Streaking Morristown-Beard overcame early obstacles

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

When Morristown-Beard lost three of its projected starters before the season began, the team had to figure out the best way to move forward. Roles changed, back ups became starters and the Crimson had to figure out a new style to suit their athletes. After a slow start, Morristown Beard has gone from 1-5 to 10-5 and developed into one of Morris County’s surprise teams.

“We were struggling a little bit to find who we were,” Morristown-Beard guard Matt McFadden said. “We were great in the summer. After we lost those guys, we had to find who we were again. After that game (a 59-56 Dover loss on Jan. 7), we needed to turn it around. We beat the next team (Madison) by a lot and we’ve been on a roll since.”

The losses were substantial. Chris Pooler, who saw action in every varsity game last season, transferred back to Morristown High School. Then when they were able to practice again in the fall, three more players including two of the Crimson’s tallest players, left the team for sports or personal reasons. The remaining athletes were crestfallen at first. However, looking back those losses may have been blessings in disguise for coach Ed Franz’s team.

“The issues we had with those guys can best be described as being one foot in and one foot out,” McFadden said. “They didn’t know if they really wanted to be here or elsewhere. They weren’t truly committed. Once those guys left, we had everybody that had two feet in. We were all on the same page. That’s when we started working to turn it around.”

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Daniel Tejada (4), Matt Stark (2), and Brad Rudinsky (12) swarm to stop a Dover player during a recent game. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

But it didn’t make the situation any easier. Suddenly players had to shift around and roles had to be adjusted. Junior Patrick Davis is the team’s only varsity player over 6-feet tall. He had limited experience on the varsity level and was usually the third forward in the game. He is not a traditional big man but the Crimson found they could use his versatility as a spot up shooter to their benefit.

“Pat is an outside, inside guy,” senior teammate Matt Stark said. “He can play corner, elbow — he’s athletic and he is very used to his body. He’s not an awkward big guy. He can really shoot the rock.”

His ability to shoot often forces an opponent’s big man to come out and opens lanes for the Crimson guards to drive to the hoop.

“As guards we had to attack the basket because we don’t have the bigs to go to work,” McFadden said. “We are physical guards and we like to go. With Pat being out of the way, we can clear the middle of the floor and attack hard.”

Although the team was probably headed toward having a four guard lineup, Morristown-Beard’s departures solidified that thinking. Injuries early in the year to McFadden and Stark, allowed for more playing time for Justin Rodriguez. Now the team’s freshman guard is a fixture.

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Pat Davis (33) has been forced to lift his game for the Crimson to have success. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“He stayed in the starting lineup and he has been very productive,” McFadden said. “We knew he was going to be good. He gets better every game. He’s going to be phenomenal when he is a senior.”

It also guaranteed more time for shooting guard Brian Monaghan. The Morristown-Beard sophomore is a solid perimeter threat and has become the team’s most dependable scorer with a 17.6 per game average.

“Brian worked his (tail) off in the summer,” Stark said. “He completely changed his game around. I think he can do it all. He changed the game from a slow it down and work at our own pace to a more – we are going by my tempo.”

“This year he turned it up,” McFadden added. “He’s flying down the court. He is finishing shots. He’s worked on his outside shooting. He was hesitant last year. Now he is ready to knock it down in anybody’s face.”

Playing four guards adds to the team’s versatility. Any one of them can set up the offense. They are not afraid to push the tempo on the break either. Although having a small squad can be a liability on defense, the Crimson are fighting against that every day. Rebounding has also become a big issue since that duty is performed by committee.

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Matt McFadden and his teammates love to drive to the hoop. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We go box out to break on rebounds and we work on that for 20 minutes every practice,” McFadden said. “We work really hard. We know we are small and we have to box out.”

There were little improvements here and there as the season started. They suffered losses against holiday tournament competition Bayonne and Piscataway Tech, but those games showed the Crimson athletes the way they needed to play. It wasn’t until that game against Madison (a 93-54 win) that Morristown-Beard put it all together.

“The practice before Madison is the practice where Franz really gave it to us,” Stark said. “He told us what we needed to do. We came to Madison. We played hard defense. We blew them out. From there we worked on the same things every day. We got better and better and better at it. Now were just moving forward.”

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Matt Stark is focused on the basket while getting fouled on the drive. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Since then they have won nine consecutive games including impressive victories against Roxbury and Hanover Park.

Because of the Crimson’s recent success, they know teams won’t look past them. Looming is the biggest game of the year so far, against rival Morristown High in the opening round of the Morris County Tournament on Saturday. The Colonials are almost mirror images of the Crimson. They also don’t have much height. They run four guards, have excellent shooters, like to play up tempo and rebound by committee. Regardless of how the game at Morristown High ends up, Morristown-Beard has proven that a determined team can recover from tough pre-season losses and re-make themselves into a dangerous opponent if they believe they can.

“We had to find out what we do well and ever since the Madison game we really clicked,” McFadden said. “We just keep getting better at it.”

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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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