The local competition, the roar of the crowd and most importantly the iconic green court! These are just some of the images of the annual Msgr. King Basketball Tournament at St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Flatlands.
The latest chapter in the storied history of the tourney was written Dec. 30 when Msgr. McClancy of East Elmhurst battled to a hard-fought 55-54 victory over La Salle of Manhattan.
The tournament enjoyed its 48th year of keeping the tradition alive. Eight local boys’ varsity hoops teams took to the Msgr. King Hall floor where so many greats before them once played.
In addition to the finalists, this year’s field included local CHSAA teams St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay; Nazareth, East Flatbush, as well as Public School Athletic Association (PSAL) teams from North Babylon H.S., L.I.; Transit Tech, East New York; Bedford Academy, Bedford-Stuyvesant; and Susan E. Wagner, Staten Island.
The tournament is named after former St. Thomas Aquinas pastor Msgr. Jeremiah King, who in 1954 instituted a fundraising campaign to help underwrite the cost of three new parish buildings, one of which was the gymnasium.
The first tournament, sanctioned by the CHSAA and PSAL, was held in 1962 and honored Msgr. King, who was dedicated to the spiritual and physical well-being of the parish’s children. When it was founded, it was the first high school basketball tournament to be played at a grammar school gymnasium in the U.S.
After a 10-year hiatus, this year marked the third year in a row the Msgr. King Tournament has been played.
“It seems like it’s coming into a life of its own,” said Guy DeFonzo, the tournament’s director and the parish athletic representative at St. Thomas. “Every year we learn from the year before of what we’d like to do and how to improve and how to keep the spirit of the tournament alive.”
The process of bringing the tournament back began when Msgr. John Brown took over as the parish’s pastor.
“When I got here, that was one of my drives, because I like basketball, to start this up again,” Msgr. Brown said. “It’s been very successful for the last three years.”
The historic feel of the tournament easily makes it the premier holiday hoops competition in the area.
Player to Coach
It’s especially historic for St. Edmund’s head coach Dan Wiatre, who was a member of the Nazareth teams that won the tournament in 1990 and 1991.
“Every time I come in here, I have flashbacks to when I started here playing in the fifth grade; I played here in CYO and then when I came back here in high school with Nazareth,” Wiatre said. “I’m just lucky enough to be able to coach here now.
“To me these are very meaningful games, and I try to get that through to the players too.”
Eagles senior guard and team captain Jordan Williams understands what an honor it is play on the court, where former NBA standouts Chris Mullin and Metta World Peace, formerly Ron Artest, once played.
“It’s great,” Williams said. “Chris Mullin was one of the best players in the NBA. It’s about having fun and knowing what you’re playing for.”
With such a spirited crowd, these games take on an early-season playoff atmosphere, which helps these teams when the playoffs actually arrive. Also being able to play against non-conference opponents gives these players a chance to see how their skills stack up.
The St. Thomas Aquinas gym was previously known as the “Madison Square Garden” of local basketball, and the return of the Msgr. King Tournament is once again cementing that prestigious title.
“It seems like we’re on the road to bringing it back to where it should be,” DeFonzo said.
The girls’ Msgr. King Tournament will make its return, Jan. 14-16, with local powerhouses Bishop Kearney, Bensonhurst; Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge; and St. Edmund Prep H.S. set to hit the court.
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