A new experience for Morristown-Beard

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

It’s a different year for Morristown-Beard basketball. So different that their long time coach Eddie Franz has been looking inward at some of his own basketball behavior as well as the outward results of his teachings.

“I apologized to the kids after the game (against Dover, a 49-40 win),’’ Franz said. “I was on our guys about body language but mine wasn’t any better. We got behind early and I must have looked like I was trapped on a desert island.

“I convinced myself after the game that I have to understand this is not the type of team I’ve had in the past. I’ve had an all-county player almost every year since Jyles Tucker has been a sophomore. I don’t now and that’s life.’’

Morristown-Beard has enjoyed tremendous success in recent years. Crimson squads have posted records of 16-10, 13-11, 17-7, 16-8 and 21-5 over the past five seasons. Players like Colin Larmond, Jr., Marlon Bascombe, Al Jones, Harrison Rosemond and Brian Bartner had great success wearing a Morristown-Beard uniform. At this time last year, the Crimson were 11-0 and on the way to capturing a top seed for the Morris County Tournament.

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Ben O’Connell is in charge of running the Morristown-Beard offense this season. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

It was known during the summer this year was going to be different. All-Morris County player Chris Jenkins had transferred to Gill St. Bernard’s and another promising reserve the Crimson was counting on to step up as a starter also decided to transfer. The players left on the team decided to band together and learn from each other.

“It’s a pretty big difference,’’ Crimson guard Ben O’Connell said. “The whole starting five is different. Malik (Valentine) is still one of our key contributors. When everyone graduated and Chris left, I just didn’t even care. This is our team. I’m not focusing on last season. When one of those guys comes back, I talk to them and reminisce or whatever. This season our team is getting better. We’re only graduating three, so were getting better for next year, too.’’

O’Connell, the team’s point guard, prefers working and improving on a 5-6 team to watching from the bench of a 20-game winner.

“It’s better to play,’’ O’Connell said. “Last year coming off the bench as the seventh man, I had some good minutes but this year the minutes went up. I would much rather be starting, take some losses and learn from them. Obviously the talent level is not the same. Now it’s my team. I’m not coming off the bench. I get to run the show.’’

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Morristown-Beard’s Mark Abouyoun displays some inside moves. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Over years of coaching Franz is familiar with the type of mood swings that a typical varsity team goes through over the course of a season. However, he might have forgotten how pronounced emotions can be on a team filled with sophomores and juniors.

“These guys put their heads down,’’ Franz said. “That’s been their biggest grind. They are a young team that doesn’t get mad — they get mopey – very mopey.

“They get mopey when things go wrong and they don’t even compete sometimes. In the Whippany Park game (a 42-35 loss on Jan. 3) I was incredulous. I called a time out just to stop them from playing.  I couldn’t say anything. I just couldn’t take it.’’

The Crimson have also played well at times. One highlight was against cross-town rival Morristown High in an eye-popping 52-48 triumph just two days later.

“When my guys are not pressured, they can make shots,’’ Franz said. “Against Morristown we shot with them and they were letting us hang around. (Stephen) Sangree hit a three on an inbounds play and we won the game.’’

Kinnelon was another good victory to build on. In Saturday’s game Morristown-Beard may have taken the first big step toward showing maturity at the offensive end of the floor.

“On offense we were being really patient,’’ O’Connell said. “Early on in the season, we were taking a lot of first pass shots and we didn’t let the offense flow. In the second quarter we were staying patient. Guys were setting screens. I hit a free guy open. We were just knocking down shots overall.’’

The 15-5 second-quarter effort gave Morristown-Beard a 35-19 halftime lead. The Crimson maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

“There was a lot of great ball reversal,’’ Franz said. “We were as patient as we’ve ever been in terms of finding openings. We would often travel on our shot fakes because we were rushing everything. It was nice to watch. We literally shot faked and made the extra pass. We looked like a basketball team. We had four or five threes in the second quarter but they were all comfortable threes. They were wide open looks.’’

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Malik Valentine is one of the few Crimson players with extensive varsity experience. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Good perimeter shooting allowed Mark Abouyoun to do some work on the inside and Sangree to connect on some drives to the hoop.

“When we shoot the ball well, it frees up other things,’’ O’Connell said. “We made a majority of our free throws today, too. We’ve been struggling from the line over the season.

“Once guys start making shots, everything else falls into place. When guy’s heads are down and we are not playing well, the defense starts lagging. When we are feeling good the whole offense starts working together. It sets other things up.’’

Will Morristown-Beard continue to gain court maturity and find consistency or will the Crimson continue to be a feast or famine team that is dependent on the rhythm of its offense? Time will tell but either way, Morristown-Beard basketball is experiencing a season that it hasn’t had in years.

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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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