Hill and her players put on basketball camp for 100+ youngsters

If Jody Hill had any concerns about the interest level of girls’ basketball in the Town of Kearny, this past week eased any possible worries the veteran coach could have had. It turns out Hill’s biggest worry was making sure there were enough basketballs and T-shirts to go around.

Hill hosted her annual Kearny Girls’ Basketball Camp at Kearny High School last week, providing instruction to 103 girls aged 5-15. With such a large number, which included roughly 40 same-day registrations, this year’s version was arguably the biggest in the more than 15 years Hill has run the camp.

“I was hesitant to even have the camp last year because of Covid. I think we had 70, maybe 75 kids last year and this year, we had 103,” said Hill, who will be entering her 25th season as Kardinals head coach this winter. “It was just really good to see a gym full of kids. It feels like life’s kinda getting back to normal. I missed being there and it was great to get everyone back into the gym. I even had to order more shirts and balls for everyone.”

For four straight mornings, it was a full gym of girls learning the game under the instruction of Hill, who scored more than 2,000 points during a storied career at Harrison. What makes the camp unique among those in the area — it’s for girls only.

“The goal is just to get the kids who love basketball or want to start the sport,” Hill said. “I had a couple of kids there for the first time, just touching the ball for the first time and wanting to start the sport. The parents are like, ‘Can my daughter sign up if she’s never played before?’ Those are the kids I love the most, let’s introduce them to basketball. I hope they walk away loving the sport.”

In addition to all the campers, this week more than any other showed the level of commitment Hill has within her varsity program. For four consecutive days, her players served as counselors in the morning, then a few hours later, were back in the gym for summer league basketball either in the league Kearny hosts or in the nearby Bayonne league, which features some of North Jersey’s top programs.

In total, the girls played double-headers on Tuesday and Thursday in Kearny and on Wednesday in Bayonne. Even with those games later in the day, many of the players stuck around after camp to put up more shots on the shooting machine for an hour before Hill had to kick them out of the gym so they could get lunch and some rest.

“I told them this was going to be the week where we play the most basketball that we’ve ever played,” Hill said, noting she has at least 12 girls for every summer league game. “And I wanted everybody to do everything in their power to show up and commit to this week because this is going to be the week where we’re going to come together and figure things out and we really, really take the next step.”

That commitment level is a big reason why Hill’s expectations are the upcoming season are as high as they’ve ever been during her time at Kearny. The Kardinals graduated just one senior from last season’s 17-10 team. Kearny welcomes back its top three scorers from last season in seniors Ava Hyams, Maci Covello and Julia Araujo, as well as talented youngsters Jocelyn Huancaya and Olivia Covello.

Kearny’s combination of talent, experience and dedication earned this group an invitation to the prestigious No Boyz Allowed Fall League in Elizabeth, which features the state’s top teams.

“I couldn’t be happier with the commitment that the kids put forth. It’s one of those things where I feel like we’re totally in it together this year,” Hill said. “I think they’ve been missing it. I think with the Covid season and all of the missed opportunities, the kids have been hungry to do what we’re doing. They just want to play ball and get in the gym.”

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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.)