By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It all started three years ago, when Ron Lagman approached Kearny resident Julius David to see if he could run a basketball clinic with the Filipino community in mind.
“Filipinos love basketball,” David said.
It was the birth of Hoopsville Cares, a basketball teaching nonprofit organization, run solely on charitable contributions.
“Ron was able to get some sponsors, but whatever else we get, it comes from donations,” said David, a long-time youth basketball coach and currently the freshman coach at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City. “We started out with 10 or 15 kids.”
This year, more than 65 youngsters, ages 7 through 13, went to the METS Charter School in Jersey City every Saturday and Sunday from July 6 through last Sunday. They learned all aspects of the game of basketball while learning also about hard work, integrity, leadership, honesty, education, sportsmanship and dedication.
On Sunday, the youngsters were given a treat, as Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony High School gave a guest lecture. Hurley commanded the kids’ attention and by the end of the hour-long session, he had the kids eating out of his hands.
All summer long, Hurley has been traveling, coaching and organizing at camps and clinics. He had just returned from the Pennsylvania Poconos the night before, where he conducted a camp strictly for young girls, to make it back to his native Jersey City to give the lecture.
“I do six weeks of camp during the summer and I do maybe two or three lectures a week,” said Hurley, who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. “I guess I’ve been with about 7,500 kids throughout the course of the summer.”
Hurley was asked if it ever gets tiring.
“This is all I do now,” Hurley said. “My life is all basketball. I still love going into a gym and doing things off the top of my head. I have to remember the ages of the kids as I do it.”
Some of the youngsters didn’t know who Hurley was. One asked, “Who are you?”
“Who am I? I’m the guy whose picture is on the wall over there,” Hurley said, pointing to a giant banner honoring Hurley for winning the 1,000th game of his coaching career last year.
But there were others who were in awe of Hurley.
“It’s amazing to be with a Hall of Fame coach,” said Julius David Jr., the camp director’s 12-year-old son, who Hurley used in a lot of his demonstrations. “It’s fun to learn from him.”
David Jr. was asked if it was a little stressful being the center of the camp’s attention.
“Somewhat, because I was afraid that I might mess up,” he said, laughing.
Hurley tried to use references that his audience might understand, like mentioning boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who is from the Philippines.
“The Filipino kids are terrific because they love basketball,” Hurley said. “It’s huge in the Philippines. There’s so much diversity in Jersey City these days. You never can expect to see one group.”
The Hoopsville Cares group featured kids from all races, creeds and backgrounds.
Mohamed Farih, the former Kearny High standout who remains on the St. Peter’s University roster after walking on to the team two years ago, was one of the camp’s counselors and instructors.
“It’s fun to give back to the game I love,” said Farih, who will be a junior on the Peacocks this season. “I want to teach the kids what I was taught. The potential is there for them to become good basketball players. I didn’t play until my freshman year at Kearny, so these kids are getting a head start. I see a whole lot of energy out there. These kids want to learn, from beginning to end. I see myself wanting to be like these kids.”
The elder David was excited to see just how much his camp has grown.
“It’s way better than I could have expected,” David said. “It was a good turnout. Instead of being on a beach or playing video games, these kids wanted to learn about basketball. They’re dribbling and shooting. I’m very excited. I don’t think it can get any better than this. Coach Hurley has a lot of drills to keep the kids interested.”
Hurley’s ball handling drills have been used at his camps for almost 40 years.
“When you have really young kids, you have to make an effort,” Hurley said. “It’s the challenge of teaching that keeps you sharp. I’m running camps all summer, so I’m able to do new things there. I’m not trying to re-invent myself. It was different and fun. You could feel the energy, the basketballs bouncing in the building. It’s all part of the learning and I really enjoyed doing it.”
David was in awe of Hurley’s presence.
“He taught the kids things that they could do without having a hoop at home,” David said. “They can do the drills in their basements, in their backyard, in the driveway. The kids all had fun with it. It was awesome to see. When you have younger kids like this, they represent the future of the sport.”
William Mullins is eight years old. His father, Bill, is the former head boys’ coach at Kearny High who still coaches the volleyball team.
The younger Mullins said that he wants to learn more.
“I like to play basketball,” William Mullins said. “I like to learn about dribbling, but I like to shoot.”
His 7-year-old brother, Matheus, was also a participant.
“I want to play basketball because Dad was a coach,” Matheus said. “I liked the knockout part, because I won.”
Knockout is a shooting and dribbling drill.
“It was a lot of fun and I was glad to be here,” Matheus said.
Benjamin Minguito is an 8-year-old Kearny resident.
“I had a lot of fun and I feel like I’m a better shooter now,” Benjamin said. “This was cool.”
David was glad that his camp was a success.
“Seeing the little kids do the drills means a lot,” David said. “I think they retain more. It’s a misconception to think that the little ones can’t pick up things. Well, we had 60 basketballs bouncing at once and they were all doing it. It was great.”
And it was highlighted by an appearance from basketball royalty. Not a bad thing at all.