Hoop hopeful: The development begins at Kearny camp

Larry Lerdo is a 10-year-old fifth grader at Kearny’s Garfield School who is committed to the sport of basketball.

“I’m in 100 percent,” Lerdo said. “Basketball is my favorite sport. I play all the time. I play in the schoolyards. My favorite player is Stephen Curry. I want to be able to shoot like him.”

So that’s why Lerdo wanted to be a part of the annual Kearny High School Boys’ Basketball Camp at Kearny High last week.

“I learned how to dribble with both hands,” Lerdo said. “I learned how to defend.”

But the biggest thing Lerdo came away with was a new shooting style.

“I don’t want to bend my hand back too much,” Lerdo said. “I need to have my release with a curled hand. As soon as I got the application for this camp,. I was so excited. I knew it would help me shoot like him.”

Lerdo said that he took what he learned during the week-long camp at Kearny High right to the schoolyards.

“It was really worth it,” Lerdo said. “I had a lot of fun.”

Lerdo wasn’t alone. There were more than 70 youngsters who had the same chance as Lerdo, to learn something about basketball from head coach Bob McDonnell and a staff of excellent coaches that included St. Peter’s Prep head coach Alex Mirabel, former Harrison head coach Noel Colon and former Kearny assistant coach Mike Reilly.

“I was very impressed with the turnout,” McDonnell said. “Most of the kids were from Kearny. They mostly are grammar school age, which is good and bodes well for the future.”

Kevin McKenna is a nine-year-old fourth grader from Roosevelt School.

“I learned to dribble with both hands,” McKenna said. “Before I could only dribble with my right hand. Now I can do both. If someone comes up to me, I can cross over to the left hand and keep going.”

The energetic McKenna was overjoyed to be with the other campers.

“It was a lot of fun,” McKenna said. “Basketball is my favorite sport. I think I’ve become a better player. I’m going to practice all the time.”

McDonnell said that the campers worked on fundamentals.

“We did a lot of core drills,” McDonnell said. “With some of the little ones, we started out with baby steps and kept going from there. The majority of them did very well.”

McDonnell said that there were several campers who returned from previous years.

“We had a lot of returnees,” McDonnell said. “All the kids worked hard.”

McDonnell said that the most popular station each day was the agility drills.

“The kids loved that one,” McDonnell said. “Each counselor said that the kids were well behaved and listened. I didn’t have to raise my voice once.”

“I liked the coaches here,” McKenna said. “I’ve been with other coaches, but these guys were the best. I liked that they were here to help us.”

Jaiden Pinto is a 10-year-old fifth grader at Sacred Heart School in Lyndhurst.

“I learned how to shoot better,” Pinto said. “I had to learn to let it go with my finger tips. I can see the difference in my shot right away. I’ve been practicing on the hoop in the driveway. Every day, I’ve been practicing on my own. I notice the difference. I’ve been to a lot of camps, but this one helped me a lot. I got more out of this camp than the others. Others were kind of boring.”

Colin Buggle is a 10-year-old who will be in the fifth grade at Queen of Peace School in North Arlington.

“Coming here improved my dribbling a lot,” Buggle said. “I came here two years ago and I wasn’t very good. Now I’m getting better.”

Buggle improved so much that he played 9-and-under travel basketball in North Arlington.

“I want to make sure I keep going,” Buggle said. “I have a goal to score 50 points this year. I had a lot of fun here and I plan to do it again next year.”

Wes Latka is a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at Kearny High in the fall. His older brother Zack was a standout for the Kardinals for the last three years.

“I kind of had pressure on me coming here as a Latka,” Wes Latka said. “But I wanted to come here so I could do things better than my brother. I want to make a name for myself, not just being Zack’s brother.”

Wes has another older brother, Taylor, who is 22. So he’s the third one on the totem pole.

“I’ve been practicing a lot so I could play with them,” Latka said. “They’re both tough on me, so that’s pretty good. It prepares me for what I have to expect in high school. I plan on having a great four-year career at Kearny. This has helped me a lot.”

Latka said that he was most impressed by the vertical drills that helped his ability to jump.

“I’ve been coming here for four years, so I’m like the veteran of the camp,” Latka said. “Each year, I can see the progress.”

Eric Guerreiro is a 13-year-old who will begin eighth grade at Queen of Peace.

“I’ve been playing for five years, so this camp helped me a lot,” Guerreiro said. “My dribbling improved a lot. I’m going to practice on my own and get better. I liked this camp a lot. Instead of sitting at home, playing video games, I was learning basketball. I’ve been playing every day.”

Those words were sweet music to McDonnell’s ears.

“I just want the kids to have fun and to learn a little bit,” McDonnell said. “That’s all we can hope for.

Learn more about the writer ...

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.”