St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, celebrated the holiday season as it always does – by hosting the annual Msgr. King Basketball Tournament from Dec. 26-30.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the renowned boys’ varsity high school hoops tournament. To add to the fun, the girls’ version of the tournament – the Msgr. John J. Brown Memorial Girls’ Basketball Tournament – was held during the same four days.
Fittingly, the championship trophies of both tournaments – which epitomize what basketball means to the borough of Brooklyn – were hoisted by Brooklyn teams.
Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge, took home the girls’ title with a victory over rival Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst. On the boys’ side, Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, emerged victorious in the title bout against Ralph McKee Technical H.S., Staten Island.
The eight-team boys’ field featured some tough competition, including St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay; Queens Metropolitan H.S., Forest Hills; Notre Dame Catholic H.S., Fairfield, Conn.; Bedford Academy, Bedford-Stuyvesant; St. Mary’s H.S., Manhasset, L.I.; and Telecommunications H.S., Bay Ridge.
Millennium H.S., Manhattan, and Fort Hamilton H.S., Bay Ridge, joined Fontbonne Hall and Bishop Kearney to round out the girls’ field – marking the first time the Msgr. King and Msgr. Brown Tournaments were held simultaneously.
“Everybody liked the format,” said Guy DeFonzo, director of the tournaments and the parish athletic representative at St. Thomas. “The girls’ game before the boys’ game was great. It was a great crowd. The place was packed…both sides.
“It really was a special night to have the championship games back to back. It had a feel like the old days.”
Xaverian sophomore point guard Shawn Fulcher earned M.V.P. honors for the Msgr. King Tournament, while Fontbonne senior power forward Jill Howard was awarded the Msgr. Brown Tournament M.V.P. Former Nazareth H.S., East Flatbush, head varsity boys’ basketball coach Todd Jamison was presented with a lifetime achievement award to cap off the honors.
Since its inception in 1962, the Msgr. King Tournament has featured top boys’ varsity high school teams in New York City and beyond. The tournament is named after former St. Thomas Aquinas pastor Msgr. Jeremiah King.
Msgr. King was dedicated to the spiritual and physical well-being of the parish’s children. In 1954, he instituted a fundraising campaign to help underwrite the cost of three new parish buildings, one of which was the gymnasium.
When it was founded, the tournament was the first high school basketball tournament to be played at a grammar school gymnasium in the U.S. Since then, the legend has grown – with the likes of former NBA stars Chris Mullin and Metta World Peace taking to the parish gymnasium’s iconic green floor.
“There are all these posters of them so it reminds you of all these people that played there,” said Howard, who could sense the history while leading the Bonnies to the tournament title. “It’s an honor to be able to play where they got to play.”
“It motivates me because when they were this age, they were doing the same thing I’m doing,” said Fulcher, who averaged 7.0 assists per game for the Clippers during the tournament. “So I feel like I can take that next step ahead, take care of my body and I think I’ll be good.”
After a 10-year hiatus, the Msgr. King Tournament made its triumphant return in December 2014 under the direction of then-pastor Msgr. Brown, a known lover of basketball who arrived at the parish in July 2013. Originally slated to be part of a five-year plan, the tournament was brought back to life a few years early.
The historic feel of the tournament easily makes it the premier holiday hoops competition in the area. With such a spirited crowd, these games take on an early-season playoff atmosphere, which helps the teams when the playoffs actually arrive. Also being able to play against non-conference opponents gives the players a chance to see how their skills stack up.
Msgr. Brown’s Legacy
Given his contributions to bringing the Msgr. King Tournament back to the parish, Msgr. Brown is now the namesake of the girls’ tournament. The late pastor died on March 3, 2017 after a brief illness.
Everyone who came in contact with Msgr. Brown knew what a kind, caring and generous individual he was. Renaming the tournament in his honor celebrates his legacy in keeping the tournament tradition alive.
Msgr. Brown understood the history of the tournament and what it meant to the parish. He was delighted to see the tournament take off once again upon its return.
His own basketball playing days trace back to his time at Cathedral Prep, Clinton Hill. The 1975 graduate said he enjoyed basketball more so for the friendships he made and the camaraderie. He was inducted into the Prep’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.
Nationally recognized for leading the relief efforts as pastor of St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Msgr. Brown has been sorely missed among the faithful at St. Thomas Aquinas, where he initially served as parochial vicar after being ordained a priest in 1983.
“He (Msgr. Brown) would have had a smile on his face from ear to ear with the amount of fun people had and the amount of people that came out,” DeFonzo said. “He really would have been impressed that the tradition has been kept alive.”
The St. Thomas Aquinas gym was once known as the “Madison Square Garden” of youth basketball, and the return of the holiday tournaments is once again cementing that prestigious title.
Thanks to Msgr. Brown, the tradition will continue to be a career highlight for local boys’ and girls’ high school basketball players.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.