Kearny boys’ hoop camp: Shooting to be best

Liam Raftery comes from excellent basketball stock.

His uncle, Bill, is perhaps the greatest basketball player to ever come out of Kearny. Before heading off to LaSalle University, Bill Raftery was a local hoops legend at the now-defunct St. Cecilia of Kearny, eventually becoming the all-time leading scorer in Hudson County history, scoring 2,192 points.

Bill Raftery’s mark was eclipsed 10 years ago by Rick Apodaca of North Bergen.

After his playing days at St. Cecilia and later LaSalle, Raftery went on to become a famed coach at Seton Hall for 11 years, but gained better recognition for his work as an announcer for college basketball games on several networks, most notably ESPN, FOX Sports and for the last four years as the head analyst for CBS Sports’ coverage of the NCAA Tournament.

Known for his famous sayings like “Onions,” “Send it in, Jerome,” and “Man to Man,” Bill Raftery is a basketball icon.

Liam has a ways to go to top his uncle, but the 11-year-old North Arlington resident is well on his way.

“I have to live up to the name, I guess,” said Liam Raftery, who will enter sixth grade at the North Arlington Middle School next month. “I talk to him a lot about basketball. There’s a little bit of pressure that comes with my name.”

So with that in mind, Liam Raftery took to the court recently at Kearny High to participate in the annual Kearny High School Boys’ Basketball Camp, organized by Kearny head coach Bob McDonnell.

Raftery said that he learned a lot about defense and rebounding. That might have been sweet music to his uncle’s ears and certainly pleased Coach McDonnell.

“I learned how to use my body more,” Raftery said. “I learned how to jump better and got after the ball. I feel like I’m a better player.”

It’s the sixth year that McDonnell has hosted the camp, which drew a little more than 50 youngsters this summer.

“We try to make it more fun for the kids,” McDonnell said. “We work on passing, shooting and defense. We work on agility and rebounding. We try to incorporate drills, yet make it fun and interesting.”

McDonnell said that he was encouraged by the number of first-time campers.

“We probably had 30 kids who had never been to our camp before,” McDonnell said. “It shows that word of mouth is getting out. We didn’t advertise much. We had a nice group of kids, with the newcomers being a nice change of pace. The group we had, we were able to keep their interest constantly with games to go along with the drills.”

McDonnell said that he had one particular group that became ingenious.

“We had a group of 10-to-12-year-olds who were organizing drills and games before we got started in the morning,” McDonnell said. “That proves to me that these kids want to learn more. They’re willing to learn.”

McDonnell said that there is some promise on the horizon.

“We do have some talented kids who are playing,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell mentioned Kevin McKenna, who has been a camper for a few years now, and Jaden Pinto as two campers who have improved tremendously over previous years.

“Kevin McKenna has improved 100 percent,” McDonnell said. “Jaden is another who has improved and who wants to play all the time.”

Kevin McKenna’s brother, 9-year-old Colin, a fourth grader at Roosevelt School, is a big Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder fan, but his favorite player is LeBron James. He said that the biggest thing he learned over the week was “the jab step.”

“You make the defender fall back so he can’t play you,” McKenna said of the move, made very popular by reining NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden of the Houston Rockets. “I got pretty good with the jab step. I’m going to practice what I learned. I have a hoop in the driveway.”

Colin McKenna sticks solely with basketball.

“This will make me better for the winter when I play,” Colin McKenna said.

Not to mention, when he faces his older brother.

Christian Duarte is a 10-year-old player who will enter the fifth grade at Roosevelt School next month.

“I like different players, like Kyrie (Irving, the New Jersey native who plays for the Boston Celtics) and LeBron,” Duarte said.

“I learned about dribbling the right way and shooting,” Duarte said. “There are different ways to dribble if someone is guarding you or not. It was a lot of fun being here. It’s my favorite sport. It was my first time here, so it was fun.”

Kolton Gryckiewicz – spelled exactly as it is pronounced – is an 8-year-old third grader from Garfield School.

“I learned a lot of skills, like dribbling and shooting,” Gryckiewicz said. “I learned to put the ball behind my back. All the stuff I learned, I can take down to the courts and take on some people.”

Gryckiewicz is a fan of the Golden State Warriors and Stephan Curry – who else? – as well as the Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons.

Ryan Drennan is a 10-year-old who also comes from basketball royalty.

His late grandfather, Bill “Red” Drennan, was the head coach at places like Marist of Bayonne and Dickinson in Jersey City, while his father, Sean, is the current head coach at Dickinson and the former head coach at Kean College.

“Sometimes, I feel like I have to play basketball because of them,” Ryan Drennan said. “But I really like the game. I like watching the games and I like watching my Dad’s team play.”

So what did the coach’s kid learn?
“I learned that it’s important for everyone to touch the ball,” Ryan Drennan said. “Sometimes, the people I pass the ball to don’t pass it back. But this was a lot of fun.”

William Souza is a 12-year-old sixth grader at the Washington School. Souza is a fan of the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Durant. But Souza has another basketball player he looks up to – namely his older brother Nicolas, who had a good season last year for McDonnell’s Kardinals.

“I always want to play like him and be like him,” William Souza said of his older brother. “He’s a good player who plays hard. That’s what I want to do. I want to play hard and improve. I think I’m getting better at defense and rebounding.”

And what would William be doing if he wasn’t going to the camp?

“I’d probably still be sleeping,” William Souza said. “This was good because I got a chance to play.”

Elijah Rivera is 14 years old and will be a freshman at Kearny High next month.

“This helped me a lot,” Rivera said. “I needed more athleticism and I learned moves to be able to score. I also have better control of the ball now. I want to keep playing basketball. This taught me how to learn the players here and their offense and defense.”

McDonnell thanked his sponsors, namely Rick’s Auto Body, which provided the camp T-shirts, as well as Pete’s Pizzeria and Stella’s Empanada’s, who provided gift prizes.

“I think the whole week went very smoothly,” McDonnell said. “I think the kids enjoyed themselves.”




The Kearny boys’ basketball camp, under the guidance of Kearny High School boys’ head basketball coach Bob McDonnell (center), was a rousing success. Photo by Jim Hague

From left, Ryan Drennan, Jesse Calfayan, Kevin McKenna, Jonah Menendez and Liam Raftery work on their power dribbling moves under the watchful eyes of Kearny coach Bob McDonnell. Photo by Jim Hague





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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.”