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Local boys’ basketball teams hone skills at Kearny summer league

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The temperatures outside may be approaching 90 degrees in the hot summer July sun, but for two nights a week, things are just fine inside the Kearny High School gym, even with the fans blowing at full blast.

Kearny High School has been the host of a boys’ high school basketball summer league, with 13 different schools encompassing three counties. It has been a highly competitive and spirited league, organized by Kearny head boys’ basketball coach Bob McDonnell.

“The level of competition has been fantastic,” said McDonnell, whose own team has participated in the league.

Kearny has not hosted a boys’ summer league in several years.

“Back then, we had only six teams here,” McDonnell said. “Next year, we’re looking to expand it to 20 teams. We had some schools who got back to me a little late for this year. The interest is definitely there.”

Each team receives a regular schedule of 10 games. There will be no playoffs or league championship this year.

The Police Activity League helped to defray some of the cost of the league, as well as the boys’ and girls’ basketball camps, the boys’ and girls’ soccer camps and the girls’ basketball summer league.

McDonnell said that he also received assistance from the Kearny Board of Education to host the summer league.

“The Board of Education has been great in letting us use the facilities,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell reached out to his friends in the basketball coaching fraternity and got commitments from 13 different schools. North Arlington, Belleville and Harrison were also among the local schools to participate, along with Rutherford.

For McDonnell, it was a good chance to get to see what his new players are like.

“I only have two returning seniors, so what the league does is give me a chance to play some incoming freshmen,” McDonnell said. “We have a constant rotation of kids going in and out. Without the league, we would be unable to get any idea.”

McDonnell said that the league has served as an eyeopener.

“Some of these kids have never played on a level like this before, so it’s all new to them,” McDonnell said. “They’re working hard and doing well.”

McDonnell has been impressed with the development of Joe Sawicki during the summer league.

“He didn’t play much last year for us with the varsity, but he’s improved tremendously,” McDonnell said. “His confidence is building up. I think that will help him a lot.”

Joe Esteves is another Kearny player who has benefitted from the summer league.

“The more kids we get a chance to play on a varsity level, the better off we’ll be,” McDonnell said. “We get to see what the kids need to work on.”

North Arlington has benefitted tremendously from the summer league, winning five of its seven contests, including a solid win last week over Belleville.

George Rotondo, one of the top assistants for head coach Rich Corsetto, looks at the league as a golden chance for his program.

“We were able to get them in a full league close to home,” Rotondo said. “We lost three seniors to graduation, so we have some young kids getting some playing time. It’s a great opportunity for these kids to play together.”

Some of the basketball players have been doing double duty this summer. They have been attending football workouts in the morning, then playing basketball at night. People like Mike Paolello and Kevin Sequeira are standout basketball players who are getting ready for football season.

“Their dedication is tremendous,” Rotondo said. “This has been very good for our program. We’re getting a lot from this. It’s a great benefit.”

Edgar Carranza is another returning Viking hoop standout who will also play football this fall.

“I think playing in this league helps us out, because it gives us an idea about our incoming freshmen,” Carranza said. “They get to see what high school is like. Winning helps, but losing teaches us to be a little hungrier. It is a little tiring, going from football to basketball, but it will definitely help us get ready.”

Belleville High School coach Jim Stoeckel also believes the league is beneficial, win or loss.

“It’s great for us,” Stoeckel said. “I didn’t get hired last year until September, so there was no summer league to go on. This gives us the opportunity to have a head start. I’m not really worried about winning or losing, as long as we get better basketball wise. It’s great to get 10 games together. I can see that the kids are putting the work in to get better.”

Andre Velez is a junior on the Belleville basketball team.

“We’re getting a chance to work on team chemistry,” said Velez, a point guard. “That definitely helps. We’re getting ready for the winter now. We get to know who are teammates are and what they can do on the floor. We didn’t get a chance like this last year and that hurt us. Now, we know what we can do.”

The Kearny summer league runs Monday and Wednesday nights with games beginning on all three courts at 5 p.m. The league will run for the next two weeks.

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