Montclair Kimberley boys hoops wrapup: Two titles for a team that played without ego
The Montclair Kimberley boys basketball needed some wins when it came down to the home stretch of the 2022-23 season.
The Cougars came out with more than that: They added a couple of titles to their coffers.
Montclair Kimberley finished with a 19-6 record as well as taking home a share of the Super Essex Conference Freedom Division title and the Prep B title.
"I don't think I could have asked any more from them," Cougars head coach Tony Jones said. "They played like a team on the court, and off the court they were picking each other up.
“They were the most ego-less team that I have ever had … They grew as the season went on and learned to compete and deal with the struggles."
Jones also picked up his 300th victory in the next-to-last game and the last victory of the season. The veteran coach said he did not want to let his team know about the mark, which he reached in a 65-61 victory over Doane Academy at home on Feb. 20 to win the Prep B championship.
"I found out that I needed five wins to get to 300," said Jones, who has coached for 22 years. "I didn't want to put any pressure on the team than was already on them."
The last game was a loss in the state playoffs to powerhouse St. Joseph, 71-36, in the first round. But that did not sour the season for Jones and Montclair Kimberley.
The Cougars had an eight-game winning streak bookended with a 52-46 victory at West Caldwell Tech on Jan. 31 and the win over Doane Academy.
In the win over West Caldwell Tech, Montclair Kimberley showed its mettle, as it was down early, 18-2, only to come back and bring home the victory. Senior Marley Stewart had a big game to lead the comeback with 19 points and 15 rebounds. "It was just a scrappy game," Jones said.
Stewart and another senior, Isaac Wise, topped the honors for the 2022-23 Cougars as they were named to the All SEC Freedom Division first team.
Stewart led Montclair Kimberley in almost all categories, including points, rebounds and assists. The senior averaged 18 points,
8.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game and is expected to play in college.
"He is a phenomenal player and up there amongst the best players I have ever coached," Jones said. "He knows what needs to be done and when to do it."
While Wise put up numbers — he averaged 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game — it was his work as co-captain with Stewart that he excelled in.
"He was great at letting me know the temperature of the team," Jones said. "He was the glue for us, and he was our best free-throw shooter."
One of the top players coming back next season is the inside post-up player, junior Manny Udofia, who was named to the All SEC
Freedom second team.
"Manny made the calls on defense and was one of the smartest players that I've ever coached," the coach said. "I loved his composure, and he was a pretty good shooter."
Junior Ben Otner will be back as well; he was named to the All SEC Freedom honorable mention list.
Along with Udofia and Otner, two other juniors, Ryan Graff and Viraj Bansal, were major contributors this season and will be looked upon to contribute more next year.
Jones, when asked when he would hang up the reins of coaching, said, "I'm taking it a year at a time. My wife (Celeste) knows that my first love is coaching."