When Justin Garris retired from playing professional basketball at the ripe old age of 25, he knew he still had more to offer.
Garris, a Delbarton graduate, played three seasons that spanned five countries. After attending NJIT and Ashland College, he was drafted by the Island Storm of the National Basketball League of Canada. From there, he played in Mexico, Moracco, Columbia and Qatar. After an injury forced him to retire in early 2014, Garris returned home to Morris County and wanted to give back to the community through the game of basketball.
Garris got together with former Randolph player Greg Fahey and Desmond Murdock, who played for Dover, and started the Morris Basketball Program, a weekly basketball clinic that aims “to help players develop their basketball skills and prepare them for the next level.”
“We all were doing private training, (Fahey and Murdock) were coaching AAU at the time we got together, and we wanted to change the culture of basketball in this area,” Garris said.
Thus the Morris Basketball Program was born. The clinic runs out of the Delbarton gym every Sunday, and after starting with only four kids when the program began last June, the number of participants has blossomed into 30-plus kids a week.
“We do private training and small-group training Wednesday nights here, but the clinic is every Sunday,” Garris said. “We do basketball skill development, every aspect of the game. We get a lot of kids that are beginners and haven’t played before, and we teach them from-the-ground-up fundamentals. We get some advanced kids in here, too; we just give them a really good workout, better than they can find anywhere else.”
Garris and his coaches, who include Korey Edwards, Ray Mosso and Lloyd Castello along with Fahey and Murdock, work with a wide range of players, from ages 4 to 18 with varying skill levels. Garris said he wanted to start a program of this magnitude because Morris County didn’t have anything like it before.
“I don’t think a lot of the players get the respect they should get here, and some of the players probably could, if they had something like this before, they could have been a whole lot better than they are right now,” Garris said. “That was really our vision, to start. I think we’re on the right track with where we want to go. We think that the value that we bring to the children that come and train with us is invaluable. Not only do we teach them basketball, but the discipline and the concentration and focus aspect that we teach them is good for life skills.”
Fahey, who is currently coaching at St. Benedict’s, was eager to jump on board when Garris approached him to join the team. Fahey played at Randolph under former coach Bill Kilduff then went on to Marist, where he was the head basketball manager, and has run basketball camps with Syracuse and UConn.
“When Justin approached me I thought it was a good opportunity for all of the kids in the county because all three of us played in this county. We wanted to expose (players) to a little bit of a higher level of basketball,” Fahey said. “Everyone has an AAU team, and they’re all fighting against each other. We don’t have an AAU team — we don’t want that battle — we want all the kids to come in and just get work and get better so this county can get better.”
The Morris Basketball Program offers a range of services that cater to beginners as well as advanced high school athletes, including speed and agility training, individual training as well as team training. Murdock, who played at the County College of Morris and has trained NBA players, said he believes the coaching staff at MBP can make a real difference.
“We didn’t have anything like this growing up. I went to the park every day to try and get better. There was no clinic, there was numerous basketball camps, the Reebok Camps, the Adidas Camps, the Nike Camps, the Eastern Invitational, stuff like that where if you weren’t a top prospect in the area, you didn’t really have any other type of avenue,” Murdock said. “We wanted to create something where we could put all of our experiences together and create a product where kids of all ages and skill levels could come here regardless of their experience and train and get better.”
Delbarton junior Stephen Clapp, who is a member of the Green Wave basketball team, attended the clinic during the fall in order to get ready for the winter season.
“I heard about it through my AAU team, the New Jersey Thunder. Justin was at our tryout in the fall, and he and my coach told me about it. I ended up going to it because it was so convenient,” Clapp said. “I thought it was very helpful — it was every weekend, so that was good; it was a good supplement to the regular team practices. I think it definitely helped me. It was just a good way to get ready for the season and keep active, keep in shape.”
Clapp said that he saw a number of other high school players from around Morris County, not just his Delbarton teammates. Garris and his fellow coaches started the Morris Basketball Program to help players within the county and surrounding areas improve and become the best players they can be.
“I feel better when a kid comes in and they don’t know how to perform a layup, and they come to us for two, three weeks and they know how to take two steps and take a layup — to me that’s rewarding,” Murdock said. “When I coach, when I teach my guys a play and they execute the play in the correct way, that’s rewarding to me. I just like to see them getting better. When you’re watching these kids grow and getting better and you know it’s because you’re teaching them the right things, you’re teaching them correctly, I think that’s the best feeling.”
For more information on the Morris Basketball Program, check out http://www.mbp973.com.
Staff Writer Lauren Knego: 973-428-6674; firstname.lastname@example.org