Kostro Montina is both a state champ and the peoples’ champ. It’s not every day a player averaging around 10 ppg is a fan favorite, however those who attended any of the Northstars 30 wins this season clearly observed the crowds’ infatuations with Montina.
Similar to the rest of Northstar nation, Rick Taylor, the Voice of the Northstars for the past decade, was taken by Montina’s playing style. “I’ve never seen a player like Kostro,” Taylor said.
While announcing Northstar basketball games, Taylor gradually saw the fandom shift in Montina’s favor. In fact, fans reacted so favorably to Montina, Taylor contemplated switching the order of the pregame player introduction.
“Two years ago… I would always do the same lineup… Ku’Jane would go first, than Kostro, than the big three (Richie Jones, Darrell Johnson, Cliff Joseph),” Taylor explained. “Then whenever I introduced Kostro the fans would go absolutely nuts… He would get such a big applause I thought about moving him to last.”
The Northstars ultimately kept winning basketball games, and Taylor decided against moving Montina in the announcing order for superstitious reasoning.
So why does Taylor believe fans are so infatuated with a player who doesn’t fill the stat sheet? “He’s the epitome of a role player” Taylor said. “He is totally selfless.”
Below, the peoples’ champ discusses Nottingham’s historic season, his unique role, fan love, his respect for coach Raba, college plans, and much more.
Sam Goldberg: Has your role always been the energy guy or was it just this season?
Kostro Montina: It’s just been this season. I played junior varsity most of my career. I’ve been a scoring offensive type of player… Having that transition has been big for me. I’m known as the energy guy.
SG: Was it difficult transitioning from a scorer to a completely different type of role?
KM: At first I was a little skeptical of the role change… I know what I can do offensively. The transition at first was kind of weird to me… Now being known as the energy guy and being a focal point of the team, I don’t mind being that type of player.
SG: How long did it take you to get used to the transition from being a scorer, to an energy guy?
KM: It took a little while. Seeing the type of impact I had on the team, it didn’t really matter after that.
SG: I’m sure you quickly grew to enjoy the role for two reasons. The first, being that your team did nothing but win, and the second, being that you’re a fan favorite?
KM: I feed off the hype. I try to live by people’s expectations of me by being an energy guy. Having that type of role really is not bad. People come up to me and say, “you are every where on the court” and, “you are doing this and that for the team.” It just gives me more hype and motivation to do better every single game.
SG: I haven’t seen a similar player to you this season. Do you think your role, and how well you go about executing it, is one of the many reasons your team was so successful?
KM: Yes, of course. People tell me that the team feeds off of my energy. If I’m not going, the team is not going to get going so I believe I play a huge role.
SG: All season long your team has been saying you were going to win a state championship. What gave the Northstars such confidence from an early standpoint?
KM: It’s due to what we’ve been through all four years together. All the pain, the hardships, the crying after that Ewing game. After that game we went into the weight room every day, we practiced everyday, we ran a lot, it was just hard work. It’s paid off.
SG: The first two words in your Instagram bio are “State Champion”… It has to feel amazing to have that title next to your name for the rest of your life.
KM: Yes of course. This is everything we’ve ever lived for… To accomplish this goal just means a lot. We came a long way. We came from being a 16 seed last year to accomplishing a state championship. It’s just crazy seeing how we’ve accomplished this. I don’t think I will fully realize everything until a few years from now… I’m going to look back on this team and realize we’re legends, we left a legacy because we are the first ones to ever do this… It’s just so great knowing we are state champs.
SG: The fact that you and your teammates are the first Nottingham basketball team to win a state title has to be an indescribable feeling.
KM: It’s amazing. We’ve created our own history… That’s really the greatest part.
SG: It has to be particularly great accomplishing these achievements while playing for coach Raba. It seems like your team loves playing for him?
KM: Coach Raba is like a father to us basically. He’s done everything for us. He’s always had our back and believed in us… Everything he has done for us we’ve wanted to repay him. We wanted to show him that all these years he’s put into us, that it was not for nothing.
SG: What has this team done for Mercer County?
KM: We’ve done everything. We put Mercer County on the map. It’s hard to explain. I’m speechless thinking about it.
SG: Clearly what your team has done goes beyond the basketball court. Speaking of which, off the court you do after school tutoring?
KM: I’m involved with a group called Empower Hour that takes place every Tuesday and Thursday. I go in and help people with homework and assignments.
SG: What made you want to get involved with the program?
KM: A lot of teachers asked me to help out because they know I’m a smart and bright kid. I also wanted to give back to Nottingham.
SG: I’m sure partaking in Empower Hour is beneficial for a variety of reasons. Clearly academics is important to you… I read you’ve received an academic scholarship to the University of Richmond.
KM: Correct thanks. I applied to the school early decision… They gave me a great offer and I chose the school for academics.
SG: Richmond is somewhat of a hike from New Jersey. Do you have friends that already go there?
KM: Yes I’m in the Princeton University Preparatory Program and a lot of “PUPP” alumni attend Richmond university as well. I know a fair amount of students there.
SG: Are you considering walking-on to the basketball team once you’re at Richmond?
KM: Yes I want to walk-on. I’m going to try and send the coaches my highlights from this year.
SG: What type of preparation are you going to do in attempt to walk-on to the basketball team?
KM: Working out. I want to get faster and a gain a little bit of weight but not too much because I want to keep my quickness.
SG: What’s the one memory from this season that will stick with you the most?
KM: The sectional final game against Moorestown (watch here). The whole game just had this huge intensity and it was like something you see out of a movie; Everyone thought the game was over with just three seconds left but we somehow persevered and got the W. If we had lost that game, to me I would’ve felt like this whole season was a failure despite all other accomplishments we had accomplished because we would’ve been at the same place where we were at last year and didn’t get past that point.