Sports

Roasting and Toasting a St. Francis Legend

Who would have ever thought that a guy who once shot the ball at the wrong hoop would carve out such an impressive local basketball legacy?

Well, that’s exactly what happened with Dennis McDermott.

Dennis McDermott (Photo courtesy St. Francis College)
Dennis McDermott (Photo courtesy St. Francis College)

If you’re even just somewhat in tune to the diocesan basketball scene, you know Dennis McDermott. The fun-loving, always laughing, towering figure has a heart as big as his smile.

This past June, McDermott retired after 17 years as the director of alumni relations at his college alma mater, St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights. The campus on Remsen Street will not be the same with the “Face of St. Francis” roaming around – though McDermott will surely still be a familiar face on campus.

To celebrate the Terrier rock star’s service to the school both on and off the court, St. Francis hosted a roast – “Dennis McDermott on Broadway” – on Nov. 2 at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square. All proceeds benefitted a scholarship fund set up in McDermott and his wife Cathy’s names.

A roast was fitting for McDermott, who enjoys joking around with everyone he encounters. There was plenty of roasting but also lots of toasting McDermott’s many accomplishments, which include inductions into the St. Francis College, St. Francis Prep and Basketball Old-Timers of America Halls of Fame.

McDermott, 66, grew up on Baltic Street and attended St. Paul’s parish and school in Cobble Hill. In seventh grade, his family moved to St. Mary Star of the Sea, Carroll Gardens, though he continued to attend St. Paul’s school.

His first experience playing basketball came at age 13, when he joined a summer program based out of St. Brendan’s parish, Midwood. As a freshman at St. Francis Prep, Williamsburg, he earned the last spot on the freshman team but did not appear in a game.

During his sophomore year, McDermott made Prep’s varsity ‘B’ team. He admitted that his hoops career did not get off to the best start.

In what was his first organized game, he checked in from the bench as the opposing team was taking a foul shot. He had the inside position and grabbed a rebound after the missed shot.

Instead of turning up floor however to find a teammate, he went up for a shot at the wrong basket. Luckily, he missed the shot, but he heard an earful on the bench from his coach during the ensuing timeout

After another year on varsity ‘B’ as a junior, his fortunes changed drastically when he hit a growth spurt heading into senior year. Fine-tuning his game that summer at the camp hosted by Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, coaching legend Jack Curran earned McDermott a spot on Prep’s varsity team.

With continued improvement, he started receiveing some looks from local colleges. His mother, Mary, worked at St. Francis College growing up, and he saw firsthand how the student-athletes showed her the utmost respect. When the Terriers offered him a basketball scholarship, the choice was simple.

Five players – including McDermott – from Prep’s 1970 graduating class suited up for the Terriers’ freshmen team. By his sophomore year, he was a starter on the varsity squad, averaging 16.5 pts. and 9.7 rebounds per game. He kept improving as a junior, tallying 24.1 pts. and 8.2 rebounds per game. He then averaged a double-double per game as a senior with 23.8 pts. and 10.8 rebounds.

Upon his graduation in 1974, the New York Knicks selected McDermott in the eighth round of the NBA draft, but he soon realized that his path in the sport of basketball would take him elsewhere. He served as the athletic director and basketball coach at Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn Heights, for eight years while also enjoying a stint as an assistant basketball coach at St. Francis.

In 1983, he began a 15-year career as a municipal bond broker on Wall Street. He then returned to the field of education, serving as the athletic director at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, from 1998-2000.

As director of alumni relations at St. Francis, his job was to bring former students back to the college by organizing various events.

“I’ve been blessed that I had good people around me all the time,” he said. “The people made it easy. I worked for great people…presidents Frank Macchiarola, Brendan Dugan and Dr. Miguel Martinez-Saenz. When I think back, all the people that I was surrounded by were fantastic. It made it a lot easier.”

Though he officially retired in June, he stills goes to work a few days per week as a special assistant to the president, helping to contact alumni and oversee event planning. He’s of course going to be a regular during the Terriers’ upcoming men’s and women’s basketball seasons.

Speaking of retired, McDermott’s No. 22 jersey hangs in St. Francis’ Pope Physical Education Center as the only retired number among men’s and woman’s basketball players in school history. That will soon change as Jeanne Zatorski’s No. 15 and Karen Erving-Schiera’s No. 40 are set to be retired later this season.

These past 17 years were such a natural transition for McDermott, since he always felt part of the St. Francis College family since his youth. It’s been a rewarding journey and one that has included countless memories along the way.

“The big thing that I tell people is that it just all went by so fast,” he said. “There are still people at the college that when we’re talking, I think we’re still in college and we have to go to class in a half hour!”

McDermott has come a long way since taking aim at the wrong hoop all those years ago. But that appeared to just be a minor hiccup during a storied basketball and post-playing career at St. Francis.


Contact Jim Mancari via email at jmmanc@gmail.com.

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