Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight coined the phrase, “Players are made in the off-season.” Mountain Valley coaches ran open gyms had and had their players hit the weights and participate in summer camps. The final year of the Mountain Valley Conference is up for grabs. Two coaches are looking to their younger players to step up.
Roselle head boys basketball coach Michael Smith returned the storied Roselle Rams Basketball program to top Union County basketball perch. After missing the state playoffs the previous four years, the Rams won the Group II section II state championship in 2008 and finished with a 21-6 record. This year, after losing four of five starters, Smith will look to some inexperienced players to help Roselle climb up the Mountain Valley conference once again.
The building block for the Rams team will be Anthony Obery. This year’s squad is a more guard-dominated team, a theme that is consistent with most of the Mountain Valley conference teams. What the squad lacks in size, it makes up for in speed and good scorers.
Anthony’s brother, Atoine Obery, graduated and moved onto DII Felician College. “He was an important senior to the team,” Smith said. The elder Obery was a second team All Union County player.
“Our inside players really have to improve for us to be successful” said Smith. Bijan Mekoba and Mike Fhelusma are the two players inside; seniors Anthony Obery, Kendall James, and Kavon Cornwall round out the Rams starting five.
“Mike (Fhelusma) only started playing basketball last year.” said the Rams coach. “Both he and Bijan need to develop more or they are going to foul out of some games.” Sophomore Dwight Bostic will provide minutes off the bench.
Smith still has his Five Disciplines that he preaches for a successful season: 1. Defense, 2. Run the “Brig”, 3. Play Together, 4. Work Hard and 5. Believe. This was his recipe for success last year.
Roselle started the season with victories over Mountain Valley Conference rivals Roselle Catholic and Cranford and a loss to Red Bank in the Buc Holiday classic.
“This year conference is up for grabs,” said Smith. Both Roselle and Rahway lost a lot of players to graduation and have fallen back into the middle of the conference pack. Rahway was undefeated until losing to St. Pat’s in the Union County semi-finals last year. This season the Indians are 3-2.
The Hillside Comets first-year head coach Bob Brown wants to catch lighting in a bottle like the Comets football team did. Hillside turned a 0-10 season to a state playoff contender.
Brown had assistant coaching stops at Irvington, Plainfield and most recently Rahway. “We got a bunch of blue collar guys that will have to learn to play together” said Brown.
Hillside, like Roselle, lost most of their starting lineup to graduation and sophomore sensation guard Kelvin Amayo decided to transfer to St. Benedict’s Prep leaving a lot of inexperience and uncertainty for the new coach. They are led by seniors Caron McCluney and Malachi Jones.
Brown is looking to build a team concept. “We have to work on our defense, once our players understand that we can start building from there.” said Brown.
Hillside has stumbled with a 0-5 start. With a smaller team with some football players on their roster, Coach Brown and company will look to start to turn around their season
The Comets just missed the state cutoff last year. Brown wants to reverse that trend and bring the Union County school back to being in the upper tier. The two teams will play each other twice this month, on Jan. 8 and 29.
Union County Top Ten (on Jan. 5)
- St. Patrick 7-1
- Elizabeth 4-1
- Union 6-1
- Plainfield 4-2
- Linden 3-3
- St. Mary’s 3-1
- Rahway 3-2
- Governor Livingston 4-1
- New Providence 4-1
- Scotch Plains 2-4
Jim Whelan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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