Montgomery wins Ridge hoop title

Balanced efforts lead boys to crown

By: Bob Nuse
   BASKING RIDGE — Chris Minck is fully aware of what his role is on the Montgomery High boys’ basketball team.
   "I need to rebound and play good defense," said Minck, the Cougars’ 6-foot-3 starting center. "If I have a shot, I’ll take it. But the main thing I’m in there to do is rebound."
   Minck isn’t the only Montgomery player who understands his role for this year’s team. In fact, each player understanding their role is the main reason the Cougars have gotten off to a 5-0 start this season. The latest of those wins came Tuesday night, when they topped Rutgers Prep, 58-30, in the championship game of the Len Sepanak Memorial Tournament at Ridge High School.
   "I think all of the players know their roles and that’s been a big part of our success so far," said Montgomery coach Jeff Tagliareni, whose team opened the tournament with a 66-49 win over Princeton, then topped Watchung Hills, 59-56, in overtime on Monday. "Chris knows his main role is to rebound, but he can also score.
   "All of our players have the ability to score and I don’t discourage them from shooting if the shot is there. So far, we’ve had a nice balance to our offense and different players have stepped up each game."
   In the win over Princeton, four different Cougars scored in double figures. Against Watchung Hills, it was the play of senior guard Mike Bunn and his 24 points that made the biggest difference. In the championship game, tournament Most Valuable Player Pat Youreneff scored a game-high 18 points, including 14 of the team’s first 23 points.
   "We’ve gotten good play from a lot of different players," Tagliareni said. "(Against Watchung Hills) Mike Bunn had a big game. He’s the reason we made it to the finals. He scored 24 points and hit some big shots for us. But he hurt his hand and wasn’t at full strength tonight. So other guys stepped up like Pat, Chris and Alex Willis. That’s the type of team we have this year."
   In Tuesday’s final against Rutgers Prep, the Cougars took control of the game early with a 9-0 run after falling behind, 2-0. The lead grew to 23-7 after a pair of Youreneff three-pointers.
   "They were a physical team and we knew we were going to have to play hard to beat them," said Minck, who finished with nine points and 14 rebounds in the final. "The game against Watchung was a real nice win for us. But we knew we had to come out and play well tonight if we wanted to win the championship."
   Minck is one of several Cougar players who have an expanded role this year. Bunn and Willis are returning starters, but players like Minck, Youreneff and Ryan Jenkins have helped make the graduation losses from last year easier to take.
   "I played a little last year, but I hurt my ankle at the end of the season and missed the last few games," said Minck, who played in two games and scored two points as a sophomore a year ago. "Our team gets along real well. A bunch of us played together last year on the JV team so we know each other well. We’re learning to play well together and we’re starting to mesh as a team."
   While the Cougars had relatively easy wins in the first and third games of the tournament at Ridge, they won a nail-biter against Watchung in overtime to reach the finals.
   "That was a really big win for us," Tagliareni said. "Watchung Hills is a real quality team and they get more respect around the area than we do. It’s a game where if we played them 10 times we’d probably each win five times, but we managed to win this one.
   "I think the kids had a little extra motivation these last two games because both Watchung and Rutgers Prep were rated ahead of us. And that’s something the kids notice."
   While Youreneff earned MVP honors for the tournament, both Bunn and Minck were named to the All-Tournament team. The honor shows just how far Minck has come in a short period of time.
   "He’s coming along," said Tagliareni, whose team is back in action on Tuesday at North Warren. "He’s one of the hardest workers we have and he’s always listening and learning. He rebounds well for us. I think he was in double digits in all three games of the tournament. He had 10 points and 13 rebounds against Watchung, which was big for us.
   "This was a nice win for us and a good tournament. We’re coming along."