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Monday, September 19, 2005

Must Read: "The Miracle of St. Anthony"

Put simply, if you're a basketball fan, you have to read this book. Adrian Wojnarowski, a reporter for The Bergen (N.J.) Record and spent a year a few years back with the St. Anthony Friars, the high school hoops team in Jersey City, NJ whose coach is Bob Hurley, Sr., one of the best HS hoops coaches ever and father of former Duke star and NBA player Bobby Hurley (as well as former Seton Hall player and outstanding HS hoops coach Danny Hurley) In the book, the author writes about the private Catholic high school itself, the two nuns who will the school to remain afloat, the legendary basketball coach, his family, his assistant coaches, his trainer and his players.

You all know about Hurley, Sr., all the state championships he's won, the very high national rankings he's achieved, and the difference he has made in his players' lives by stressing excellence. You'll learn about a particular group of kids, an underachieving senior class and some talented juniors, and how he forges them into a selfless unit that has another great season (I won't give away how successful the team ultimately was).

St. Anthony H.S. and the St. Anthony hoops program isn't just one man, and Hurley would be the first to tell you so. That said, he's a superluminary at this school, and he means much more to it than just being its men's basketball coach. He's a taskmaster on the court, but you won't find a coach with a bigger heart. He truly seems interested in what's best for his players, and he works hard on their behalf. For Hurley, it's not about always placing his top kids with the biggest name schools, but the right schools. For example, one of last year's seniors (a junior when the book was written), was a 6'9" post player named Ahmad Nivins, who is a good student and who developed his talent later in his career. By his senior year, all of the big-time schools were recruiting him, yet Nivins, with Hurley's blessing, chose St. Joe's in Philadelphia. There were three main reasons -- St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli was interested in him when few others schools were, Nivins liked the school's business school and emphasis on academics, and Hurley also thought the school would provide the right type of nurturing environment. How many HS coaches would have told their kids to pick St. Joe's over a Big East or ACC school? Not many.

There's also a hilarious story about Hurley, former player Jerry Walker (who played his college ball at Seton Hall) and then-Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, who was recruiting Walker hard for Villanova. If you don't like Massimino, you'll love this story -- it's just a classic, and Wojnarowski tells it very well. There are many uplifting stories in this book, and a few sad ones too. Throughout, there's the constant of adults who care -- Hurley, his top assistant, Ben Gamble, his other assistants, Tom Pushie and Darren Erman, all of whom acted as a buffer between the taskmaster Hurley and his players. There are the sisters who run the school, and there are parents here and there who care (in the case of Nivins and PG Derrick Mercer), who care too much (Sean McCurdy's mother and Lamar Alston's stepfather) and who aren't there much at all.

Wojnarowski has succeeded in turning a diary about hanging out with one of the country's top high-school hoops teams into a page turner. You want to keep reading to figure out if Ahmad "Beanie" Mosby gets back into Hurley's good graces, if Marcus Williams can rekindle the old magic that had him as one of the country's most talked about ninth graders a few years earlier, if Otis Campbell and Shelton Gibbs can fulfill their potential, why recruiters are flocking toward the team's only white player, the out-of-place Connecticut native McCurdy, and whether recruiters will get interested in the undersized PG Mercer and the enigmatic, undersized center, Barney Anderson. You want to keep reading to see if they can beat Seton Hall Prep, if they can win the Class "B" Parochial title, and how they can fare against St. Patrick's of Elizabeth and Bloomfield Tech.

I've read a bunch of good hoops books, from Connie Hawkins' "Foul" to "In These Girls Hope is a Muscle" to "Fall River Dreams", and this one is as good as it gets. I'm glad I picked it off the shelf of my public library -- it was well worth it.

To get into the proper mood for the upcoming college (and HS, for that matter) hoops season, get "The Miracle of St. Anthony". You won't regret it.


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

I have added this book to my "Christmas Book List". Everyone used to say that I was difficult to buy presents for so now I keep a list of books I want to read and make it available to family/friends in November. My birthday is in December so I get LOTS of books every December and spend much of the next year wading through them. When I'm done, I donate most of them to the local public library.

Thanks for the recommendation.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just a flat out amazing book, i have not read a better sports story or book. Mr. Hurley and the Sisters are truly doing god's work.

11:53 AM  
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