Monday, February 4, 2008

Northern NJ HS Basketball and The Jambo

I still remember those great HS basketball games in Northern NJ. games featuring Teaneck, Englewood, Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, Tough Ridgewood (believe it or not), Hackensack, Bogota (with Pat Sullivan and outstanding coach Jay Mahoney), Riverdale (with Coach Brian Long), Patterson Eastside, Patterson Kennedy, and Patterson Catholic. Those were the days, yes those were really the days. The coaching was outstanding with Curtis March, Gerald Ackeridge, Darryl Harris, Jay Mahoney,Donefield (sp), Jim Ring, and the Ridgewood coach whose name always slips me but did a GREAT JOB!

I still remember me and my than 7th grade son going from site to site all over Bergen County to catch Bergen Jamboree games. Most of the time we could not get in because they were sold out. But we went anyway for the great bball conversations outside. It was almost a yearly tradition for us believe it or not. Still feel the cold as many of us waited outside hoping to get into Ramapo HS for a game featuring Glenn Stokes and Ramapo (Franklyn Lakes Kids) against Ridgewood. Even Tony Campbell was outside with us. There must have been 75 people, mostly men with sons, who got to the game too late to gain entrance. So we just stood outside talking hoops. Yes those were the days. Something I miss so much!

Those were the days when young boys dreamed of playing for the local public high schools. The days when the Catholic Schools did not have black or Latino players but very talented kids who played tough all the time. The public schools never lost a player to the private schools because frankly they were not interested in diversity it seemed at the time. It was also a time when the only real school recruiting players was Bergen Catholic, and they were not interested in Teaneck, Englewood, or Hackensack kids despite the Coach at the time living in Teaneck. The others played with who showed up the first day of school.

Well it is Bergen Jamboree Time and Passaic County Tournament time again. The Passaic County finals usually is at Wayne Hills HS and sold out. So are the semi Finals. Bur the Jambo, as the kids call it, might be the best county tournament this side of Indiana. To many it is more important than the state tournament because it is winnable for a county team. The states was a dream because Bergen County Teams rarely did as well as others in the states. In fact, the Newark Star Ledger did not even have a Bergen County mention on the many all county teams they selected.

Well the Jambo is still going strong and everyone who loves hoops will be in attendance. I even saw Eddie Murphy at a Jambo game once. Phil Simms was a fixture at Ramapo games when he was not broadcasting. Still remember his son trying to play after watching as an 8th grader with those big bell bottom jeans on. Yes the Jambo brought everyone out. It was and is the Bergen County version of what's really important basketball wise.

It was a pleasure to read Art Stappletons (sp) article on Teaneck and Englewood basketball. Those two teams have been to state championships and done extremely well over the years. Those two teams also have given Northern NJ the most recognizable faces and names in Tony Campbell, and Bill Willougby (sp). Nice to see both teams are now in the Jambo quarter finals. trust me, people from those two towns will come out to be supportive of those teams. For those who do not realize it, both teams would be serious state contenders if the home grown talent went to school at those two places. Teaneck at one time had 7 division 1 players over a 5 year period. And all minus one received degree thus far. Teaneck was on the lips of recruiters from all over the country as they beat teams such as Linden, Camden, and others on the way to state championship games. Newark public or private schools could not compete with them at the time.

What has happened to make kids travel far for school? Are the programs and coaching better? I doubt it. I remember Teaneck beating St. Joes of Montvalle by 30 on a regular basis. Queen of Peace would hate playing Englewood because it was a definite loss. What has happened is the Catholic schools begin to recruit players in Bergen County after the success Teaneck, Hackensack, and Englewood was having. Even people in local youth leagues started steering kids to private schools. This has not happened as much in other areas as it has in Bergen County fortunately. But it has started. Imagine if Dexter Strickland was at his home school. Or Paris Bennett his. And the best player to me in the state, Quintrell Thomas, headed to the University of Kansas, would have made Science HS the state champ this year. But in Bergen County it is really out of control. When a 6 ft 10 kid from Cliffside Park travels to Patterson to play limited minutes for Patterson Catholic, something is wrong somewhere.

Maybe I am wrong and the kids are just seeking a better education. Maybe it is not the free tuition or gear they receive at certain programs. Maybe it is the better exposure, and that I do understand. But for what ever the reason is, I wonder if we will ever see strong public school teams again in northern NJ. Same thing happened in NYC years ago when the Catholic schools raided the public schools for players. Funny thing is many of the NYC Catholic Schools cannot compare to the Public Schools academically. Cardoza, JFK, Frederick Douglas Academy, Bronx Science, and others are head and shoulders better than many. But again it must be exposure because the mentioned public schools have fine programs and a record of success.

Well this weekend will be a special time again. Many Dads, and Moms, will be taking the young ones to what is a great tradition and tournament for two great sessions. Maybe not the greatest talent, but definitely the greatest atmosphere. And the finals, usually held at FDU in Hackensack, will be a sell out with people showing up 2 hours early to get a ticket to see these kids who will feel like true stars.


Brian said...

I believe the name of the Ridgewood coach that slipped your mind is Jim Stroker. He was a tough coach who got his kids to play tough, disciplined basketball.

LFBall said...

Yes thats him. Looked almost out of place as a high school coach but boy did he do a great job. Kids played tough all the time. Hard to imagine one of the top public high schools in America having such a tough group of kids.

Brian said...

I see that Greg Equenique is a resident of Ridgewood. I wonder what that team would have been like with him. Probably would have been like when Lenny Cooke played for Old far as talent goes. Except, that they would have been competing in one of the best leagues in Jersey.

LFBall said...

No he is just living there with a St. Benedicts Asst. Coach while he attends HS. Plus he would be the same at Ridgewood. Good player bot a tad overated to me. No where close to the Lenny Cooke category.