Each year at St. Kevin Church, Flushing, the parish’s Youth Guild hosts former professional athletes to put on clinics for the kids.
The parish has held baseball and football clinics, but this year it was all about basketball. With 20 Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) teams, basketball is by far the parish’s most popular sport – making the clinic a slam-dunk for the children.
Former New York Knicks star John Starks joined the St. Kevin’s faithful Jan. 5 for a hoops clinic in the St. Kevin Catholic Academy gymnasium. More than 120 kids from pre-K through eighth grade learned some pointers from the Knicks fan-favorite.
“John was an icon on the Knicks,” said John Bonanno, the clinic’s coordinator and vice president of the Youth Guild. “The fans loved him, so it was great for him to spend time with the kids teaching them some basketball skills.”
Starks talked to the kids about his experience playing at Madison Square Garden, showed the kids proper shooting techniques and signed autographs for all the children.
The story of how Starks, 53, made it in the Big Apple is quite interesting. Born in Tulsa, Okla., he only played one year of high school basketball and wound up attending five different colleges. He finished up his collegiate career in 1988 at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.
Starks was not selected in the 1988 NBA draft, but that did not crush his hoops dreams. He signed with the Golden State Warriors that fall, appearing in 36 games that season.
After spending time in the Continental Basketball Association and World Basketball League, he tried out for the Knicks in 1990. He went on to spend the next eight seasons as a shooting guard for the orange and blue and will always be remembered for his physical play and clutch-shooting ability.
In 13 NBA seasons, Starks averaged 14.0 pts. and 3.6 rebounds per game. He was named to the league’s All-Defensive Second Team in 1993, an All-Star in 1994 and the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1997.
He remains the Knicks’ all-time leader in 3-pointers made and was the first player in NBA history to make more than 200 3-pointers in a single season.
As much fun as the kids had at the clinic, Starks might have had more fun. He gave each kid a high-five as they made their shots and even helped the smallest basketball players of the bunch dunk the ball in the hoop.
“These are some great kids out here,” said Starks, who never had the chance to learn from a pro growing up in Oklahoma. “They enjoy the game of basketball, and that’s what this is about…just to see the smiles on their faces when they make a basket.”
At this age for the kids, Starks said the game of basketball should be all about having fun. They should only be focused on getting out there, dribbling the ball around and getting some exercise by running up and down the court.
“We just want them to get out there and enjoy it and learn a little about the game,” he said.
While the parents were the ones who vividly remember watching Starks on the Knicks, the young athletes thoroughly appreciated the chance to interact with a former professional athlete – even if they didn’t really know who he was.
“He’s a good role model, so I want to learn how to make better layups and how to play other positions,” said Joseph Esposito, a sixth grader at M.S. 158, Bayside, who plays basketball as a center for St. Kevin’s CYO.
There’s no doubt that this Knicks fan-favorite gained plenty more fans that day at St. Kevin’s. These new fans can look to Starks’ example of perseverance and tenacity as they incorporate what they learned into their own game.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.