Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
St. Benedict’s Prep headmaster Father Edwin Leahy informed his school’s basketball team Thursday that it would not play in the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational because the event overlaps with Good Friday.
The event is slated to run April 1-3 at Coppin State in Baltimore and St. Benedict’s had been projected as the No. 1 seed.
The Gray Bees (20-1), coached by Dan Hurley, are currently ranked No. 4 nationally in the ESPN Fab 50 and No. 5 by USA Today. The team features Rutgers-bound senior forward Gilvydas Biruta, Temple-bound guard Aaron Brown and junior guard Myck Kabongo, a Texas commit.
“I want to thank Nike, Paragon and ESPN for the chance to play in this wonderful event again this year, but I couldn’t, in good faith, allow us to compete on Good Friday,” Father Leahy said. “They gave us a tremendous amount of cooperation and were trying to be helpful in every way, but we couldn’t come to terms unless it included Good Friday.
“Sandy Koufax (Game 1 of the ’65 World Series) wouldn’t compete on Yom Kippur and I’m not so inclined to think that was a bad thing. I’m also encouraged by the way our brothers of different faiths pay tribute to their beliefs on certain days and I hope people can respect our stance on this issue. It just wasn’t possible for us, being who we are, to compete on Good Friday.
“Teams couldn’t beat us, the calendar beat us.”
ESPN officials on Friday declined comment.
St. Benedict’s is an independent school that does not compete in the New Jersey state tournament and the ESPN event gave the players something to look forward to in terms of a postseason. They lost in the semifinals of last year’s inaugural event to Oak Hill Academy.
“I’m in shock,” one player said. “Just disappointed because we work so hard and it seems like it’s all going to waste now.”
St. Benedict’s is the second highly ranked Jersey team that won’t participate in a postseason tournament. St. Patrick (26-3), No. 8 in the ESPN Fab 50, was banned from the state tournament for holding illegal out-of-season workouts.
ESPN has yet to announce which teams will participate in the event, but No. 10 Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep and No. 12 Oak Hill are nationally ranked independent schools that participated last year.
Findlay won the inaugural event.
Four of the top five schools in the ESPN poll — No. 1 Columbus (Ohio) Northland, No. 2 Houston Yates, No. 3 Paterson (NJ) Catholic and No. 5 Bloomington (IN) South — are affiliated with their state associations and cannot play in the ESPN event.
**For more on Bob and Dan Hurley, read the feature about their recruiting pipeline to the Big East.
(Photo courtesy St. Ben’s)
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.