Local hoopsters enhance their skills at Kearny summer league

Ryan Gill is a 14-year-old freshman-to-be at Kearny High School next month.

But Gill has already made a positive impression on the Kearny High basketball coaching staff.

The 6-foot-3 Gill displayed his talents at the recent Kearny Summer League at the high school.

“I think it helped me a lot,” said Gill, who showed a ton of promise at both forward positions. “I got the chance to play against the older kids. It gave me a lot of confidence. It helped me with my defensive skills. It also encourages me that I have a bright future. Before this, I really didn’t know.”

Chris Serrano is headed into his sophomore year after playing varsity ball last winter, but he believes the summer league experience was beneficial.

“It really helped me a lot,” said Serrano, who was also a standout on the Kearny baseball team last spring as a freshman. “It was pretty tough getting back into basketball shape and getting back to the pace of the game. The tempo was a little faster than what I remember from the season. But this will get me in shape for the regular season.”

Serrano has been spending the summer months working on becoming a point guard.

“I’m going to embrace being a point guard,” Serrano said. “I think I’m better at the point. But this (the summer league) helps me to get ready.”

The Kardinals were among 12 local teams to play regularly in the summer league that ended last week.

Kearny head coach Bob McDonnell organized the summer league for the sixth straight summer.

“It helps us big time,” McDonnell said. “It especially helps the kids who played JV (junior varsity) or freshman ball last year and they’re now getting a chance to play at a higher level. We’re getting the chance to see them in action. They get an idea of what’s expected of them. They need to have the proper attitude before the season begins (in November).”

McDonnell said that he was impressed with the performances of some of his younger players.

“Some of them totally surprised me,” McDonnell said.

One of those players is junior forward Ryan Gruttadauria.

“He works very hard,” McDonnell said. “He’s lost about 50 pounds since the end of last season. He’s a tall kid who has a nice touch from the outside. He just needs to work on his footwork.”

Another Kardinal player who impressed McDonnell was junior Nick Souza.

“He started for me last year,” McDonnell said. “He’s grown about five inches since the end of the season. He’s taken on the leadership of the team.”

McDonnell gave a lot of the responsibilities of coaching the summer league team to former Kardinal standout Graylin Vereen, who hopes to play at New Jersey City University this fall.

“We were able to have a lot of competitive games,” McDonnell said. “We really don’t care about wins and losses. We rotate kids in and out to give them a chance to play and see what they need to improve on.”

North Arlington also participated in the league. The head coach of the Vikings, Marcello D’Andrea, also believed that playing in the league was beneficial to his team.

“I’m a big advocate of playing together in the summer,” D’Andrea said. “It helps the kids to get to know each other better and helps me to get to know them better. Playing high school basketball is a different ball of wax. The speed is different. The kids get a better idea of what is expected of them. The summer league gives us a chance to see the kids and what they need to improve on. It helps me evaluate the talent. We have some underclassmen who didn’t get a chance to play varsity last year and will have to gain experience this year. This was like an introduction to me.”

D’Andrea liked what he saw from junior guard Mike Cordellino.

“He’s made big strides,” D’Andrea said. “He was basically a JV player. He’s the catalyst of what we do. He’s the cog who makes the engine go.”

D’Andrea also gave credit to Devon Males, David Matta and Anthony Rivers.

“Anthony was cut as a freshman,” D’Andrea said. “He’s now come back and will probably make our team. He’ll be in the rotation.”

D’Andrea liked the idea of giving his younger players a chance to play at a higher level.

“They’re getting a taste of what varsity basketball is all about,” D’Andrea said. “That’s the value of playing in a summer league. There are kids playing. That’s all that matters.”
D’Andrea will continue to monitor his team with outdoor get-togethers at the North Arlington Middle School.

“It all just helps us get ready for the season,” D’Andrea said. “It builds confidence and chemistry. That’s what I’m looking for. Now I know these kids have that.”

Other teams in the league included North Bergen, Bayonne, St. Peter’s Prep, Becton Regional, Eagle Academy of Newark, University Charter of Jersey City and Port Richmond of Staten Island.


The Kearny summer league was beneficial to players, from left, Ryan Gruttadauria, Chris Serrano and Ryan Gill. Photo by Jim Hague

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”