As a young assistant coach at Fordham and, later, as head coach at Wagner College, then Seton Hall, P.J. Carlesimo made hundreds of recruiting trips to Brooklyn.
He would visit Boys High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant; Erasmus High on Flatbush Avenue; Xaverian Catholic and Ft. Hamilton High a few blocks apart on Shore Road; and Abraham Lincoln High on Coney Island. These were schools that had produced such players as Connie Hawkins and Lenny Wilkens; Billy Cunningham and Bernard King; Chris Mullin and Mike Dunleavy; and Roger Brown and Vinnie Johnson.
Driving to the packed high school gyms took Carlesimo past playgrounds and parks where competition on the asphalt rivaled what he would see on hardwood.
“You had to recruit Brooklyn,” said Carlesimo, now coaching in New York City’s largest borough, where the Spurs will play the Nets tonight at the Barclays Center. “And if you grew up around New York City, as I did, you were very aware of the tradition of great players who grew up there.”
The tradition always began in the schoolyards and playgrounds, as it does today.
“You always hear that New York City is the mecca of basketball,” said Reggie Evans, the Nets starting forward whose frenzied play has made him a fan favorite in the team’s shiny new home. “If you just watch the outdoor aspect and see how serious they take it, you see why. Driving to practice and then on the way home, every park’s got somebody hooping.
“You walk outside Barclays Center and just smell basketball, and it’s the ultimate high.”
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