Back from Vacation/Thoughts on New Girls Hoops Coaches

I am back from vacation, and after taking some time doing some planning for the fall and meeting with my fellow directors at All Shore Media, I have to say that I miss vacation. Just kidding. Although a week with no cell phone, no TV, and no computer in a tiny island village felt really good. Miss All Shore Media and I also mixed in some swimming with whale sharks in the Caribbean in between cold beverages. I highly recommend taking a long boat ride into the middle of nowhere in the ocean and jumping in the water with the most gigantic, prehistoric fish you’ve ever seen, although I did almost get swiped right in the head by the enormous tail of one of them, which may have put a damper on things.

Anyway, there have been two girls basketball hirings during my absence, although one of them is technically taking place tonight when the Holmdel Board of Education is expected to approve Bob Ward. I had written about that earlier this summer, so it’s no real surprise, and that is a great choice by Holmdel. Ward is a Holmdel graduate who led St. John Vianney to a Tournament of Champions final during his tenure there before serving as an assistant for John Truhan at Colts Neck, which reached its first TOC final during the winter, before Truhan decided to resign and take the job at Central. Two out of the last three Holmdel coaches now have a St. John Vianney connection, as current Lancers coach Dawn Karpell was at Holmdel before taking the SJV job vacated by Ward. Ward replaces Kelly Burns, who resigned during the spring.

Ward has obviously been part of some highly successful teams so he knows what it takes to build a winner, plus he knows the landscape at Holmdel because he grew up there. The bad news is that the Hornets are in the division of death, Class A Central, which features Rumson, Red Bank Catholic and St. John Vianney as well as state playoff teams at Raritan and Shore plus a newly energized Manasquan program. The good news is that at least RBC goes down to Class B North in 2010-11 and Manasquan goes to the new Class C Central under the most recent Shore Conference realignment. If Ward can retain the talent coming up in the ranks and not lose players to RBC and SJV, this team is certainly one to watch.

A new coach who has already been approved is Manasquan’s Felix Romero, a first-time head coach who replaces Kelly Amato, who went 13-28 in two years while battling in the brutal Class A Central. The rumors all along were that the new coaching staff at Manasquan would have direct ties to the AAU teams that feature(d) star SJV transfer Michaela Mabrey and her younger sister. Romero is the coach of the U-13 New Jersey Jersey Demons AAU team, which Mabrey and her younger sister, talented seventh-grader Marina Mabrey, have both played for.

I am fascinated by this situation and am eager to see how it turns out. It’s almost like cutting out the middleman. A lot of girls play on AAU teams before high school and want to keep them intact when they get to high school, but they are always coached by someone else at the high school level. Theoretically, Romero could now be coaching many of his girls for years before they reach the varsity at Manasquan. Usually there’s some kind of sniping between the AAU coaches and the high school coaches, but now Romero is part of the AAU community crossing over to high school. That presents some interesting scenarios, such as if players don’t play for the New Jersey Demons, will they feel like they are getting a fair shake at Manasquan?

I know Shore Conference head coaches moan and groan about AAU coaches and the influence of AAU all the time, but Romero deserves a chance to prove himself before anyone starts throwing stones. The quality of coaching in AAU varies wildly, as some are solid teachers who know the game, and others are basically talent scouts who go out and round up the best players, and then roll the balls out when it’s game time.

I think the general fear is that girls will be recruited to play at Manasquan from the AAU ranks, but it’s not a parochial school. Families will have to move into the sending district if they really want their daughters to play there that badly. If people are willing to make that sacrifice and do it within the rules, you can’t begrudge that. If anyone is surprised any more by these ready-made AAU teams all going to the same high schools and forming all-star teams (i.e., the current SJV team, RBC’s ’08 team and the Marlboro teams of the early ‘oos), you’re living under a rock. Families want the most exposure for their kids, and they want to win. Plus, everyone is jockeying for the the credit when they win, which is why the egos make the coaches on these teams more like Phil Jackson managing Kobe and Co. than a normal high school coach trying to teach the game.

Another siren call has been when a team has a surefire Division I player on it because other parents know that college recruiters will be in the stands at games, so maybe their daughter will get noticed too. You think it will hurt Chyna Golden at Neptune when the stands are full of Division I coaches who are looking at Shakena Richardson and Syessence Davis? Me neither. Don’t think that Mabrey can’t play the pied piper to get schools to come to Manasquan and then maybe some of her Warriors teammates get noticed, too.

There also is the wild explanation that maybe Mabrey just didn’t like it at St. John Vianney, and Golden didn’t like it at Red Bank Catholic. I know, crazy theory, but teenagers have been known to change their minds.

I think Romero will quietly have something to prove, even though he would never say it publicly, that AAU coaches are “real” coaches, not just talent scouts. He was an assistant on the Perth Amboy Tech boys team, so he has some experience at the high school level. People forget that SJV’s Dawn Karpell was an AAU coach of a youth team for a few years, Joe Montano coaches an AAU boys team, Neptune’s John Brown is a former AAU coach, and new Red Bank Regional coach James Young also coached a youth girls AAU team a few years ago that featured Chyna Golden on it, but there is still that perception that AAU coaches are just the fathers of star players and guys who are connected enough to assemble talent, not X’s and O’s guys. We’ll see, but put me down as very intrigued.

There was still no action on the Colts Neck job, which is an interesting position because you have a team that is built to go back to the TOC again, but then will be in major rebuilding mode a year later when the entire roster graduates. The Marlboro boys vacancy also was not filled at Monday’s Freehold Regional District Board of Education meeting, so we’ll see what happens with that and if all the talk of Columbia assistant Andrew Theokas is true. The next Board meeting is Aug. 31.


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