By Mark Kitchin
RANDOLPH — Ryan Traub and Steve Leonardo don’t have to be told that there will be times that they will have to step up and make a difference for the Mount Olive basketball team. They already know.
And many times they have already responded. In the high-octane, run-and-gun world of Marauders basketball a lot of players touch the ball and it helps when more of them become offensive threats. It becomes almost pivotal as teams get deeper and deeper into tournament play.
Zach Heeman and Rashaan Spencer are the top two scorers in Morris County but when defenders find ways to shut them down or get them in foul trouble, other Marauders will be needed to step up from time to time.
“The way that they are building confidence is the key to everything,’’ Mount Olive coach Kevin Moore said. “We’re in their ears all the time about shooting. Do not think twice. Put it up. Shoot the ball. If you miss it you have to have that short term memory, forget it and shoot the next one. We shoot enough in practice that we know eventually that they are going to start falling.’’
Steve Leonardo is one of many Mount Olive players capable of stepping up when needed. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Both Traub and Leonardo are capable of double-digit offensive games when needed. Traub, a 6-foot-7 junior, can easily be seen as a back up to the 6-foot-8 Heenan but Traub has a deeper offensive range, which often takes tall defenders out of the paint. Now he often starts to emphasize that purpose.
“In terms of mechanics, he is the most mechanically sound 3-point shooter on our team,’’ Moore said. “He is our X-factor. When he is playing well and he’s engaged in the game and he’s scoring points — he is the one that is the game changer for us.’’
Traub averages more than nine points per game and has hit 22 threes this year. He has 10 double-digit offensive games and 17-point efforts against Sparta and Morris Hills to his credit.
Traub got limited playing time last year because of his team’s depth. He feels the reason he has been more successful from behind the arc this year is simply because he is getting more opportunities to shoot.
““I’ve always been a perimeter shooter,’’ Traub said. “It’s just that I’ve gotten more attempts to shoot the ball this year. We have a machine back at school and we practice getting thousands of shots up.’’
Ryan Traub’s perimeter prowess has been a big help to the Marauders. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Leonardo is not as much relied upon to knock down threes but he will take them and often make them. The 6-foot guard has produced double-digit scoring games include a 14-point effort in Mount Olive’s 74-50 romp of Mendham in Sundays Morris County Tournament quarterfinal game.
“He just does a lot of things,’’ Moore said. “He is not afraid in the big games. That’s the thing. He’s fearless in the big moments. Maybe that comes with senior leadership and probably his experiences last year but it seems like when we need something he steps forward, whether its free throws or big threes in that stretch to take the lead. He’s just done a phenomenal job for us.’’
Leonardo is a little more defensive minded and usually creates opportunities from the press to get points for the team. He is relentless on the traps the Marauders employ to pick up tempo and disrupt the offensive sets of their opponents.
“I like to pass the ball,’’ Leonardo said. “If the shot is open, I’ll take it. I look for Zach — look for Rashaan — get them off curls. I take the ball and get it going.’’
Leonardo said there are some differences between last year’s team and this year’s. There is a more focused effort on getting the ball to Heeman in the blocks where he is most effective. Opposing teams are also bringing more intensity to face the Marauders than past years because of their recent successes. However, he doesn’t think they can prepare that much better than last year when Mount Olive first broke out using Grinnell System tactics because of their defense.
Jason Drury, left, and Steve Leonardo both jump for a rebound in Sunday’s MCT contest against Mendham. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
“I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head how many different traps we have,’’ Leonardo said. “Maybe 5 or 6 — we practice defense every day. It’s a big part of our basketball. That’s how we win games. … We switch it up every game. We have different strategies for teams. We are hit or miss. You have to come and watch to find out.’’
Mount Olive learned a lesson when it suffered a recent regular-season loss to Randolph, but the Marauders seem to have bounced back well. Against Mendham in Sunday’s MCT quarterfinals they looked sharp by building a 37-26 halftime lead and running off eight straight points to start the third quarter which cemented the victory. They are ready to keep rolling and determined to get past Morristown and return to the MCT final and another shot at the school’s first Morris County hoops title.
“It feels great (to go back),’’ Leonardo said. “We just keep pushing. We just want to keep going with it. Last year doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just a group of guys wanting to play basketball.’’