As a boys’ basketball coach in Bloomfield for more than a decade — first as an assistant and then the last five years as head coach — Mike Passero knows the value of summer leagues in preparing players for the high school season.
“Whether you have guys returning or you have a new group, there’s always things to work out. And the summer time is the best time for kids to develop,” Passero said. “That’s the biggest thing in the summer. I think every team, including ours, you really start to see kids take that next step in the summer time to prepare themselves for the winter.”
Fortunately for Passero, he doesn’t have to leave Bloomfield to get his players some of those much-needed reps. For more than 15 years, the Bloomfield Summer League, at the high school’s main and upper gyms, has been one of North Jersey’s better summer leagues.
Area teams Bloomfield, Belleville, Nutley and Kearny are once again among the 20 participating in the league this year. In addition, for the first time, Harrison is participating in the league primarily composed of schools from Essex County. The league also features schools from Bergen and Passaic counties as well.
Other top teams in the league are Glen Ridge, which won the North 2, Group 1 title this past March, sectional finalists Caldwell and Newark West Side, as well as also challenging foes like Montclair, Wayne Hills, Verona and Seton Hall Prep, which sends its talented JV team every year.
“We lost a lot to graduation over the last two years, so we’re definitely a new team,” said Passero, who went 19-7 last season. “We’re a young team so this is really, really great for us because a lot of our kids are getting varsity level competition for the first time. We’re seeing what they’re capable of doing and it’s also opening their eyes in terms of what they need to do to get better.
“You can talk to them about it and practice, but until you play other varsity level teams, sometimes you just don’t get how physical or how fast the game is and what really goes into it until you get experience.”
Among the benefits of such a large league is that participants get to see all different types of competition during the five week season. Whether it be quick-paced guard oriented teams like Newark West Side, teams boasting impressive size in the paint like Newark Tech, or schools like Millburn and Verona, which are more than comfortable in a grind it out defensive slugfest, teams are guaranteed to see many different styles and talent levels over the course of the season.
“We think that’s one of the best parts of our league. There’s something for everybody,” Passero said. “Everybody in the league, all 20 teams, gets something out of it because you get to see different styles. You’re going to see different styles throughout the season as well, that’s a big benefit.”
Play began June 20 with each team getting eight regular season games. Games Monday through Thursday at both gyms in the school, starting at 5 p.m. The playoffs start Monday, July 18 and conclude on the 21st with the semifinals at 5:00 and 5:55 p.m. with the final following immediately after at 6:50.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)