Two short blasts of the whistle carries the authority of a lifetime in basketball.
“Balls up!” Bob Hurley shouts, and seconds later, the cacophony of pounding basketballs is silenced. Sixty kids — including 20 boys and girls from the Our Lady of Sorrows basketball program in South Orange and one interloper from St. Joseph’s CYO program — sit down for a master class in hoops skills.
The OLS kids, a mix of boys and girls from third through seventh grades, made it to the Jersey City Sunday for a clinic with Hurley, the legendary, fiery Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach who has won 27 state championships (including eight in a row, from 1983-’91), and four national championships in 43 years as coach of the famed Jersey City high school. He has sent hundreds of players to college on basketball scholarships, including his sons, Bobby and Danny, who have followed in their dad’s footsteps as head coaches of University of Buffalo and University of Rhode Island, respectively.
Hurley invited the The OLS players after meeting South Orange residents and OLS parishioners Matt and Annie Servitto recently at the New Jersey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Paramount in Asbury Park. Matt Servitto, who played FBI agent Dwight Harris on The Sopranos, was on hand when his friend and Sopranos star, James Gandolfini was inducted posthumously into the NJ Hall of Fame.
“Matt and I were talking with Coach Hurley at the New Jersey Hall of Fame Induction ceremony,” says Annie, who serves on the School Advisory Board and marketing committee. “He was telling me about the clinic in Jersey City. He invited our kids — Francesca, Nicholas and Greta — to come. I asked him if we could bring some of our OLS kids and he said we could. He is such a wonderful man.”
While Hurley’s intense, demanding coaching style is in full flower during the season, the 67-year-old was more like a proud grandfather/hoops expert during Sunday’s clinic. He cracked jokes and chatted with the parents who ringed the court, while he set up the kids on timed drills to help them improve their individual skills. Hurley was relaxed and supportive with the young players as his 15 players and six coaches shared their expertise. He had his players show the drills and then let the kids try to emulate what they saw.
“Cover your heads, folks,” he told the parents before a particularly challenging set of drills. “There are going to be basketballs flying everywhere. Let’s give it a shot!
“This is a great way to give back,” Hurley says. “Our players get to participate in these clinics, earn their community-service hours, and help a lot of kids who look up to them.” The OLS kids looked up to them, quite literally, craning their necks to watch some of the players who are taller than 6’8”, gave them advice.
“Kids today are busy with a lot of different activities,” Hurley said. “If they love basketball, it’s hard for them to get the time or places to get a game. The great thing about doing clinics with kids like these is that we teach them a lot of drills that they can do, even if they don’t have a hoop.
“The kids can even do these drills in the house,” Hurley added, “as long as you don’t have any valuable lamps or other breakable things in the room.”
OLS Athletic Director Louie Torres said it was a great experience for the children. “This is a privilege for them, something they won’t forget.”
“It is amazing to watch him work with the kids,” Annie Servitto said. “He gets their attention, explains how the drills work, and then supports them. It was a special day for everyone.”
The local players at the clinic included:
3rd Graders: Nicholas Servitto, Greta Servitto, Lewis Dennard, George Evans, Maxwell Ince, Isabella Price, Jordan Schaefer, Anne Sullivan, Emma Torres
4th Graders: Jared Edwards, Harold Fullilove, Taona Maphosa, Derrick Watkins
5th Graders: Abigail Sullivan, Isheunesu Maphosa
6th Graders: Francesca Servitto, Jordan Ince, Caitlyn Schaefer, Nicholas Torres
7th Graders: Sydney Fullilove; Luke Chmiel (St. Joseph’s interloper)