but is expected to be healthy by the fall. Brian Feeney who played well off the bench last year should also play a major role in Morris Catholic’s development.

Off-Season Plans

Grande knows his players have to improve on an individual level before they can prosper as a group. In early June he brought in a few friends to hold clinics for them including County College of Morris coach (and former Morris Knolls standout) Jamie Ciampaglio, his former NJIT boss James Casciano (now coach at the University of Maine at Presque Isle) and shooting doctor Barry Brodzinski, who has worked with numerous NBA players including Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Alonzo Mourning and former New York Knick Allan Houston. Grande also went back to his Philadelphia roots once again and took the team to the St. Joseph’s University team camp in June.

“It was super competition,’’ Grande said. “Cherry Hill was there. A lot of suburban Philadelphia schools and South Jersey schools were there. There was also some individual instruction from St. Joe’s coaches. The NCAA requires them to instruct. They had a big man’s instruction. The kids loved it and the bonding among the kids was tremendous.’’

In June, Morris Catholic also sent a team to the FDU-Florham league which is basically a week of competition; two games a night for four nights. They also entered the revamped Newark Academy Summer League for the month of July and have been pleased with the results. Now that the Crusaders are getting some reps together, Grande is encouraged. However, he is still stressing lots of individual instruction before winter practices begin.

“The most important thing at this age is they must work on their own,” Grande said. “We are so young and were going to do some crazy things together but if we stay together we have the potential to be really good.’’

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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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