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.
With St. Pat’s Closing, Hurley Says It’s End of An Era
For nearly two decades, St. Patrick and St. Anthony forged one of the most bitter and hotly contested high school basketball rivalries in the nation.
A year ago, the two North Jersey schools were undefeated and ranked first and second nationally when they met in the unofficial national championship game at Rutgers.
St. Anthony beat St. Patrick in that game and went on to claim its fourth mythical national championship.
Now, with the news that St. Patrick will close its doors at the end of the year, Hall of Fame St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley says it’s the end of an era.
“It was a bitter rival. Probably about 17 years it’s been some of the epic games in our state and the epic games we’ve played have been with them and it was usually the water mark for who was going to be the big dog in the state, who won that game,” Hurley, whose current team is 26-0 and riding a 59-game winning streak, told SNY.tv Sunday afternoon.
Between them, St. Anthony (11) and St. Patrick (5) have won 16 New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles and dominated the New Jersey — and sometimes the national — landscape.
The rivalry reached a crescendo during the 2010-11 season when a documentary film crew and a TV crew from “60 Minutes” filmed the sold-out showdown in the North Non-Public B final at Rutgers. The HBO documentary “Prayer for a Perfect Season” documented St. Patrick’s quest for a national championship and the senior seasons of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (now at Kentucky), Derrick Gordon (Western Kentucky) and Chris Martin (Marshall).
But shortly after losing that game, St. Patrick head coach Kevin Boyle informed his team he would be taking a $130,000 a year job to coach prestigious Montverde (Fla.) Academy and his longtime assistant, Chris Chavannes, took over in Boyle’s stead.
SNY.tv reported in late January that St. Patrick was in financial trouble and had reached out successfully to Kyrie Irving and unsuccessfully to Sam Dalembert and Al Harrington for assistance. All three are currently in the NBA.
Both Chavannes and St. Patrick principal Joe Picaro declined comment Sunday.
“I’m not going to say anything until [Monday],” Picaro told SNY.tv by phone. “”Everybody else is blabbermouths, I’m not.”
Reached by The Star-Ledger, Boyle said: “Over the years, I’ve heard many times that St. Patrick is closing. Hopefully, it’s another one of those situations. I hope and pray that they keep it open, because they’ve helped so many kids — and outside of athletics.”
Hurley said this marked the fifth straight year that a Catholic school St. Anthony played had closed.
“It went back to St. Al’s, St. Joe’s-West New York, Paterson Catholic, St. Mary’s-Jersey City and St. Pat’s, and then you can throw Rice in there just to make it six,” Hurley said. “It’s an alarming trend and we’re working very hard at our school to not be the next one that closes and no guarantees.
“Small Catholic schools right now, they just want to merge them into bigger schools or just shut down the amount of Catholic schools that are available to kids. That’s just the way it is.”
The last time a North Jersey Catholic powerhouse closed was in June of 2010 when Paterson Catholic shuttered its doors.
That led to Kyle Anderson (UCLA) and Myles Mack (Rutgers) transferring to St. Anthony and leading the Friars to a 33-0 record, a win over St. Patrick in the mythical national title game and another banner in Hurley’s gym.
“It worked out well for St. Anthony but it didn’t work out well for Catholic education,” Hurley said. “Every time one of these schools closes, it adds more validity to closing another a year later, or continuing to merge and consolidate.”
This St. Patrick team isn’t quite as loaded as Paterson Catholic was but they do feature several talented juniors in 6-6 wings DeAndre Bembry and Jared Nickens and 6-4 forward Elijah Davis.
Those players, and the others on St. Pat’s, could now consider alternatives like St. Anthony, St. Benedict’s, Hudson Catholic, St. Peter’s Prep and Seton Hall Prep.
Hurley declined comment on whether he would take those players once St. Patrick closes.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t really want to speculate. It was very different with Kyle because I knew Kyle’s dad very well from my camp. I really don’t know the kids there. I don’t know where they come from. I don’t know what the inner workings are.
“I’d rather just mourn another Catholic school closing, and then after basketball season respond to inquiries from families about what the heck to do next because it’s just sad.”
St. Benedict’s, which is not a full-fledged member of the New Jersey state athletic association, picked up former Rice star Melvin Johnson once Rice closed last year.
Johnson is headed to Miami, but the Gray Bees (28-1) will be loaded once again next year with 2013 point guard Tyler Ennis, 2015 guard Isaiah Briscoe and 2013 forward Isaiah Watkins.
St. Benedict’s head coach Mark Taylor said any St. Patrick student would be welcome at St. Ben’s.
“It’s an unfortunate situation whenever a Catholic school like this closes,” Taylor told SNY.tv. “They’ve been a great basketball tradition and school in the Elizabeth area. As with Rice, St. Benedict’s will support players and help them maintain a Catholic education.”
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.