Presented By South Jersey Sports Zone
EWING – After the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the annual Moody Park Basketball summer league in 2020, the conglomerate of basketball lovers returned in 2021.
This year’s edition of the Mercer County-based league saw new faces and even crowned new winners.
Made Different defeated Select Stars 55-39 in the 2021 Moody Park Basketball League high school division championship on August 2.
Jamaal Morris tallied a team-high 16 points to help Made Different capture this year’s title in their inaugural season as an AAU program.
Jamaal Morris, a class of 2022 guard from Our Savior Lutheran (NY)/Made Different (NJ), notched a team-high 16 points in Made Different’s 55-39 win over Select Stars in the Moody Park League championship. @SJSportsZone @OSLBasketball @JamaalMorris12 @MadeDifferentNJ pic.twitter.com/AqALCnvyOE— Kevin Emmons (@OfficialKEmmons) August 3, 2021
“It feels good,” Morris said. “This is my first year at Moody Park. I’ve been looking forward to this because I’ve been seeing on Instagram how the crowd can be. It just hypes me up and I just wanted to be in it this year. It was very competitive. I didn’t take no team lightly (because) I’m a very humble kid. I’m a competitive player, that’s just how I am.”
Morris previously played at Burlington City High School for two seasons before the Burlington City Board of Education decided to halt the 2020-21 winter sports season due to COVID-19. As a result, Morris and his twin brother, Jameel, transferred to Trenton Catholic Academy for a season before more unfortunate circumstances arose. The anticipated closure of Trenton Catholic forced the two to seek different opportunities.
The pair will suit up for Our Saviour Lutheran in Bronx, New York next season. The decision was heavily influenced by the Morris twins’ grandparents who are natives of New York. Coincidentally, the twins both received their first Division I offer from Manhattan in June.
“My grandma and grandpa had recruited us early,” Morris said. “They’re a good school. TCA was closing so we had other options. We had Hudson Catholic, the Patrick School wanted us — we had a couple schools (showing interest). It’s a new lifestyle. We have our own dorms up there. We’re going to get used to it, but that’s just how it is. Gotta make it out, that’s it.”
Michael “Deuce” Jones, a class of 2024 guard from Trenton, was also key, pouring in 13 points off the bench for Made Different in the 55-39 triumph. Jones was thrilled to win his first ever Moody Park Basketball summer league title after years of falling short.
Michael “Deuce” Jones, a class of ‘24 guard from Archbishop Ryan (PA), was also impressive in Made Different’s 55-39 win over Select Stars. Jones played up two age groups and provided 13 points off the bench. @SJSportsZone 🏀@ARyanbasketball @deucejones9 @MadeDifferentNJ pic.twitter.com/SwMHW0iklU— Kevin Emmons (@OfficialKEmmons) August 3, 2021
“It’s really special,” Jones said. “This is my first time ever getting one and I’ve been playing here since fifth grade. Definitely looking forward to getting one next year and in the ongoing years.”
The incoming sophomore played up two age groups in this year’s Moody Park League and benefited significantly by playing on a Made Different team that primarily featured players from the class of 2022. Jones also played for Team Final’s 15-U team throughout the summer and recently participated in the Nike EYBL Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina.
Working double duty on the AAU circuit was debilitating work, but for Jones it was worth every second.
“It’s exhausting,” Jones said. “Especially coming from Peach Jam playing every day for two weeks and then playing two years up. That’s really the best tournament I’ve ever been to in my life. The atmosphere, even with COVID, the fans were still crazy. (We played) All Ohio Red, Team Durant and other EYBL teams. They’re all good and just to perform good against them, it gives me confidence.”
Jones’ has adequately adapted to playing against older, more experienced competition.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” Jones said. “Them being older than me and physically stronger than me, but I just use my body to get to the basket and then it just goes on from there. It’s really exhausting. I push through it.”
The Moody Park League was founded by former Ewing High School coach Emil Wandishin in 1979. Ironically, this year’s title winners’ founder, Sean Smith, has been a staple in the league for over 10 years. His father, Mark Smith, became the league’s assistant commissioner in 2000 before ascending to commissioner in 2005. Sean Smith stepped in as a director before the 2010 season as an incoming ninth grader and hasn’t looked back since.
“My dad is the overall commissioner of the league,” Smith said. “I just direct everything. I schedule the teams, find the coaches. I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now. The day before the 2010 season started, the director that was before me had legal issues so he couldn’t do anything. I ended up having to step in and I’ve been directing ever since.”
Smith’s coaching career also saw its inception on Parkside Avenue in Ewing. Smith has been an assistant coach at Trenton Catholic since 2017 under the direction of the legendary Fred Falchi and his successor Eric Elliott. Smith also coached at Trenton Central High School alongside Darryl Young, Sr. and at Ewing High School under the direction of Shelly Dearden. The evolution of Smith’s coaching journey began at Moody Park.
“I started out here,” Smith said. “A coach didn’t show up to a game, and I stepped in and coached. I’m like, ‘I’m not going to the NBA so I might as well keep coaching.’ My first team had (New Haven’s) Quashawn Lane, (Coppin State’s) Reggie James, all those top guys from the Trenton area. That’s where I learned. I would watch my dad. You know, you always wanted to do whatever your parents were doing. And that was just one thing I gravitated to that I found out I was good at, and people wanted me to keep doing it every time I said, ‘nah, I’m not gonna do it.’ I kept doing it and I learned.”
Although the Moody Park summer league returned in 2021, challenging circumstances still continued to present themselves. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the league was able to take place, however certain protocols interrupted the traditional method of coach-to-coach communication. Adjustments were made and proved to be effective.
“This year was very different,” Smith said. “Communication was very hard amongst the coaches because we usually just have meetings in person. We couldn’t really do that this year. This takes all year to prepare for. We start during the high school season — passing out flyers, talking to coaches. It was difficult in the beginning, but once it started rolling it was rolling.”
Despite the unprecedented circumstances, league participation skyrocketed this summer. More importantly, the Moody Park Basketball League’s core values of family and community service was on full-display this year.
“Our max is 60 teams,” Sean said. “We had like 57 this year. We were right on cue with what we wanted to do. To put this together for two months out of the summer, it takes a lot of work, but it’s all worth it. Once you see the excitement from all of the kids and the parents — everyone gets involved. I tell everybody, ‘this is a big cookout. You see everybody you haven’t seen in a while.’ That’s what Moody Park really does for everybody.”
For Made Different, the inaugural season was viewed by its members as a success. However, this type of success wasn’t measured by the amount of high level tournaments they competed in, or even their Moody Park Basketball League crown. Success for Made Different was measured by the players’ ability to quickly develop bonds with one another and make the most of their travels to different states by exploring potential collegiate options in the future.
“My most important thing was to be able to give our kids the exposure that they need,” Smith said. “That’s the only thing I felt that was hindering them. During those trips, my most important thing with our guys is that we take them on college visits. My most important thing is college — that piece of paper is huge for our kids. Everybody can’t make it to the NBA. Our biggest goal is to make sure that we can use basketball to get them to college. We try to represent the 609 area as best as possible.”
Select Stars: Davontay Hutson 16, Chris Wilson 8, Dymir Bailey 7, Antwan Bridgett 4, Eric Jones 4— Kevin Emmons (@OfficialKEmmons) August 3, 2021
South Jersey Sports Zone (SJSZ) was co-founded by Kevin Emmons in 2017. The brand covers high school sports and promotes South Jersey pride. If you’d like to keep up with SJSZ, find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
(Photo Credit: Kevin Emmons)