by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Mounties boys basketball team enters the 2017-18 season looking to build off the momentum from last season’s campaign, the first for head coach Gary Wallace. The Mounties went 17-11 during the season, 8-4 in the Liberty Division, then beat 8 seeded Fair Lawn in the NJSIAA state tournament’s first round before losing to top seeded Bloomfield 54-43 in the quarterfinals.

In order for his team to take their efforts to the next level — and now in the American Division — Wallace is going to push them very hard.

“There are a lot of things I didn’t incorportate into practice last year,” Wallace said. “It was my first year, so I wasn’t sure guys were going to be able to handle what was being put in.”

After the loss to Bloomfield, however, Wallace and his staff took a long look at the season and realized if the program is going to flourish, the players are going to have to take on things that might make them uncomfortable, and work harder than they have ever had to before.

“These guys are going to have to be willing to put in the work and study what we give them in order to understand that this is the way the game of basketball is played...It’s even an adjustment for some of the guys coming back from last year. But, I know these guys are capable and smart young men, so we’re trying to give them, not too much but enough that they can digest right now and then we build on that.”

Wallace has been focusing on a wide variety of drills this offseason, putting the teams — both Varsity and Junior Varsity — into a lot of different game situations . Whether they highlight playing against the press, getting the ball out more quickly in transition or moving the ball more effectively from player to player, Wallace wants what they do in practice to enchance what they are capable of on the floor during a game.

That;s one thing Wallace considers a failing on his part last season.

“That’s something I didn’t do last year with these guys, and it hurt us in a lot of situations because guys weren’t used to, in practice, getting the ball in the net, getting it out quickly and running the floor. So I have a lot of drills this year which are open floor drills, and the pace is a lot faster this year.”

The Mounties are in a bit of a time-crunch, though, as they have only just got back several key pieces, specifically senior Tarrin Earle and junior Charles Murphy Jr. Both players, along with transfer Marcus Crowell, weren’t practicing with the MHS team before Saturday, December 2, as they were off winning a State Title with the Mounties football team.

Charles Murphy Jr streaks down the court during Montclair's scrimmage against Teaneck on Friday, December 8. Along with Tarrin Earle and Marcus Crawford, coach Gary Wallace is hoping Murphy can bring the determination he showed this football season to basketball.
Charles Murphy Jr streaks down the court during Montclair's scrimmage against Teaneck on Friday, December 8. Along with Tarrin Earle and Marcus Crawford, coach Gary Wallace is hoping Murphy can bring the determination he showed this football season to basketball.

Wallace is hoping the tenacity and focus those players brought to the football field on Saturday for the Mounties will be carried onto the basketball court.

“I said to these guys when they came back, let’s use what you have, that energy now, and bring it to these guys.”

Murphy and Earle were ready and willing to transition to basketball, and both are hungry to try and reproduce their football championship success with the basketball team.  Wallace acknowledges it can be a rough, and quick, transition from one sport to another, but he’s tried to make it as seamless as possible. Still, he was only able to take it easy on the football kids for a couple of days, since the Mounties had three scrimmages — home against Christ the King on Monday, at Millburn and then back home against Teaneck — and their first game is December 15 against a tough Newark East Side squad.

“I keep telling my guys they have to understand, we don’t have a lot of time, so the time we do have, you got to remain locked in, got to remain focused. And you got to be ready to do things outside the comfort zone because that’s how we’re going to grow as a team.”

To that end, Wallace is setting up plays in the huddle and seeing how his players adjust to new ideas mid-game.

“We didn’t run a lot of plays last year,” Wallace explained. “Now I’m giving them things on the fly, because I wanna see how well they think on the fly. Certain situations they responded pretty well, and other situations, total disaster. But it’s OK. I’m not expecting them to be perfect and pick up everything right away because I didn’t. I’m expecting them to really focus in and lock and make progress every day.”

Wallace isn’t just doing this to improve his team now, he’s also doing it to show his players what it’s like to play at a collegiate level.

“A coach is going to draw something up in the huddle and you’re going to have to take what he says and apply it in a matter of 30 seconds<” Wallace said. “So I can’t continue to baby them and say you know what, we’re not going to do that because I don’t think you can get it. I have to put them in that situation so they get used to it and understand that this is what is expected of you.”


Of course, it’s not just about Earle and Murphy. Wallace is expecting a lot of his players to step up. Crowell, a big-bodied athlete who just finished playing football with Murphy and Earle. Isaiah McPhereson, who was on junior varsity last season and who is another big body who just needs a more consistent motor. Shawn Summers and Dishaun Davis will both have to step up as well.

“Really everybody is going to play a key role this year. From my starters to my bench. And i told every single one of them, you guys present something different. Now they have to figure out “what is my role and how do I do it best?””

Wallace knows he inherited a good team last season, and knows they are capable of much more if he can find a way to lead them there.

“I think the biggest key for us is to play with patience, to play with poise and to play with purpose. I know I was very fortunate. I’m not saying we had a great year last year, we’re going to have a great year this year. Each year is a new year. But I think we can take what we were given, build on that and make strdes to get better every day,”

The Mounties open their season Friday night at home against Newark East Side. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.