By Mark Kitchin
The Chatham boys basketball players are a versatile bunch but having Colin McKenna on the floor seems to make achieving their goals a lot easier.
The Cougars junior forward scored 20 points and helped Chatham to a 68-42 victory over Mountain Lakes on Tuesday. The 6-foot-4 athlete has an inside presence and terrific mobility that may become even more important as the season progresses.
“He (Colin) brings unbelievable intensity,” teammate Graham Delaney said. “He’s a big guy that really wants to get inside and score and that’s what we saw today (Tuesday). He missed a couple shots but he would just come right back up and pull it back down and go get a foul and even put it in a couple of times and get the and-one. He is a presence inside. He opens up so many shot opportunities for the guards. He’s a really great player for us.”
Chatham does have other players with size including 6-foot-6 Stefan Goles and 6-foot-5 sophomore John Burkard, but McKenna’s combination of size, quickness and determination causes matchup problems.
Chatham’s Colin McKenna can cause matchup problems with his size, quickness and determination. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Against Mountain Lakes, McKenna’s virtues were easy to see against physically strong Mountain Lakes center Peyton Miller.
“Colin could beat him (Peyton Miler) down the floor and he is a little bit quicker,” Delaney said. “We were looking inside to see what he could do and he definitely won that matchup tonight.”
The problem with McKenna this year has been getting him on the floor on a consistent basis. A persistent ankle injury has kept him out of some games.
“I sprained my ankle the first game of the year,” McKenna said. “That held me out one game. I came back. Five games in, I re-sprained it against Sparta. … It’s always a little nerve wracking at first when you come back. You never know if you are going to re-sprain it but our trainer has been taping me and I have a brace on. Its kind of normal now. I got back into the swing of things.”
An important early game that Chatham could have used McKenna was in a recent 32-29 loss to Roxbury that ended a four-game winning streak. The close, low scoring encounter was a learning experience for the Cougars.
“We just didn’t make any shots,” Chatham coach Todd Erviin said. “We didn’t have Colin. We weren’t getting any inside points out of it. The whole game was a struggle. It was an ugly game. We just moved on from it.”
The ability to defend as a team will say a lot in how successful Chatham will be this year. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Chatham also got a lesson in intensity, which was lacking and much needed against Roxbury’s grinding style.
“We have to come out and play as hard as we can from the opening tip and we did not do that,” Delaney said. “They really took it to us.”
This year’s Cougars, now 9-3, are an interesting mix. They seem capable of shaping their game plan to fit a variety of styles. They have enough depth and speed to run with the uptempo teams like Mount Olive and Hanover Park, but also enough size to be comfortable in the half court against teams that utilize more deliberate tempos like Mendham and Roxbury. They have also been getting help from freshmen and sophomores who are pushing the starters to play better.
“It’s different from last year,” Delaney said. “I was a junior on a senior heavy team. This year it is a little different of a role. Coming in I wasn’t sure how it was going to all pan out. I didn’t know if the freshmen were going to be able to step up. They have stepped up great. It’s only helped our team. The young kids like (Jack) Rooney and (Johnny) Maurer and the sophomores, too. They are stepping up huge. It just takes more pressure off me and off the ball when they can hit open shots. It’s been great.”
The drawbacks have been inexperience, inconsistency and perhaps finding the type of style that the Cougars can play best. Ervin’s Chatham teams have always focused on solid fundamental man-to-man defense. Their ability to mesh and play as a group on the defensive end has always been the difference between a good season and a great one. This year’s Cougars are still working towards that end.
“I think we can be pretty good if we put it all together,” Ervin said. “We are starting to defend a lot better. That has to improve still. Defensively we’ve been playing well. It all starts there.
On defense we just have to bring it every night. We’ve had some down nights defensively. We’ve made some stupid mistakes and we get into foul trouble at times. On nights you don’t shoot it well, than you really have to defend.”