By EDWARD KENSIK
kensik@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Kimberley Academy boys hoops team might not have looked spectacular, but the results were better in the end than at the start.

The Cougars won only one of their first five contests in the 2021-22 season.

But they turned it on to finish at the .500 mark, 10-10, and head coach Tony Jones saw steady progress after the start.

“I thought we improved as the season went on,” Jones said. “The guys improved individually and as a team. We certainly would have liked to win more games.”

As highlights, the coach pointed to two tournament games, a 57-35 win over West Orange on the road in the Essex County Tournament preliminary round and then a 59-41 triumph over Morristown-Beard in the first round of the Prep B tournament.

“We were able to shut down W.O. and M-B by pressuring the ball and thereby scoring in transition,” Jones said.

He also pointed to the second game against Nutley, a 55-49 victory on the road on Feb. 8. Junior Marley Stewart led the Cougars with 18 points as MKA pulled away in the final eight minutes.

“Nutley beat us the first time we played them,” Jones said. “We knew we had to stay focused on defense and attack mismatches on offense. It was a close game until the last four minutes of the fourth quarter.”

The season was the end of the road for two top players, seniors Brennan Columbia-Walsh and Isiah Udofia, who received All-Super Essex Conference-Freedom Division first- and second-team honors, respectively.

Columbia-Walsh surpassed the thousand-point mark for his career and averaged a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He passed a thousand points in the next-to-last game of the season, a 59-57 defeat in overtime to Pingry on Feb. 26 in which he, typically, had a double-double, with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

“Brennan has been rock-solid for four years,” Jones said. “We will miss his 15 and 10 that he provides inside the paint. We will miss most his diligent approach to preparation and the competitive energy he brings each day.”

Udofia contributed in several categories, leading MKA in assists as the Cougars’ floor general. “We will miss Isiah’s understanding of the game and when to feed the hot guy or the player who has not had a shot in a while,” the coach said. “In addition, his ability to play the passing lanes certainly will be missed.”

Senior Isiah Udofia (2, shown against Montclair’s Omari Thusi) was named to the SEC-Freedom Division second team for his play this past winter. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Senior Isiah Udofia (2, shown against Montclair’s Omari Thusi) was named to the SEC-Freedom Division second team for his play this past winter. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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One of the top players returning for Jones and MKA next year will be Stewart, who was named to the All-SEC-Freedom second team. Stewart was the Cougars’ second-leading scorer and is expected to make a big jump next season. Jones believes he has the chance to be one of the top players in the county in 2022-23. 

“He has the work ethic, skill and competitive nature to be considered among the best,” the coach said. “He can score from the arc, mid-range and at the rim. He is a quality defender and willing passer. He is one of the most complete players to play at MKA.”

Along with Stewart, the Cougars will have junior Isaac Wise, who was picked for the All-SEC-Freedom honorable-mention list, returning.

MKA boys basketball honors

Super Essex Conference-Freedom Division

First team

Brennan Columbia-Walsh, senior

Second team

Marley Stewart, junior

Isiah Udofia, senior

Honorable mention

Isaac Wise, junior