By Mark Kitchin
In some ways coaching Kinnelon boys basketball will be a new experience for Matt Arroyo, but there will also be times that coaching the Colts will also be strangely familiar. His past experiences of coaching at a Group I size school should benefit future Kinnelon teams.
The Paterson native has spent all summer learning about his players and their capabilities on the basketball court. He can’t wait to better implement strategies that will help them succeed in the winter months.
“I want them to gain confidence and the belief that they can win,” Arroyo said. “To win games we have to play as a team and everyone has to do their part.”
Arroyo replaces Sean Rivers, who had a respectable eight-year run with the Colts before he and his family moved to Texas last spring. Last season Kinnelon finished 8-17 but ended Rivers’ reign with a bang due to a 51-50 state tournament upset of Mountain Lakes. The Colts’ victory was astounding since they lost to the Lakers by 40 points in a regular season game the previous week.
Kinnelon lost a sizable number of seniors to graduation which should make Arroyo’s task of implementing his offensive and defensive systems a little bit easier.
Arroyo was a 3-sport athlete at the Passaic County Technical Institute but did not play varsity basketball at the school. However, he always had a love for the game which grew stronger while attending Bucknell University. He graduated the school with a history degree. He taught history at Midland Park for the past 11 years while coaching basketball in various positions for nine of those seasons. From 2010 to 2012 he coached the Midland Park boys varsity team to a 27-30 mark and a pair of state tournament appearances.
“My style coming from Midland Park would be like any Group I school,” Arroyo said. “I have to adapt with what I have. I’d love to press and run but depending on who I have I may have to slow it down. Ideally you want to play good defense and keep a team close to give the team a chance to win.”
Arroyo had heard about the Kinnelon program and felt it was somewhat comparable to Pequannock, another Morris County team that Midland Park had played over the years. His experiences at tiny Midland Park also gave him experience in how to keep a small school team competitive against bigger opponents. It also helped that Kinnelon High had an opening for a history teacher so Arroyo could be on the school grounds during the day.
Arroyo wasn’t officially hired in June. He met with his players over the summer. Instead of going to a team camp or joining a summer league, Arroyo thought it best that the Colts keep their summer program a low-key affair. They would meet for open gym nights to drill, scrimmage and get a better idea of how to move forward as a team.
“We just kept everything in house,” Arroyo said. “Keeping everyone together was the most difficult part. An average of at least 16 kids showed up every session.”
Arroyo doesn’t like the work rebuilding. He acknowledges that next season will certainly be one of transition, but it doesn’t mean that the Colts can’t have some success and fun on the court next winter.
“I’m hoping the kids pick things up and are excited about learning,” Arroyo said. “They impressed me as being a hard working bunch.”