Ed Kensik for the Montclair Local
When the dust settles at the end of the 2021 winter season, Montclair Kimberley boys basketball could have one of the seasons to remember.
Cougars head coach Tony Jones said he believes that his ’21 squad has the potential to be on the winning side for each game.
“I think we can win every game and be a very good team,” he said.
Jones and MKA made strides last season with a 10-15 record after winning only two contests in the previous season.
Unfortunately for Jones, he will be watching from afar for most of the season. Because of health issues, he won’t be able to be on the sidelines until the end of February.
But fortunately, he has a good pair of assistant coaches, Anthony Rea and Josh Chery, and also will be watching video of each practice and game.
“It’s kind of hard, but I am staying connected every day with my assistant coaches,” said Jones, who has led the program since 1999.
The coach added that he is looking for his players to play better by the end of the campaign. “It’s always to improve individually, and that will translate into more wins,” he said.
For this season MKA moves from the Super Essex Conference Independence division to the Freedom division, where it will meet the likes of Weequahic, which won the division last season.
Jones and the rest of the coaching staff are optimistic because of their players’ experience.
“We have five guys that have at least two years of varsity experience,” he said.
Seniors Noah Wolk and Bennett LaLonde have been in the rotation since they were sophomores. Juniors Isiah Udofia, Dylan Sachs and Brennan Columbia-Walsh have been in the rotation since they were freshmen.
“In a shortened season, the starting five will probably play quite a lot, so we will be leaning on those five guys,” Rea said.
For Jones, the key will be how the starting five and the rest of the team work on the floor among themselves. “The key is going to be able to share the ball,” he said.
Rea added that consistency will also lead to victories.
“We are going to play three games a week for five weeks, so we can’t have a week where we let our intensity drop,” he said.
The top returning player is Columbia-Walsh, who contributed 13.1 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. He was named to the All-Independence second team for the 2019-20 season.
“Brennan always gives 100 percent effort and is an excellent interior scorer and rebounder,” Rea said. “He runs the floor and is a tireless worker. I think this year he will be able to show off his expanded jump-shooting range, as it is something he has been working on in the off-season.”
Udofia looks to build on his 2019-20 season, where he averaged 7 points and 4.3 rebounds while garnering an All-Independence honorable mention nod.
“Isiah has great ability and is an extremely smart player,” Rea said about the point guard. “He can anticipate where players are going on offense and get them the ball in a position to score, and he can tell where passes are going defensively.”
LaLonde will be the new piece in the starting five, joining Wolk, Sachs, Columbia-Walsh and Udofia. He replaces graduated senior Jack O’Connell, an All Independence first-team player last season, in the starting five. LaLonde will be at the power forward spot, but can also shoot the ball.
There are three players, junior Pete Zengari and sophomores Isaac Wise and Amari Urguhart, who saw extensive time on the junior varsity last season and will get minutes on the varsity this season.
The Cougars suffered a loss to Caldwell Jan. 30, 54-50. Another early test will be when they face off against Weequahic, Feb. 6 at 11:30 a.m.