BY ANDREW GARDA
The Montclair High School varsity boys basketball team is off and running with its summer league play, while also sponsoring the Montclair Elite Boys & Girls Basketball Camp.
The Mounties are playing in the Bloomfield Summer League, which is finishing up the regular season this week, with the playoffs occurring right after that.
Montclair’s squad will face Newark Tech in the 1st round on Monday, July 19 at 6:50. The victor will take on the winner of American History and Clifton, which will be played on Thursday, July 15.
The semifinals and finals will be played on Wednesday, July 21.
Head coach Gary Wallace has been pleased with what he has seen this summer, despite some speed bumps.
“I haven’t really been keeping a record of how many games we won or lost,” he said during a recent phone call. “But some games, you know, we look like we know what we’re doing, then there’s those other games where it was like, we don’t know our left from our right.”
Wallace chalks that up to losing five seniors to graduation and having a roster of kids who either haven’t played varsity before or are having to play far more minutes than they have previously been asked to play.
“I think it just, this is common with these guys growing and just really trying to figure each other out,” Wallace said. “Certain guys don’t [usually] play that many minutes, and others are stepping into different roles. You’re expecting more from guys, and it does take them a little time to find their niche and what they do best.”
It’s also tough because some of the players are playing football in the fall and missing games because of that, while others are playing club lacrosse, so getting a consistent lineup can be hard to do.
There have been flashes of potential shown elsewhere, too. Wallace said the team traveled to Rider University for Rider Team Camp and acquitted itself well against tough competition.
“We actually competed well with Life Center [Academy], and for those who don’t know Life Center, they’re a pretty highly rated school,” Wallace said. “They play against the private schools, like St. Benedict’s, [and are] pretty much like a college team in terms of height and talent. You know, we lost that game by five. [Overall] I think we lost one, won one. So we showed some good signs.”
As that league wraps up, some of the coaching staff and even some team members will be teaching kids how to play at Montclair Elite Boys & Girls Basketball Camp. Camp began this week and also has sessions July 19-23 and 26-30, with a potential fourth week taking place Aug. 2-6 if there is interest.
Camp will run from noon to 3 p.m. — with a requested check-in time of 11:50 a.m. — and will always be located at the MHS main gym, which is on the Midland Avenue side of the school.
The school itself is located at 100 Chestnut St.
The cost is $175 for one week, $325 for two and $450 for a third. Scholarships are available for those in need and are provided by the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp. Those interested may call 973-744-9094 and ask for Mr. Agrelot or Mr. Pelham.
The camp will focus on fundamentals such as ball handling, shooting, rebounding and layups as well as improving strength and agility, and each child will get a personal assessment sheet. Campers are asked to bring a bagged lunch as well as either Gatorade or water.
Questions can be directed to Wallace at email@example.com, and the camp accepts payment via Zelle (firstname.lastname@example.org), CashApp ($gwalldavis) or Paypal (paypal.me/GWallaceJr).
Like many MHS head coaches, Wallace is hoping that in addition to giving kids something to do during the summer and helping them sharpen their basketball skills and enjoyment of the game, the camp will give the children who show up —the camp is for both girls and boys from third to eighth grade — a taste for what it is like to be a Mountie.
The Montclair teams that are strongest — football, soccer, track and field and baseball, to name a few — have robust youth programs, especially at the middle school level. Many teams work with leagues during the season, and a camp like this is another good way to introduce the kids to Montclair High.
Wallace has been doing this since he arrived to coach the Mounties in 2017, because he believes once the kids get to know the coaches in any sport, they’ll be more willing to stay with the public school and their parents will understand there is just as much to be gained at Montclair High as there is at any private school.
“They’re like, wow, I know who this coach is. I know what he or she is about, and I want [my kid] to be a part of his or her program,” Wallace said. “And I think that’s where it really starts. Back in 2017, this was what we talked about, and it’s still something we’re talking about now.”
Wallace knows what he is talking about as a graduate of Seton Hall Prep, where he was part of two non-Public A state championship teams before he headed to Robert Morris for college.
He also knows setting the culture for the program is important, and if he can build it through the camp, then each child who attends MHS and plays basketball — either for the boys or girls team — will know what is expected of them, and what it will take to succeed.
As he and the rest of the Montclair sports teams continue to build those pipelines into the middle schools, Wallace is hoping he can prove that MHS is the place for kids to play and learn.
“I feel like Montclair is an amazing town, is a town that has so much of, not just athletic potential, but academic potential.”