Hoops in The Sun Supplies Great Hoops at Orchard Beach

Photo courtesy of Hoops In the Sun Basketball.

By David Cordova

Every summer, when the weather is hot, people in New York City do one or two things. They play basketball or either go to the beach. Well, what if those two things could be combined into one?

Back in 1999, Joe “Pops” Cruz, Sr. and his sons, Joe, Jr. and Randy, combined those two things and turned it into an annual event in The Bronx’s Orchard Beach simply named Hoops in the Sun. For the last 18 years, HITS (as it is commonly referred to), has been one of the premier playground tournaments in the city.

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Brooklyn Nets guard Isaiah Whitehead looks to get his jumper off. (Photo courtesy of Hoops in the Sun Basketball)

Playing in the humidity can be very tough for anybody, but if you can make it through the heat, you can make it anywhere.

“The mission is to continue my dad’s legacy and provide a quality sports program in Orchard Beach for youth and adults from all different boroughs and all parts of the world.” says Joe Cruz, Jr.

When asked about why Orchard Beach was chosen as the prime location for the tournament, Cruz replied, “My dad picked Orchard Beach. It was one of those places he visited every single year. When Orchard Beach was going through its renovations during 1999 and 2000, he saw that as an opportunity to replicate Venice Beach and make it his own East Coast Venice Beach, that was his vision and that’s the vision that my brother, Randy Cruz & I, continue to do every single day.”

What’s a typical day like at Orchard Beach like? “Hot, long, a bunch of games, the preparation is real. Making sure that the aesthetics are up to par, making sure the games are on time, from the young kids to the unlimited. Also the announcers, Bobby Cey, G-Stacks, Cha Ching, it’s a whole industry of things that need to go on, so every Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM, is where I lay my body at for six to eight hours and dedicate the opportunity to provide the best program in The Bronx.”

The entertainment is like no other, with DJ Uneeq on the turntables, and the three announcers on the mic. “Those guys are upper echelon for me. Bobby Cey’s been there since the essence. I call him the streetball version of Marv Albert. I met G-Stacks about 10, 11 years ago on a humble through my best friend, Kendrick Flowers. He told me he knew a guy that could really articulate the game, knew history and could spit knowledge in a more professional way. After I heard him on the mic, I knew I had my Marv Albert and my Mark Jackson of street basketball. Cha Ching is just a revolutionary of youth basketball. I always tell him that he’s the reason why high school basketball and youth basketball is reinvigorated in New York City, because of his energy, his history and his duration of making sure that kids are recognized,” said Cruz.

HITS has had many special guests come out to the beach, but one of their biggest moments came fifteen years ago, when they had none other than NBA Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, then an All-Star forward with the Orlando Magic come out to Orchard Beach. “That was 2002. One of the best moments of my young career. I was still playing the game at that time. My father had an opportunity to work with Adidas and Mountain Dew to bring Tracy McGrady up to the beach to give a treat to our fans, give a treat to our sponsor, and allow an NBA perennial all-star to visit our hallowed ground, so to this day, I’m able to call him my friend and to see him go to the Hall of Fame, just tells you our longevity in this basketball industry,” says Cruz.

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Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson shoots a free throw. (Photo courtesy of Hoops in the Sun Basketball)

Some notable pros that have happened to step on the hallowed grounds of HITS are Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets), Marcus Williams, Kenny Satterfield, Joakim Noah (New York Knicks), Tyshawn Taylor, Jimmer Fredette, Metta World Peace, Ben Uzo, John Lucas III, Lance Stephenson (Indiana Pacers) and Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn Nets).

On the high school level, there have been plenty of young standouts such as Isaiah Washington, the 2017 New York Mr. Basketball Award winner, who is now at the University of Minnesota, and Markquis Nowell, a rising senior from Harlem, who will be attending perennial national powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida this fall. Also, there is Jalen Lecque, the No. 24 player in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, who will be attending the Christ School in North Carolina, who recently dominated in a HITS game recently.

Although they were once sponsored by Nike, HITS is now once again sponsored by Adidas, who is planning to make an impact on the basketball scene in New York City. “I had a great opportunity working with Nike, but now my future and my longevity is with the new brand of Adidas,” says Cruz, “I’ve been with them for so long as far mutual friendships and relationships that they were able to come back on the New York circuit on a big level, and trusted me to hold the flag, and be the flagship for the brand as far as urban community and embracement. Adidas gave me an opportunity that I could not turn down. Something for my family, something for my fans, and my beach and my staff. We’re very fortunate and we’ve been able to really take care of people that have been here for a long amount of years, we gave back to our fans, we’re looking good, we’re outfitted well, so everyday I’m grateful, and I’m really happy to be a part of the 3 Stripe family.”

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Jalen Nesmith gets to the lane in the high school division. (Photo courtesy of Hoops in the Sun Basketball)

When going to the Beach this summer, Cruz says there a lot of things you can expect to see, “You can get an exciting 10U game, you can get a competitive girls game on a high school level, you get one of the best 19U divisions in The Bronx, as well as in the five boroughs, but you can also walk next door to the court that dreams are made of, which Bobby Cey and G-Stacks create, to allowing our young players, collegiate players, NBA players and overseas players to have an opportunity to work on their craft. So I’m in a position to navigate that and help these players out with their careers as they have helped me out in building my brand.”

If you’re ever in the Bronx, take the 6 train to Pelham Bay Park or take the BX 12 bus to the beach to see some great action all the way until the first or second week of August. As they have shown for the last eighteen years, HITS is a premier tournament in the city, and shows no signs of slowing down.

When asked what’s next in the future for HITS, Cruz replied, “I’m gonna be in the game for twenty years, I’m going to make sure that the tournament is a landmark for New York City and the world. My focus is to be in the game, NBA 2K, as a playground. My ultimate goal is to be an ambassador, whether it’s through the 3 Stripes family or through the urban community.”

Highlights of Hoops In The Sun:

Courtesy of Hoops in the Sun Basketball.

Courtesy of Hoops in the Sun Basketball.

Courtesy of Facey Loves Hoops.

Courtesy of Bingo’s All-Stars.

Courtesy of Hoops in the Sun Basketball.

 

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