Harrison holds summer hoops camp

Photo by Jim Hague The Harrison basketball camp for boys and girls was held last week at the Washington Middle School under the leadership of head coach Noel Colon (back row, right of center) and guest speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez (back row, left of center).
Photo by Jim Hague
The Harrison basketball camp for boys and girls was held last week at the Washington Middle School under the leadership of head coach Noel Colon(back row, right of center) and guest speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez (back row,
left of center).

When Noel Colon got the job as the head boys’ basketball coach at Harrison High School, he knew that it wasn’t a seasonal position.

“I knew that I couldn’t just roll the balls out here in November and say goodbye when the season was over in March,” said Colon, who just completed his second season as the head coach of the Blue Tide. “I’m trying to build a program and trying to build a relationship with the kids in town. I want to get to know their first and last names. That’s the only way to build relationships.”

Colon said that he started to build camaraderie with the younger kids in Harrison through free clinics he held during the school year. But when the summer began, Colon wanted to take it a step further and hold a free basketball camp for the youngsters in town.

“I wanted to do something that encourages kids and motivates them,” said Colon, who grew up going to camps at the Jersey City Boys and Girls Club and with the St. Michael’s CYO program in Union City. “I was very grateful to have people like Donald Copeland Sr. with the Boys Club and Steve Ricciardi Sr. at St. Michael’s. They showed me the way of how to do things.”

Last week, Colon had the first Harrison Basketball Camp, totally free of charge, at the Washington Middle School. More than 30 youngsters participated in the week-long camp. “We started off small, because we didn’t know what the turnout would be like,” Colon said. “I’m very excited and happy with the turnout. We were bringing basketball back to life around here.”

Colon said that he got full support from school and Board of Education officials, especially athletic director Kim McDonough Huaranga, who was a standout basketball player in her day at Harrison and later St. Peter’s College.

“Kim was supportive and willing to do anything for the kids,” said Colon of Huaranga, whose son Anthony was a 6-year-old camper. “She’s very passionate about doing things like this. I’m very happy that the community was behind it.”

And as for the turnout? “As a coach, it lets you know that there’s interest in the game of basketball in Harrison,” said Colon, who was a fine player in his day at North Bergen High School and later Ramapo College. “We had to make things fun and interesting for the kids, to make them want to come back and keep playing.”

One of Colon’s guest speakers was Gian Paul Gonzalez, who was a fine player during his day at Montclair State and had a few tryouts in the NBA with the Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Clippers.

In fact, as a motivational speaker, Gonzalez gave the pep talk to the New York Giants, the famed “All In” speech before the Giants faced the Jets in 2011 that propelled the Giants into the playoffs and toward a Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.

Gonzalez, whose father, Alex Leonard, was an ESL teacher at Harrison, remembers going to a summer camp years ago and meeting Ray Lucas, the most recognizable athlete to ever come from Harrison.

“Ray Lucas, Jody Hill (the current Kearny girls’ coach) and Jack Rodgers (the legendary girls’ coach and former athletic director) all ran that camp,” Gonzalez said. “It was a great time. It’s always fun to come back to Harrison. Being with younger kids keeps me grounded.”

Gonzalez and Colon played against each other in college, but remained close friends.

“When he asked me to come, it was a no-brainer,” Gonzalez said of Colon. “Noel has done so much for me in teaching me how to run a program. We used to go to the Juvenile Detention Center (in Secaucus) together and talk to kids.”

Gonzalez has a motivational speaking firm called 4-One, which tries to help kids in trouble who are in need of guidance.

“That’s how Noel and I became friends,” Gonzalez said. “It’s how our relationship was built and how it developed. So I was really excited when Noel got the job here and to see what he’s doing here.”

Gonzalez travels the world doing speaking engagements, but made sure he stopped to pay his friend a visit as well as talk to the kids.

“I can see a lot of these kids are focused and locked in,” Gonzalez said. “They want to learn. I’m really proud of what Noel is doing. He’s not just coaching a team, but he’s reaching out to make better young men and young women in the community.”

Some of the campers were happy to get the chance to learn.

“I like this a lot,” said 13-year-old Mateo DeSosa. “When I learned about the camp, I was so excited to sign up.”

DeSosa was asked what he would be doing if there wasn’t a camp.

“I’d probably be sleeping,” DeSosa said. “It’s an honor to have this here.”

DeSosa said that he has been working on his ball handling skills.

“I can dribble with my left hand now,” DeSosa said. “This encourages me to play more now. I want to take what I learned out to the courtyard.”

Albert Ruff is a 12-year-old seventh grader.

“I’m really excited about being here,” Ruff said. “I like playing basketball. My favorite player is LeBron James. I learned how to set the proper screen, then roll to look for the ball. It’s made me feel like I can get better as a player. I have to work hard at home.”

Kayla Lucas is also 12 years old. Her father is Ray Lucas, the aforementioned basketball/ football star from Harrison who went on to play in the NFL with the Jets, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

Is there pressure being Ray Lucas’ daughter and Rayven Lucas’ little sister for that matter?

“Yes, there is,” Kayla said, with a laugh. “It’s good to have something like this in Harrison. This has given me a lot more confidence as a player. I’ve worked on my ball handling as well.”

Colon thanked his assistant coaches, Dana John and Eduardo Matute, for helping with the camp, as well as some of the current members of the Blue Tide.

“We’re all part of building a program,” Colon said. “This is part of building the program. I’m glad that the kids are having fun. The parents have been saying nice things. As long as the kids are having a good time and they’re learning, that makes me happy. Each day, they keep getting better.”

That’s the goal of any camp, but this camp was different, because thanks to the goodness of Colon’s heart and the hearts of his assistants and players, this camp was totally free of charge. And where do you get anything for free these days?

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”