Guard tandem gives West Morris stability

West Morris Mid-Summer Preview

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

It was difficult to know what to expect from West Morris boys basketball last year. After more than a decade, the Wolfpack had a new coach and a renewed determination to shake things up and not get frustrated over past setbacks. As a group they had a little bit of everything, size, skill, youth, experience. Their season could have turned out any number of ways. The result was a new look on the court and a 14-11 record which included some quality wins.

“We had a whole lot of fun,” West Morris coach Mark Schartner said. “We had a really great group of kids. It was nice having a good group of seniors and a player like Sam McClellan to anchor the team for a big bounce back season. For us to be going 14-11 and getting to the quarterfinals of the counties for the first time in three years, it was nice to have a season like that. I thought the kids got better and grew as the year went on. I look for continued growth from our returning players this year.”

Schartner had been an assistant coach at West Morris the last four seasons and credited former coach Wayne Shapiro with helping to prepare him for the job. The difference between being a varsity and a jayvee coach were pretty clear cut and Schartner was ready for the new challenge.

7 bb wmmlSean McElwaine is in charge of running the West Morris offense. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“Wayne did a really good job of working with me and letting me see what was going on and I was expecting a lot of the stuff,” Schartner said. “The time commitment is there and I knew it would be there. Designing practices was the biggest change. Being the jayvee coach your team always practiced with varsity. Wayne was always setting up a lot of practices. The planning for that was the biggest adjustment for me, finding time during the day to get something together to really plan it out and prepare us for the upcoming games.”

Schartner kept much of the traditional philosophy of the Wolfpack in place but introduced subtle and not so subtle changes to their game plan. The biggest change was the installment of a 1-3-1 zone defense that took full advantage of the wingspan of center McClellan and 6-foot-4 forward Pat Gialanella.

“We never did run a 1-3-1 non-trapping zone before and the kids picked up and embraced it,” Schartner said. “They ran it really well as the season went on. As things progressed I saw the kids gain more and more familiarity with the sets and different things we were trying to do. I think it helped us get big wins against teams we didn’t beat in recent years like Chatham or Mendham.”

Looking back

This season there may be a little less 1-3-1 zone and more man-to-man because the players that ran it so efficiently have graduated. Especially, the 6-foot-6 McClellan who wrapped up his varsity career with some strong performances on offense and on the boards.

“Sam was great,” Schartner said. “All off-season and all fall, he showed leadership by getting kids in the gym. It really set the tone and his work in the weight room and getting himself better kind of emulated what we wanted from players in our program. He took control of that as a leader for the team.”

Six-foot-four Pat Gialanella also made a difference with his hard work and physical play.

“As a freshman he was a little smaller,” Schartner said. “He was an outside shooter and kind of worked his game and reinvented his game during his sophomore year into his junior year. He added another scoring threat and a physical presence inside along with Sam which was great.”

Looking forward

The strength of the upcoming team will definitely be at guard with Conor Barron and Sean McElwaine both returning. Barron, a senior and potential 3-year starter, was a top offensive performer for West Morris. He continues to improve in all facets of his game.

9 bb wmmlConor Barron, left, will be among many players with multiple duties for the Wolfpack. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“Conor is becoming a better shooter, getting better going to the basket and getting stronger,” Schartner said. “He’s been working on his rebounding because those are things he is going to have to do for us this year. He is really working into that leadership role along with McElwaine  and lead us in the right direction.”

McElwaine, a junior, is a talented ball handler who runs the offense and is capable of pushing the ball to the basket. Although he has had some setbacks, he continues to overcome them.

“Sean is in his second year at the point,” Schartner said. “I thought he had a good year last year. The concussion obviously hurt him. We missed him in the county quarters.

“He has shown more growth. His shooting has gotten even better. He’s finishing around the basket. He can be an explosive player and he’s really showing that. He’s going to have to score a little bit more for us. He’s always been a pass first type of guard. He’s looking to shoot a little more and score a little more, which he is going to have to do.”

The Wolfpack is also expecting good things from Sean Roehrich, a junior who came off the bench last year.

“He hit a big three for us against Mendham,” Schartner said. “He was a good bench player for us. He does some things for us, dirty stuff under the basket, rebounding, he plays physical.”

Their lack of size will also require Dominic Grauso to be more active under the boards. A jayvee player most of the season, Grauso worked his way into the mix after McElwaine’s concussion. He has shown over the summer that he is getting stronger and developing a nice touch around the basket.

Newcomer Kevin Leonard is an athletic, long-armed junior who is a solid defender and can hit an open shot. Ambrose Consol may also play a strong role in the future. He missed his freshman year with concussion issues and spent sophomore on jayvee. However, he will be among the teams taller players this year and has some skills to build on.

“He’s a more polished inside player than anyone else,” Schartner said. “He kind of knows his way around the block and where to cut. He’s a smart basketball player. He can be a big plus for us this year.”

Off-season efforts

Past seasons saw West Morris attend camps at East Stroudsburg University and Rider University. It’s a different year and a different approach.

“No (other) tournaments,” Schartner said. “We’re doing this and then we are going away to Providence College for camp. It’s a four-day camp for some instruction and team stuff. I like the set up. It’s my alma mater so we decided to go up there. We decided to get away from all the New Jersey teams we play at Rider and ESU. We wanted to see some different teams and different players.”

West Morris did have a solid showing in the Hopatcong Summer League. The Wolfpack advanced to the finals and played a thrilling game with division rival Roxbury in the title game. After their New England trip in late June most of July will be spent with 4-day-a-week workouts and the occasional scrimmage.

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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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