Montclair High School boys hoops sets stage for the future with promising 2022-23 season
The Montclair High School boys basketball team might not be where head coach Cecil Stinson wants it to be, but the Mounties have taken the necessary steps to set a foundation.
Montclair ended with a 13-12 record, an improvement over the 2021-22 season, when it registered six victories.
"Overall, I believe that we had a successful season," Stinson said about his debut year as head coach. "This year was a lot of teaching, and we still have a long way to go. However, we have much to build from."
The one-game-over-.500 record indicates the 2022-23 season was a roller coaster for Montclair.
"That's to be expected with an inexperienced group, with a 15-man roster and only two guys with varsity experience," Stinson said. "The truth is, some guys are just enjoying the experience this year, to be a part of this team means a lot to them, and I love it.
“Understanding the rigors, how hard you have to work every day, every minute, the attention to details, how important every single possession is, was something new to this team. Those bad possessions, turnovers, missed rotations early in the game add up, and sometimes you cannot make up for it."
For the program’s improvement this year, Stinson garnered the SEC Colonial Division coach of the year award.
"Coach Stinson came into the program this year and turned the team into a divisional contender," Montclair Athletics Director Ron Anello said. "Montclair High School basketball is on an upswing thanks to the coach and a great group of student-athletes."
For Stinson the key in his first season was to build a relationship with the players.
"The biggest take-away from this season in my eyes is the relationships that we have built with these young men individually," he said. "In time, those relationships will have guys run through a wall for each other. All year we've moved the goal post when individuals got close to the mark. We'll continue to do that."
Stinson points to a 62-59 victory at home against West Essex on Feb. 7. Montclair tied with the Knights for second place in the Super Essex Conference Colonial Division. The Mounties lost, 78-61, at West Essex on Jan. 10.
"The first time we played them, at their place, we lost by about 20, and it was in my opinion an embarrassing effort from us," the coach said. "They had their way with us, and it was a frustrating loss for me because I knew that we could play with them.
“The second game was huge because there was a lot at stake. Power points, considering it was a week before the state cutoff, and a win would have us tie them for second place in the division."
The contest had several lead changes. "For an inexperienced team, I was very pleased with the way that we handled adversity in that game," Stinson said.
Three Montclair players collected All Super Essex Conference Colonial Division honors: sophomore guard Jahi Whitney, senior forward Shindon Thompson and junior guard Shawn Kirkley, who were placed on the first team, second team and honorable mention list, respectively.
Whitney was the leading scorer for the Mounties, averaging double digits per game for a team that had several players contribute to the scoring sheet.
"What I like best about him is not easy to put a bow on," said Stinson, who appreciates Whitney's versatility. "Jah started all season at the five, which gave him many advantages at the offensive end. Having bigger defenders, he could stretch the floor out and force other centers to have to defend off the bounce.
“When we put him on the perimeter, oftentimes the other team’s best defenders had to zero in on our primary ball handlers. Jah lets the game come to him and doesn't force the issue."
Thompson excelled behind the three-point arc, on defense and with the intangibles, even without a lot of varsity experience. The senior registered a dozen points, six rebounds and four assists in the win over West Essex.
"He has the will to win, and his effort echoes that," Stinson said. "That effort becomes contagious, and Shin will do whatever you ask of him. He does so much that doesn't show up in the stat sheet. Whether he has 20 points or four, you must have him on the floor because he brings that much to the game."
Kirkley’s best qualities were his resilience and work ethic after he played very little in the first weeks of the season.
"He never complained; in fact, he worked harder every single day," Stinson said. "He came in first in nearly every running drill and competed with game intensity towards anyone he had to compete against in practice.
“Honestly, Shawn in a way was the heart and soul of this team. He brought a toughness that is flat-out unmatched."