Matt Stone, the director of athletics at St. Mary’s High School in Rutherford and the president of youth basketball for North Arlington Recreation, came up with a brilliant idea when the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic first struck in March.
“I thought that kids needed to get better as basketball players,” said Stone, who first spent over a decade as the head boys’ basketball coach at St. Mary’s. “But kids who normally play at this time have no teams. I also thought that the game of basketball had already become too team heavy and not getting enough instruction how to play.”
Stone had been hard at work organizing youth basketball in North Arlington. There are currently 250 kids participating from grades kindergarten through eighth grade. The K-through-2 grades are strictly instructional, with six teams in the lower division (third and fourth grades), six teams in the middle division (fifth and sixth grades) and eight teams in the upper division (seventh and eighth grades).
“I love it,” Stone said. “The kids are getting involved in basketball at a young age.”
It all came to a halt when the pandemic hit.
Stone thought of a way to keep basketball going.
“So I figured if we could get kids who want to get better and had the means to get better could do so by watching videos,” Stone said. “It’s like a throwback to times when we would watch players perform skills and then we would take those skills and practice on our own.”
Back in the 1970s, there was an educational video series called “Red on Roundball,” which featured legendary Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics going over a different basketball fundamental with a star of the time like fellow Hall of Famers Calvin Murphy, Julius Erving and Celtic greats like John Havlicek and “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
Another Hall of Famer, Nate “Tiny” Archibald was part of the series when he played for the Kansas City Kings, but later played for the Celtics.
Stone didn’t have access to such legendary players – but he did have special access to two budding stars in his sons, 10-year-old Dylan and 9-year-old Brody.
“Most kids nowadays get better by going to basketball camps and clinics or working out with a special trainer,” Stone said. “I looked at it that if I could do something during the pandemic, then I could do it with Dylan and Brody. I decided that we could not let the circumstances be an excuse. If it rained or was in the garage or in the living room doing jumping jacks, we were not going to use an excuse.”
So Stone devised his plan to broadcast daily workout sessions from his backyard, with his two sons as his workout players.
Stone then set up his recording devise on an elaborate stage – simply his I-Phone secured by a cinder block on a tripod that Stone’s wife Liz had to teach her first grade students in Passaic, with the tripod then perched on a ladder.
Bingo – an instant recording studio. Stone had the basketball court painted in his yard to help his sons’ game, so it was a natural for them.
“They love it,” Stone said. “They think it’s a lot like Hollywood. I don’t push them. If they don’t want to do it, they won’t do it. But they want to do it. They ask me every day, ‘Dad, what’s the plan for today?’”
Stone broadcasts the daily workouts live on his Facebook page every night at 6 p.m.
“When I first started, I thought that maybe because of the North Arlington and Rutherford pages, I might get 100 kids who would watch,” Stone said.
But Stone had no idea how widespread the daily broadcasts would become.
A coach in Ireland named Kieran Quinn became an avid viewer of the Stone family workouts and he shared the workouts with other basketball clubs in Ireland named Sligo Basketball Club and Temple Logic. A former teammate of Stone’s at Keene State College named Ricardo Alcaine is sharing the workouts with teams in Romania. Logan Gunnarson, who played for Stone at St. Mary’s, is sharing the workouts with teams in Iceland.
“There are teams in Virginia and Florida that regularly watch and send me messages,” Stone said.
Brian Geltzeiler, who is an analyst for NBA Radio on Sirius XM, has also been a regular viewer.
Stone then asked neighboring coaches if they wanted to sit in and be guest instructors. The response has been overwhelming. Stone already has welcomed Kevin Deverio of Don Bosco Prep, Billy Armstrong of Bergen Catholic, Eddie Rendzio of Waldwick, John Michael Santulli of Westwood, Brendan Brown, the radio analyst for the New York Knicks (and son of Hall of Famer Hubie Brown) as well as Stone’s own coach Brian Gascione of St. Mary’s.
Last week, Stone welcomed Alex Mirabel of Hudson County Tournament champion St. Peter’s Prep to the backyard workout sessions.
And what was thought to be broadcast for perhaps 50-to-100 viewers has grown to over 1,000 viewers nightly.
“I thought I’d do it for a month or so with only a few people watching,” Stone said. “It just kept growing. It’s been great. I’ve met a lot of new people because of it. I’m getting great feedback.”
Mirabel was glad to participate in the workout sessions. A former standout guard at New Jersey City University and the head coach of the Dominican Republic’s 17-and-under national team, Mirabel worked on ball handling drills last week.
“It’s been really good for me, because the last time I was on a court was when we lost to Bergen Catholic (in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 North final) in March,” Mirabel said. “I hadn’t even shot a ball since then. It feels good to get out and talk basketball again. We have to get back to our normal routine. Coach Stone has done a real good job setting these up. I’ve even learned stuff from watching them.”
Dylan Stone, the 10-year-old whiz, was elated to do the daily shows.
“I was excited because I just love playing basketball,” Dylan Stone said. “It’s one of the only things I can do. I was great going along with the idea. I wasn’t too worried about doing them. I never dreamed we’d get over 1,000 views.”
Dylan will be a sixth grader at the North Arlington middle school this fall.
“I feel like I’m getting better every day,” Dylan Stone said. “I feel like I’m learning something new. I’ve learned a lot because we’ve had all these coaches come and teach these drills.”
Brody Stone, a fourth grader at NA’s Washington School, agrees.
“I got to learn about pivoting my feet and my shooting,” Brody Stone said. “I’m shooting the ball better from further distances. It’s made me a better player.”
As for the competition between the two brothers, Brody Stone admits, “He’s the better player, but I’m coming after him. It’s made me stronger.”
While the brothers are busy shooting hoops in the yard, sister McKenzie, a 12-year-old gymnast and an advanced acrodancer, works on her moves in the front yard.
Needless to say, it’s been a rousing success for the Stone family.
“It’s unbelievable,” Matt Stone said. “We would probably be at some AAU Tournament over the weekend and they’d get a few shots here and there. Now, this way, they’re getting more than a thousand shots as week. They’re becoming more fundamentally sound. Their footwork is getting better. I’ve stressed footwork in every drill.”
And it’s helped Stone become a better father in the process.
“I’ve spent time with them that I never would have spent before,” Stone said. “It’s amazing how the pandemic shut everything down and started us doing this.”
“We have a lot of summer still left to do other stuff,” Brody Stone said.
Not to mention, other coaches to pay a visit.
“It makes you think how the game of basketball can connect so many people through social media,” Stone said.
The Stone family, namely 9-year-old Brody (left), father Matt (center) and 10-year-old Dylan (right) have become media darlings through their nightly workout sessions that have become hits via social media on Facebook. Photo by Jim Hague
St. Peter’s Prep head coach Alex Mirabel (left) instructed the Stone brothers in a ball handling workout last week. Photo courtesy of Matt Stone
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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.”