After a brilliant junior season, averaging 15.5 points and five rebounds per game and earning All-Hudson County Third Team honors, Toriano Munford knew he had to try to improve his game this year.
The 6-foot-3 Lincoln High School do-everything senior was prepared to be more of a factor.
“I felt like I had to step up and play a bigger role this year,” Munford said. “I had to help the team more.”
But with a worldwide pandemic ongoing, it was going to be tough to improve, especially with his Lincoln teammates.
“It was very difficult,” Munford said. “I couldn’t do anything. I had to stay in the house. I watched a lot of basketball, but it wasn’t like playing.”
It was emotionally trying for Munford, because he was approaching the prestigious 1,000-point plateau in his career. At press time, Munford is just 141 points away from the milestone.
“I thought I would not get my chance to get my 1,000,” Munford said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Lincoln head coach Bill Zasowski had no idea how to handle his senior leader’s dilemma.
“I still felt he was not asserting himself as he should be on the offensive end,” Zasowski said. “I thought a lot of things were just coming to him, but he could still dominate on the offensive end.”
With that in mind, Munford has been a downright demon on the floor, collecting points, rebounds and steals in bunches.
Recently, Munford had a string of games to rest his laurels upon. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Newark Collegiate, 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals in a win over Sinai Christian and had 29 points, nine rebounds and five steals in a win over Kearny.
For his efforts, Munford has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Zasowski believes that Munford has been doing his scoring via his ferocity off the glass.
“He’s rebounding now at a much higher clip,” Zasowski said. “He’s getting a lot more points on put backs. I’m going to say he’s getting an extra six points per game. He’s more active than he’s been in the past and shooting at a very good rate.”
Zasowski said that Munford has become more relaxed with his role.
“He’s comfortable doing what he’s doing,” Zasowski said. “It’s something he’s been working on. He’s been looking to shoot the ball more. He came in this year looking to shoot it. He knows what he’s going to get his shots and the shots he takes are generally good shots.”
Zasowski said that Munford is also very good at getting out in transition.
“He can really get out in the open court and run,” Zasowski said. “But he’s also very good in the half court. I think he’s also at the point now of trying to get everyone comfortable looking for shots. We don’t want everyone overpassing the ball. He is helping the rest of his teammates get good shots, but everything is getting referred to him.”
Munford feels like he’s a much-improved player.
“I think I’m getting rebounds and going straight up,” Munford said. “I am driving into the lane to get shots. I worked on my mid-range shot and I’m making more of those. I’m getting to the free throw line more and making those. I’m putting the ball on the floor better and driving hard to the rim.”
Zasowski, a former college basketball assistant coach at Rutgers-Newark, believes Munford could play at the next level.
“I still think he’s a work in progress,” Zasowski said. “I think he’s still learning the game. We’re trying to bring him along. Being vocal is just not in his nature. He’s an extremely introverted kid. He’s definitely a quiet kid, but I like the kid a lot.”
Munford agrees with Zasowski’s assessment about his virtual silence.
“Yes, that’s just my personality,” Munford said.
But you can’t argue with success. Over six games, Munford is averaging 21 points and nine rebounds per contest.
“He’s definitely picked up his production from last year,” Zasowski said. “He’s increased everything across the board.”
The Lions have a 5-1 record thus far as of Feb. 19, so Munford is also leading the Lions to victory as well.
“I think I’m playing pretty well,” Munford said. “If I just listen to Coach Z [Zasowski] and continue to help the team, I’ll be fine. I’m just glad we’re getting the chance to ball.”
In layman’s terms, that means just getting the chance to PLAY ball, something Munford might not have thought possible during the doldrums of summer, which now seem like ages ago. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com