Garden State basketball junkies will get the chance to watch some of the top talent from all over New Jersey and rub elbows with coaches from storied college programs — all while supporting a good cause.
Kean University's Harwood Arena will once again host the 2012 Scholarship Fund for Inner City Children Invitational, the ninth annual showcase tournament for the state's parochial high school basketball programs.
But this weekend, don't expect the spirit of philanthropy to trickle on the court as rivalries get renewed and the intense competition for regional hoops supremacy continues in a tournament that continues to draw the best teams and players in the state.
Bill Fitzpatrick, the SFIC Tournament Director, knew that the event was destined for success when he was able to get commitments from New Jersey coaching legends Bob Hurley Sr. of St. Anthony’s and former St. Patrick’s head coach Kevin Boyle.
“We knew from year one that we were going to have some success with this when we got commitments from programs of that caliber,” said Fitzpatrick when referring to the Friars and the Celtics. “We had the nucleus for this great event and the history of high school basketball in New Jersey made it easy.”
According to SFIC Executive Director Gerry O'Connor, the instant credibility of the tournament also helps the rest of the program itself. The SFIC, which began in 1983, raised more than $2.6 million last year, which was all towards partial scholarships for 2,069 economically disadvantaged children attending private and parochial schools in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties. More than 97 percent of students who have received SFIC aid have graduated from high school and gone on to higher levels of education.
“Those are two of the best programs within in our Archdiocese,” said SFIC executive director Gerry O’Connor. “It made sense for them because they would benefit tremendously just based on the location of their schools and the types of students who attend them.
"As important as it is for the coaches to bring their teams, we are so proud of the men and women who volunteer their time and energy to make this tournament work," O'Connor said. "We couldn't do it without the contributions of these committed people who make sure that this exciting tournament is successful so we can help more children."
Fitzpatrick elaborated on Coach Hurley’s immediate connection to the event. “Coach Hurley is so dedicated and has a passion for the kids," Fitzpatrick said. "Because of that we’re partners in this. Funds like these have supported St. Anthony’s for years and Coach Hurley knows that. Everyone involved is invested.”
This is the first year that the boys' and girls' tournaments have been held during the same weekend and in the same location. As a result, some of the best mens' and womens' college coaches will be spotted in the stands, either supporting their recruits or searching for more talent to add to their programs form the coming years.
The fertile landscape for New Jersey basketball talent will be evidenced by the reigning boys' and girls' state TOC title holders. Hurley's St. Anthony squad and the Trenton Catholic girls' team captured last year's championships. Hurley got their by knocking off the then undefeated St. Patrick team, which was coached by Clark native and 2011 Nasmith High School Coach of the Year Kevin Boyle. Boyle left St. Patrick after the season to take over the basketball program at the Monteverde Academy, a prep school in Florida. In the process, it also helped St. Anthony claim the mythical national title among high school basketball programs. It's a regular occurance for Hurley, who has won more than 1,000 games and numerous national titles at the school. His sons, former Duke star Bobby, and Danny, who played at Seton Hall, now coach together at Wagner College, where Danny is in his second year as head coach after leading St. Benedict's for years. Danny and Bobby led Wagner to a shocking victory over then-15th ranked University of Pittsburgh, which is led by former Seton Hall Prep star Ashton Gibbs.
Among the other stars who played in tournament include Kyrie Irving, the St. Patrick point guard who played for a year at Duke University before becoming the first overall pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA draft, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the do-it-all small forward for St. Patrick who is starring as a freshman at Kentucky University. Two of this year's stars are St. Anthony forward Kyle Anderson, who has committed to play at UCLA next year and St. Joseph of Montvale swingman Quentin DeCosey, who has committed to Temple.
These stars have joined an exclusive roster of SFIC Invitational alumni who went on to college and professional basketball careers around the world, such as J.R. Smith, Lance Thomas, Dan Werner, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Dominic Cheek, Tyshawn Taylor, Travon Woodall, Jio Fontan, Samardo Samuels, Dexter Strickland, Quintrell Thomas and Brandon Costner.
And the coaches who've come to the tournament to woo these players include coaches such as Kevin Willard from Seton Hall, Phil Martelli from St. Joe's, and assistants from Duke, Temple, Syracuse, West Virginia and other top programs.
"From the minute we reached out to them, they have been a great partner and are integral to making this event the success it is," O"Connor said. "Their facilities are fantastic and we look forward to coming here every year."
While the SFIC Invitational is not one of the foundations top earners, that distinction is reserved for events like the 28-year old annual dinner, its importance cannot be understated. Not only does the event spread awareness about the goals of the organization, it also provides some of the foundation’s beneficiaries an opportunity to entertain.
“Sports are a great vehicle to get people’s attention,” said Fitzpatrick. “They are a great way to celebrate all of the great things that these schools do.”
The girls action kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday when Roselle Catholic takes on Paramus Catholic. Roselle Catholic is the three-time defending Union County champion. Following that will be St. Anthony vs Holy Angels. The final girls' game will be played at 2:15 p.m. Sunday when Trenton Catholic squares off against Mt. St. Dominic.
The boys portion of the tournament begins on Saturday at 2:30 when the defending national champion Friars take on Roselle Catholic. Led by UCLA commit Kyle Anderson St. Anthony’s is once again expected to compete for the TOC title. Next up after that will be St. Joe (Montvale) taking on Hudson Catholic. Saturday’s action concludes with a matchup of two of the state’s top 10 teams when perrenial Essex County powerhouse Seton Hall Prep takes on St. Joe (Metuchen).
Sunday’s boys games feature St. Patrick squaring off with rival Trenton Catholic. The two played a thriller in 2010 when No. 1 NBA draft and former St. Patrick’s star Kyrie Irving wowed the crowd with 30 points(without co-star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist no less) on the way to the Celtics’ 78-52 blowout victory over their opponent. The final game of the event features the Bergen Catholic Crusaders taking on state power St. Benedict’s.
Another first for this year's event includes tape-delay broadcasts of every game by Verizon Fios1. In the past only one or two of the contests would be shown and several others streamed on nj.com. For more visit the SFIC Tournament website at: www.sfichoops.com
Saturday Schedule Game Time Roselle Catholic vs. Paramus Catholic Girls' 11 a.m. St. Anthony vs. Holy Angels Girls' 12:30 p.m. St. Anthony vs. Roselle Catholic Boys' 2:30 p.m. Hudson Catholic vs. St. Joseph (Montvale) Boys' 4:30 p.m. Seton Hall Prep vs. St. Joseph (Metuchen) Boys' 6:30 p.m. Sunday Schedule Game Time St. Peter's Prep vs. Don Bosco Prep Boys' 12:30 p.m. Trenton Catholic vs. Mt. St. Dominic Girls' 2:15 p.m. Trenton Catholic vs. St. Patrick Boys' 4 p.m. St. Benedict's vs. Bergen Catholic Boys' 6 p.m.