Sports

Old-Timers Still Talk Good Game of Hoops

Newest members of the Basketball Old-Timers Hall of Fame include, from left, George Johnson, Dennis Wolff, Floyd Bank, and Tom O’Brien.

As the saying goes, “You’re only as old as you feel.”

At least for one night, the members of the Basketball Old-Timers of America must have felt like young boys – reminiscing about their playing, coaching or even officiating days in Brooklyn and Queens.

Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope, hosted the 73rd annual Old-Timers reunion dinner April 27. Four new inductees joined the 179 members of the Old-Timers Hall of Fame.

“We’re really trying to spread Brooklyn basketball and the history of basketball to everyone,” said Ray Nash, president of both Bishop Ford and the CHSAA and co-organizer of the event.

This year’s class had to be the most politically correct of all-time. The Old-Timers inducted an Irish man, an African-American, a Jewish man and a women’s basketball coach.

Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, standout Dennis Wolff was the first inductee of the evening.  The Knights were 55-11 during his three years of varsity in the early 1970s and won the Brooklyn/Queens championship in 1973.

“The overriding lesson that I learned at Holy Cross was that the sum of the team and teamwork was greater than one person,” Wolff said.

He went on to play at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La., and then the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.  At just the age of 25, he took over as the head coach of Connecticut College, New London, Conn.

In 1994, Wolff was appointed head coach of the Boston University Terriers men’s basketball team. He amassed 247 wins, which ranks him first in program history. His players also graduated at a 100% rate in his 15 years there.

This past season, he switched over to the women’s game as the head coach at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. He said that his Holy Cross experiences have helped shape his life and career.

“Anything I’m involved with in college basketball, I’ve always reflected back to my time at Holy Cross,” Wolff said.  “Everything that happened at Holy Cross for me has influenced what went on the rest of my life.”

The next inductee was New Utrecht H.S., Bensonhurst, standout George Johnson. His teams finished a combined 42-3 during his two seasons on varsity, and he was named the city’s co-MVP in 1974.

Johnson said he’d never forget his days of growing up playing basketball in Brooklyn.

“It feels good to be home,” he said. “Brooklyn basketball was very good to me. It taught me a lot about life. My path through the borough of Brooklyn allowed me to jump to the borough of Queens.”

Johnson played for the legendary Lou Carnesecca at St. John’s University, Jamaica, from 1974 to 1978.  He averaged a double-double in three of his four seasons, and the Redmen made three NCAA Tournament appearances in his time.

He is still No. 1 on St. John’s all-time rebounding list with 1,240, and he and Sonny Dove are the only Johnnies to have scored at least 1,000 pts. with 1,000 rebounds.

Johnson was selected 12th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1978 NBA Draft.  In a seven-year career that included stints with the Bucks, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Bullets, he averaged 9.1 pts. and 5.6 rebounds per game.

“Basketball is very much related to daily life,” Johnson said. “Some of the values that you learn on the basketball court are very easily transferrable into life.”

Tom “Totty” O’Brien also earned the honor of an Old-Timers Hall of Fame induction.  A product of the now defunct St. Augustine H.S., Park Slope, O’Brien starred at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., from 1947 to 1951. He thanked everyone in attendance at the reunion dinner for supporting him throughout his life.

“The greatest thanks should go to Almighty God for giving me a talent,” O’Brien said.  “God gave me a talent to play a game. Every one of us has a talent. What a great privilege it is to share that talent with other people.”

“Totty” holds the distinction of being just one of two players to be selected All-New England for three consecutive seasons; the other is Naismith Hall of Famer and Andrew Jackson H.S., St. Albans, product Bob Cousy.

A back injury his senior year prevented O’Brien from turning pro. However, he stayed involved in the game through neighborhood clinics and taught the principles of the game to his nine children and 26 grandchildren. Each step of the way, “Totty” acknowledged the presence of God working through him.

“I’ve done things that I didn’t think I was capable of doing,” he said. “But I didn’t do this. God gave me this. In fact, I used to bless myself before every foul shot that I took.”

Born and raised in the northern Bronx, Floyd Bank wondered why the Brooklyn/Queens Old-Timers were inducting him into the Hall of Fame. However, his basketball coaching legacy was cemented in the borough of Queens.

Bank attended DeWitt Clinton H.S., the Bronx, before heading to New York University, Manhattan, to earn a degree in health and physical education. Even before he graduated, he began coaching at the N.Y. Friends Academy in Manhattan.

In 1961, Bank took over the program at Long Island City H.S. in Queens. He became one of the winningest coaches in N.Y. State history – amassing 592 victories.

“In 20 years of coaching there, I had one losing season,” said Bank, who had just three losing seasons in his first 45 years of coaching. “The old cliché to take it one game at a time…we never took anyone for granted.”

Bank said that having good players was the reason for his success. However, his style of stressing academics and having the kids represent him on the court and in school led to molding of successful young men.

Bank later coached at Thomas Edison H.S., Manhattan, Freeport H.S., L.I., Cathedral Prep, Elmhurst, and Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva H.S. for Boys, Woodmere.

Overall, the event was once again a success for everyone involved. To send in nominations for the Basketball Old-Timers Hall of Fame, contact event co-organizer Dennis McDermott, 718-489-5362 or dmcdermott@stfranciscollege.edu.

“When you see everyone having a great time talking basketball and renewing friendships,” Nash said. “This is worth a million bucks.”

CYO Volleyball Champs

Brooklyn/Queens CYO held its annual volleyball championships at Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst, April 22.  Here are the results:

Subnovice
Holy Child, Richmond Hill, defeats Blessed Trinity, Breezy Point: 21-11, 21-16
Novice
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Astoria, defeats St. Joseph, Astoria: 21-9, 21-9
Bantam
St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, defeats Holy Child, Richmond Hill: 21-14, 16-21, 21-19
Rookie
St. Mel, Flushing, defeats St. Francis de Sales: 21-16, 21-19
Intermediate
St. Francis de Sales defeats Blessed Trinity: 25-17, 25-19
Tyro
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel defeats St. Matthias, Ridgewood: 25-15, 25-18
Junior
St. Gregory, Bellerose, defeats Holy Child: 25-21, 21-25, 25-13

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