If you’re a local basketball coach or fanatic, the place to be the first Friday of May is always the annual Basketball Old-Timers of America dinner.
For the 59th year, legends of the game gathered to relive their vast hoops memories. Held May 4 at Sirico’s Caterers in Dyker Heights, the dinner is a spring tradition that continues going strong.
Everywhere you looked, you could see a basketball guru, from Pete Gillen, to George Bruns, to Tom Konchalski, to Don Kent, and of course to longtime NBA referee Dick Bavetta. This year, four inductees joined the ranks of the 232 Old-Timers Hall of Famers, a group that includes 26 Naismith Hall of Famers.
“We’re thrilled to be here tonight to honor some people who truly deserve this,” said Ray Nash, former standout at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, and current CHSAA president who along with fellow Terriers’ standout Dennis McDermott have kept the dinner alive.
From the first three inductees in 1959 – William “Pop” Gates, Pop Harris and Andrew “Fuzzy” Levane – to the new class of four, the Old-Timers Hall of Fame continues to honor those who have established basketball as “the city game.”
Jack Alesi’s passion for coaching basketball began when he was 18 years old as a CYO coach at St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands. The Nazareth H.S., East Flatbush, graduate had attended the coaching camp hosted by hoops legends Lou Carnesecca and Red Sarachek, which piqued his interest in coaching.
He arrived at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, in 1979 as the coach of the freshman and junior varsity squads. He took over as varsity head coach in 1994.
In his 21 seasons leading the Clippers, Alesi compiled a 345-250 career record to go along with three Brooklyn/Queens diocesan titles, two city championships, seven coach of the year awards and an induction into the CHSAA Hall of Fame. In his final game on March 13, 2016, his Clippers’ team captured that year’s CHSAA ‘AA’ city title – a fitting end to a memorable career.
“This room here is about our past,” Alesi said of the Old-Timers dinner. “You’re not here to hear about the present. We all have stories with the people here, and that’s what this dinner is all about. It’s about honoring our past. Without the past, there is no present.”
Alesi continues to serve as a role model to Xaverian’s current student-athletes through his work as the school’s director of finance.
A native of Ridgewood, Larry Lembo excelled in basketball and baseball at Bishop Loughlin M.H.S., Fort Greene. His 1960-1961 hoops squad won the CHSAA city championship.
Though he was drafted in baseball by the Cleveland Indians, he opted to attend Manhattan College, the Bronx, instead. He became an All-American basketball player who graduated as the Jaspers’ all-time leader in scoring (1,443 pts.), a record that stood for 13 years.
He continued to play baseball at Manhattan as well. In 1965, he was drafted by both the New York Knicks and Chicago White Sox. He spent two seasons in the minor leagues for the White Sox before returning home to coach baseball and men’s and women’s tennis and serve as an athletic administrator at Queensborough Community College, Bayside.
Lembo also became a respected referee. He started officiating CYO games and moved through the high school and college ranks. He eventually worked 21 NCAA Tournament games, including four Final Fours.
“It’s so much fun seeing these ‘old’ faces … so many great memories; it’s been a pleasure,” said Lembo, also a member of the New York City Basketball, Bishop Loughlin, Manhattan College and CHSAA Halls of Fame.
Born in Eastman, Ga., Johnny Mathis received a basketball scholarship to Savannah State, Ga., where he earned First Team All-Conference honors in 1963-1964 after averaging 26.8 pts. and 14.0 rebounds per game.
Upon graduating in 1965, he played professionally in Spain before stints in the Eastern League with the New Jersey Americans and Hamden Bics. His historic coaching career began as an assistant at Oyster Bay H.S., L.I., in 1982.
He took over the program at John F. Kennedy H.S., the Bronx, in 1987 and continues to coach there to this day. His teams have won 14 Bronx titles and two Public Schools Athletic League city championships.
In 2009, the school renamed the gymnasium “Coach Mathis Arena,” and four years later, he notched his 600th career victory.
“It’s been a great ride for me, and it’s been enjoyable,” Mathis said. “I’ve been blessed.”
A talented center at New Dorp H.S., Staten Island, Jim Signorile went on to enjoy a storied hoops career at NYU. Known for his hook shot, he started every game for the Violets from his sophomore through senior seasons.
“My many years playing in New York were among the best years of my life,” he said.
He was drafted by the Knicks and the American Basketball Association’s Carolina Cougars, but he instead signed to play professional basketball in Europe for Real Madrid in 1970.
Signorile then played for Clermont Ferrand in France’s Second Division. On Feb. 5, 1972, he dropped in 101 pts. against the team from Agen, France.
Signorile is a member of the NYU and Staten Island Sports Halls of Fame. In true “Old-Timer” fashion, he still suits up to play in master’s basketball tournaments throughout the country.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.