Hoop heaven for Kearny boys at basketball camp

Dwayne Hopson may only be 10 years old, but he comes from basketball royalty.

You see, the Schuyler School fifth grader is a distant cousin of former Boston Celtics and Miami Heat sharpshooter Ray Allen. He’s also related, in a cousin way, to Dennis Hopson, who was once the first round draft pick of the New Jersey Nets.

But until recently, young Dwayne never thought of becoming a basketball player like his already famous relatives.

Dwayne Hopson decided to attend the Kearny High School Boys’ Basketball Camp. His friends were going, so Dwayne thought it would be smart if he went as well.

“I didn’t think I could play,” Hopson said. “I never even gave it a try.”
However, with the help of Kearny head coach Bob McDonnell and his staff, Hopson was given the chance to improve.

“I learned how to make layups,” Hopson said. “This really helped me with my friends and let them know that I’m pretty good.”

Some 80 youngsters, ages seven through 14, converged on Kearny High to learn more about the game, with McDonnell leading the way.

“I was very happy with the number of young kids we had here,” said McDonnell, who will begin his fourth year as the head coach of the Kardinals in the fall. “We had a lot of walk-ups. We had the younger kids and the incoming freshmen, who impressed me with their talent level. I was very pleased with that. They’re going to help our program.

But there was one age group that really gained McDonnell’s attention.

“The younger kids, the eight and nine-year-olds,” McDonnell said. “Their improvement throughout the week was great. They remembered the drills from what we did before. A lot of the 9-and-10-year-olds were teaching the little ones. That was fun to see.”

McDonnell said that approximately 90 percent of the enrollment of the camp was comprised of Kearny residents.

“It shows that basketball is growing in Kearny,” McDonnell said. “There are more courts being used in town. Without a doubt, kids from Kearny want to play basketball and this is proof.”

Anthony Kulesza is a 12-year-old seventh grader at Lincoln School. He learned a lot during the camp.

“I learned how to do the ‘L’ cut,” Kulesza said of a particular move that was taught to get open to get the ball. “You start out under the basket and make a cut to the elbow, then turn. You’re making an ‘L’ shape.”

Sure sounds like the kid learned.

“I already had a lot of the foundation of basketball down,” Kulesza said with confidence. “I’ve been here before, so that helped me a lot.”

Kulesza is also a soccer player, so that will take preference in the fall. However…

“When I get back to playing basketball in the early winter, I will be ready,” Kulesza said. “I will be in control. I’m a busy guy.”

Braidan Logue is a 9-year-old fourth grader at Roosevelt School.

“I learned the jab step,” Logue said. “I had to learn it, because I had to make sure no one will steal the ball from me. It was a lot of fun. This is the second year I came to the camp. I like being here because I get to play with my friends.”

Chris Serrano is a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at Kearny High next month. He’s a player to watch.

“Basketball is my main sport,” Serrano said. “There are days that I always fit basketball in. I come home and I shoot a little. But being here helps me as an overall player. The coaches are looking at me, so they’ll see how I play. I always have to hustle to be a better player. I think I can prove to be a better overall basketball player.”

Francisco Penaherrera is another 14-year-old freshman-to-be at Kearny.

“It was a very good camp, very organized,” Penaherrera said. “It was more disciplined than I thought. The coaches are teaching me more about basketball and making me want to be here and how to act. But it was a lot of fun.”

Lorenzo Edwards IV is a 10-year-old fifth grader at Schuyler School.

“I learned how to dribble and move with the ball,” Edwards said. “I learned I have to be close to the ground. I’m getting better at it. It really was a lot of fun. It’s my favorite sport. It really helped me to become a better player.”

McDonnell liked the fact that Hopson was such a quick learner.

“He came that first day and it wasn’t good,” McDonnell said. “He was very discouraged. But he kept working and finally became comfortable. He picked up some fundamentals and remembered it during the stations.”

McDonnell thanked his staff, namely former assistant Mike Reilly, who provided fun trivia questions during the course of the week, along with former assistant Anthony Calabrese, now an assistant at Kean University; former Harrison head coach Noel Colon (now at Barringer in Newark); as well as former Kearny players Gary Williams, Rhett Gross, Dukens Germain, Michael Trauama and Graylen Vereen.

“We had a good group working with the kids,” McDonnell said. “The kids were definitely intent on learning. At 9 a.m., we got the stations off without a hitch and the attention span was amazing.”

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer