Old school hoops in Flatlands
The holiday season is all about traditions, including trimming the tree, wrapping presents, hanging up lights and placing a baby Jesus statue in its rightful place in a nativity scene.
Another holiday tradition in the local sports scene continued strong, as St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, hosted the 51st annual Msgr. King Basketball Tournament from Dec. 26-30.
This year, Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, won the renowned boys’ varsity high school hoops tournament. For the second straight year, the girls’ version of the tournament — the Msgr. John J. Brown Memorial Girls’ Basketball Tournament — was held during the same four days and concluded with New Dorp H.S., Staten Island, defeating Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge, in the championship game.
In addition to Holy Cross, the eight-team boys’ field featured some tough competition, including St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay; Benjamin Banneker Academy, Clinton Hill; Ralph McKee Technical H.S., Staten Island; Bedford Academy, Bedford-Stuyvesant; Port Richmond H.S., Staten Island; Valley Stream Central H.S., L.I.; and Newtown H.S., Elmhurst. St. Edmund’s and James Madison H.S., Sheepshead Bay, rounded out the girls’ field.
Since taking over the organization of the Msgr. King Tournament six years ago, Guy DeFonzo, tournament director and St. Thomas’ parish athletic representative, said the crowds were the best he’s seen, including a standing-room-only gymnasium on the night of the championships.
“The energy of the place and bringing the people back to the neighborhood to watch Brooklyn basketball, it seems like it’s more alive than ever,” DeFonzo said. “I can’t stress enough how many people come up and tell us how grateful they are that the memories they have of their youth coming to watch the games are being relived in these four days.”
Holy Cross won all three of its games to take home the Msgr. King Tournament title. In the opening round, Bedford Academy hit a circus half-court shot to send the game to overtime, and yet the Knights kept their composure and gutted out a victory.
Despite missing two starters due to injury in the semifinals and championship, Holy Cross turned in impressive performances in wins over Ralph McKee Technical and Benjamin Banneker in what were tough, physical games.
Senior point guard Tyler Chapman was the team’s leading scorer, tallying 73 total points over the three games to earn tournament MVP honors. In the championship game, he scored 29 points, including 17 in the second half. Knights senior guard Alan Rodriquez was awarded the Pudgie Walsh Memorial Coaches Award.
“It was an honor to earn MVP,” Chapman said. “It wasn’t only my award. I felt like I couldn’t do it without my team. I really like how we’re coming together as a team. We’ve been working hard in practice. On and off the court, our chemistry is getting much better.”
Playing in the tournament gave Holy Cross the opportunity to learn how to close out games and deal with intensity, two challenges the Knights will face during the rest of the regular season against some tough CHSAA competition.
“It’s definitely huge for us,” said second-year head coach Ray Cullinan. “Playing against teams like these that are really physical and athletic, those are the kinds of tests we’re going to see basically every night in the league. This is great preparation for us.”
From its beginnings 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, 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 gymnasium’s iconic green 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. Given his contributions to bringing the boys’ tournament back to the parish, the late Msgr. Brown is now the namesake of the girls’ tournament.
When it comes to traditions, the historic feel in the gymnasium and the energy of the crowd easily make the Msgr. King Tournament the premier holiday hoops competition in the area.
Year by year, the return of the holiday tournaments continues to cement the tradition of the St. Thomas Aquinas gym being known as the “Madison Square Garden” of local youth basketball.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.