Every time a New York City basketball player makes a splash at the college or pro level, residents of the Big Apple are quick to sound off on how great the ball is in these parts. So why is it so difficult to follow the careers of these future stars before they hit the national scene?
In other basketball-mad states like Indiana and Kentucky, the end of the boys’ high school season becomes a monthlong festival. The state tournament gets big coverage, and the state’s top player, who wins an award called “Mr. Basketball,” becomes an instant celebrity. Guess what? New York State has a tournament and a Mr. Basketball too. It just takes serious research to uncover them.
“How is Mr. Basketball chosen?” repeats Mike Quick, host of High School Sports Weekly on the MSG Network. “I had never even thought about it. I’ve been doing this show for 12 years, and I’ve never even gotten a single phone call about the award.” Quick is no lazy reporter. The fact is that the selection process behind the award, much like the state tournament, is shrouded in mystery.
“The Mr. Basketball Award is chosen by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York,” says Mike McDonald, a member of the group’s board of directors and head coach at Buffalo’s Canisius College. “There are a bunch of guys throughout the state who communicate with us, from coaches to media to talent evaluators. As long as I’ve been involved, what they’ve told us has made for a clear choice, and that’s who we give it to.”
Despite the less-than-vigorous criteria, past winners have made perfect sense. They’ve included big names like Kenny Anderson, Jamal Mashburn, Stephon Marbury, and Elton Brand, as well as grittier players like last year’s winner, Peter Mulligan, a St. Raymond’s grad who currently plays for the University of Maryland?Baltimore County.
St. Ray’s, which won its second straight Catholic school (CHSAA) city championship last week, also had this year’s winner, 6-7 swingman Julius Hodge, a McDonald’s All-American who’s bound for North Carolina State. This honor was made known in a stirring four-paragraph story buried deep within the car dealership ads in Friday’s Daily News.
Sure, there will be a ceremony this weekend where Hodge will be honored, but don’t count on hearing much about that, either. The ceremony—as well as the state high school Final Four—will be held in Glens Falls, an upstate “city” of 17,000, which isn’t exactly known as the Mecca of basketball. But the town and its smallish (4806-seat) Civic Center have long been home to the Federation Tournament, as the final four is officially known.
“To be honest, I wish our season had ended when we won the CHSAA,” says St. Raymond’s coach, Gary DeCesare. “The best thing for New York basketball would be to end the season with a game in the city between the PSAL [city public schools] champ and the Catholic champ. That’s what matters to the kids.”
Instead, St. Ray’s had to beat a Long Island team Sunday in a game no one cared about to determine the CHSAA state champion, and they will spend next weekend in Glens Falls, needing two more wins before they’re truly considered the state champ. Given the confusing alphabet soup of conferences that send teams to the Federation Tournament (which brings together the NYSPHSAA or upstate public school champions, the NYSAISAA or private school champions, as well as the CHSAA state and PSAL champs) and the fact that it takes place in Nowheresville, it’s no wonder that the big daily newspapers pay it all—from the tourney to the Mr. Basketball award—little mind.
“The Mr. Basketball award has been given for a long time, and to win it is really a great honor,” says McDonald. “It’s just not treated as a big deal, like it should be.”