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Tarheel Daily Article by Bret Dougherty
Live @ West 4th Playground, New York City, NY
Bret Dougherty caught up with former UNC guard Brian Reese recently, and they headed uptown to the 'Boogie Down' to talk about Reese's views on the state of basketball in New York City. .
August 26, 2004
West 4th playground seems to be the one place in this country that every basketball junkie has on the map to see. However, after a visit there, I would be surprised to hear anyone say that it is actually one of the better places to watch top-shelf ball in New York City. The style of play is reminiscent of tackle "Nerf hoop" games performed in dorm hallways across the country... And personally. I can see better woofing and wrestling on AM television talk shows. So, I can do without wasting five minutes watching the glam... Now, the handball games on West 4th... that's a different story.
Yet, the West 4th is a perfect place to meet someone in the NYC area because you can't beat the location. So, with that in mind, there wasn't a better place in NYC to meet up with former UNC guard and Bronx, New York City high school basketball legend, Brian Reese.
Reese was in town to check in with family living in New York City. He is now living in Charlotte, NC, and his visit to the big city left him no choice but to wax nostalgic about some of his favorite haunts. When we meet up, the toothy smile that was the symbol of Brian Reese during his Carolina playing days starts off the visit, and he quickly says "C'mon, get in the car, let's get up to the 'BX'."
The 'BX' means only one thing, you street neophytes: The Bronx...And as we pass Riverside Park on the West Side Highway, Reese begins to rant. "Guys have no discipline any more, and what happened to the heart?!" With more animation than a claymation doll, he continues.
"Ball in New York City is different now. Guys have all of this ying-yang to their game. Before, coaches and programs wouldn't touch you if you weren't involved with a solid private high school program, because you were wild and you didn't have the fundamentals. Now, you get noticed if you're part of a solid AAU program, or if you have hype from the summer youth leagues...It's killing the New York City game."
Reese is correct. Just a short decade ago, the best of high school basketball talent in New York City were spread across the five boroughs at schools such as St. Tolentine, Archbishop Molloy, LaSalle Academy, Christ the King, and All Hallows. Many of the players attended the City's catholic league schools to receive not only solid coaching and a solid education, but also to associate themselves with a brand reputation of hard-nosed basketball and solid fundamentals that would help them gain interest from colleges across the country.
But because of the extensive travel and tremendous exposure attendant to the AAU summer circuit, many of the players have been falling out of the Catholic school recruiting pipelines. The top players either don't join the Catholic school system because they would have to improve their test scores, and they choose to enroll at a leafy prep school; or like proven NBA guards, Jamal Tinsley and Rafer Alston, who only played ten games at Brooklyn's Cardozo High during his high school career, they drop out of the system all together in favor of the AAU and summer league circuits.
As Reese explains, "If I didn't have the high-school coaching and a discipline surrounding a solid private high school program, I would have been branded differently, and I wouldn't have been recruited differently...Hey, I'm a birthchild of the AAU and the Rucker League, but it's killing the competition..."
Reese's contention may be right. The New York talent has dropped a long way considering that only three players --Sebastian Telfair (of Brooklyn's public school power, Lincoln High School), Kansas signee Russell Robinson of Brother Rice H.S., and Louisville signee, Juan Palacios of Our Savior New American in Centereach, NY -- out of New York City were among the top fifty players this year. That's a long way from Reese's senior year in high school, when four players out of the five boroughs , Reese, Derrick Phelps, and Adrian Autry, Khalid Reeves all made the McDonald's All-American team and stole the hype from a Jamal Mashburn who barely missed the Top 25 .
"The way that kids have a lack of discipline and a lack of fundamentals, it's not a phase. It's deep within the system. Ghetto people learn from what they see, and they want the best things in life. When you look at the guys from AND 1 they're making that quick 'paper', the new generation wants to be a part of that new wave of tournaments and other avenues. When you look at what they're seeing with the commercialization around basketball, you can't blame them."
Reese saw a lot of the new wave last two summers while playing for Jay-Z 'Roc-A-Fella' team in the famed Rucker League. "Jay came to me, and told me that he wanted me to play with his summer team because he loves Carolina players. He said 'Carolina players are tough like warriors'...It was a lot of fun, but the tournament is totally different. Kids can't hang on the gates, and you have the NBA, hip-hop, stars like Lou Gossett Jr. and Alicia Keys coming around. It's more of a show now.
"That's why I appreciate the ways at Carolina more and more now. The way the discipline was instituted straight off the bat. At first, I couldn't take it. I wanted it easy. But when I saw that the system pulls up everyone together...Not just in ball, but in life. Over time, I got that feeling of 'Ahhh, I understand now' I'd like to pass that feeling on...We need more of that. Ya' know!"
However, the guard, whose grasshopper-like leaping ability and legendary rim-bangers are still talked about around the Castle Hill Projects in the Bronx, is not hanging his head on New York City ball yet. He showed his love for the city by wearing Kenny Smith's 'Carolina Pros' jersey to February's UNC Basketball Alumni Reunion Weekend, and he wants to pass down not only his New York City street smarts, but also the discipline that he learned from Dean Smith at North Carolina to inner city youth through his Pivot Training Treatment Academy in Charlotte.
At Souzon Deli & Grocery across from his old Castle Hill Project Home on Castle and Randall streets, Reese states. "You can't be stuck in the past doing the same old things. You need to make changes with youth not only with basketball but in life by relating to youth in new ways and listening to them. And because of ball, I can talk to these kids in ways that a lot of people can't. I can understand where they're at because if I didn't play ball, I could have been in the same difficult spot that a lot of kids are. My love is telling them that at 14 or 15 years old your life isn't over, and you still have a chance...."
"But to get out of those situations, you have to have discipline in your game...That's what gives you the heart."
**'Off the Glass' - BReese's Top Five Places to Play in New York City...Elite Level Game Required)
Columbia University,'Golden Hoops' - Held during 'HarlemWeek', "Great comp, best floor, I love that place. That's my spot...Hands down"
Castle Hill "Big Park" - That's my home park. It's where I shaped my game. I built the respect here, but I'm humble with it. Nice runs...
Entertainer's Basketball Classic, 155th Rucker Playground - C'mon, this is where my tournament play started. When I was thirteen, they gave me the name "The Bouncing Baby"....Killed them there.
West 4th Playground - When there's no trick involved there, it's nice...Those closed-in fences, everybody hanging around the fence...Legendary spot.
Nike Pro/Am - Hunter College - That's where the big boys (Pros) are...The floor is nice, and it's a great league.
Uptown on the D Train,
Bret Dougherty is a UNC-Chapel Hill alum and
current graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Bret is a host of WXYC FM
89.3 SportsRap, and hosts a music show on WXYC called 'Fifteen Feet and
In.' Check in at his website, www.bretdougherty.com,
to follow his views and sights at UNC-Chapel Hill through his blog 'The
IronDog Chronicles.' Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.