Nazareth Kingsmen Take Home King Tourney Title

The Nazareth H.S. boys’ varsity basketball team took home the championship title in this year’s Msgr. King Basketball Tournament. (Photo: Courtesy Nazareth H.S.)

After missing two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Msgr. King Basketball Tournament returned with a bang to St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, in the closing days of 2022.

How fitting that this traditional Brooklyn boys’ varsity hoops tournament featured two Brooklyn CHSAA teams battling for the championship title? Quite fitting indeed.

Nazareth H.S., East Flatbush, captured the tournament crown with a hard-fought victory over St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay, in the 52nd playing of the historic tournament. The holiday tradition was once again alive and well in the iconic gymnasium — with its iconic green floor.

The Kingsmen opened play with a win over Bedford Academy, Bedford-Stuyvesant. The team was beyond excited heading into the game, since Bedford’s head coach is former Nazareth basketball standout Robert Phelps. The game was close early until the Kingsmen got out to a big lead in the second quarter en route to victory.

Nazareth’s second win was against Ralph McKee Technical H.S., Staten Island, a tough and well-coached team. It was close for a while, but Nazareth relied on its own athleticism and toughness to open things up in the fourth quarter.

The tournament’s Brooklyn connections were on full display during this championship bout. First off, Nazareth head coach Gary Ervin, in his third season leading the Kingsmen, played in the Msgr. King Tournament while he was a student-athlete at Paul Robeson H.S., Stuyvesant Heights. His team lost the championship game in 2001 to Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge. Meanwhile, St. Edmund head coach Dan Wiatre graduated from Nazareth, while Nazareth’s assistant coach Mike Camacho graduated from St. Edmund.

About a week before the tournament championship, these teams played in Sheepshead Bay. Without two starters, Nazareth turned in a stellar effort to pick up a key early-season road win.

The championship began with Nazareth falling behind by 10 points early. Ervin — who himself played professionally in the NBA’s D-League as well as overseas — rallied the troops and preached the importance of defense. The Kingsmen responded, and the game was tied at 25 at the halftime break.

The second half featured exciting back-and-forth action. In the fourth quarter, Nazareth began creating some distance as they continued to get defensive stops, which resulted in easy buckets.

“It’s always going to be a tough game when two Brooklyn rivals from almost the same neighborhood square off,” Ervin said.

The Kingsmen received timely contributions from a variety of sources. Junior guard/forward Jacob Roman earned the Msgr. John Brown Tour- nament MVP award — named for the parish’s late pastor — after an all-around effort. Sopho- more forward Halon Rawlings was named to the All-Tournament Team, alongside two players from St. Edmund Prep: senior forward Brendan Armour and senior guard Mitchell Wiggan.

“It felt really good to win the championship,” Roman said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. Basketball is a team sport. You have to involve your teammates and let them work too. It can’t be only you.”

Nazareth senior point guard Andre Prescott was pivotal in the championship game. Senior guard Tramel Forbes, junior guard Tristan Rogers, and junior guard Elijah Witter also stepped up.

The unique nature of the tournament — pitting Public School Athletic League teams against CHSAA teams — gave the Kingsmen a taste of the tough competition awaiting them as they now enter the bulk of the regular season.

“It’s important because we were able to play against different and tough styles,” said Ervin. “It was great to be close to home where some of our family members were able to come watch us play, especially for the seniors. There was a lot at stake, and we were thrilled to be able to pull it off.”

From its beginnings in 1962, the 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, who in 1954 oversaw a fundraising campaign to help construct three new parish buildings, one of which was the basketball gymnasium.

At the time 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 gym’s floor.

After a 10-year hiatus, the Msgr. King Tournament made its triumphant return in December 2014 under the direction of then-pastor Msgr. Brown. 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 the games taking on an early-season playoff atmosphere.

Even after a few years off, the Msgr. King Tour- nament did not miss a beat. Once again, the St. Thomas Aquinas gymnasium was transformed into the “Madison Square Garden” of local youth basketball.

Contact Jim Mancari via email at