Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
This is part four of a sixteen-part series involving basketball in New York City called, “This Is New York.” The fourth installment is about Jarrett Lockhart, who was a basketball phenom in the early 1990’s in middle school then was an All-City player at Mount St. Michael Academy in The Bronx. After that, he went on to play Division I basketball at the University of Pittsburgh and played professionally in France. After his playing days were over, he turned to the coaching ranks, where he would go on to be a head coach at Lincoln College of New England and also on the Division I level at Florida International University. Today, he is the co-author of the recently-released book titled, “Cheers to Fears,” alongside his former college teammate, Jerome Holmes and is now the head coach at Victory Rock Prep Academy in Florida.
For all of his life, Jarrett Lockhart has been immersed in the game of basketball. It is the game that has brought him plenty of opportunities. As a youth, before he played a high school game, he was getting exposure in magazines and newspapers. In high school, he was an All-City player, in college, he was one of the key pieces for one of the premier teams in the Big East Conference. Today, he’s still in the game, as a coach. These days, for him, it’s all about teaching the game and paying it forward.
“For me, it’s kind of simple, if it’s from a coaching point of view, I like athletic guys that can shoot, so I’m going to put five guys on the floor that are long, athletic, and that can shoot it and can defend,” says Lockhart about his basketball philosophy. “You know, we’re going to get up and down, we’re going to press, we’re going to defend, and we’re going to shoot the three.”
Lockhart, a native of the Marble Hill section of the Bronx, got his introduction to the game of basketball at the age of three. “Just in the parks, grandmoms used to take me to the parks, and just every kind of playground across the borough, we used to walk, take the bus, with the basketball, I used to shoot on different baskets at three years old,” he said. “It’s in the bloodline, my pops played, so she used to take me out early mornings, in the summertime to get going, but it was definitely around three, four years old.”
His father is none other than Thomas Lockhart, who played high school basketball at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science in the early 1970’s and went on to play collegiate basketball at Scottsdale Junior College in Arizona and on the Division I level Manhattan College, which is in Riverdale. He would go on to be drafted in the fifth round of the 1976 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks but instead would go on to play internationally in Sweden and Switzerland.
When asked about the elder Lockhart, the younger Lockhart replied, “It was different, man, because he set the standard, kind of the stage, with being drafted, you know, in 1976, in the NBA Draft, in the fifth round of the draft. As I grew older, I realized his accomplishments, and what he did, you know I tried to base my game off of that. That was kind of my motivation growing up, knowing that he made it to that level, you know, I just tried to kind of follow him to that level and succeed that way.”
As far as lessons that he was taught by his dad, Lockhart replied, “You know, when I grew up, it was always me and moms, but you know, we used to have a lot of phone conversations, and I would see him a couple of times a year, but he just wanted me to play and have fun, really. He never really pushed me to try to play, competitively, it was just like, ‘Yo, go out there and have fun,’ that drive kind of came from, like I said, my motivation, you know, internally, because I wanted to do what he had did and follow up under him, but you know, he’s always given me good advice in terms of basketball and life, and off-the-court stuff, [like] just be a man of your word, and be a gentleman and things of that nature and so a lot of life lessons off the court as well as on.”
When he was 12, Lockhart joined the legendary Riverside Church Hawks program, which was run by Ernie Lorch, and played with them until he graduated from high school. During his younger days, he’d play in events like City-Wide [summer and winter editions] and many others.
“Back then, you had winter City-Wide and summer City-Wide. Winter City Wide was at the old Tolentine High School, which is closed now, so we used to have it there, you know, [Baby] Rucker on 145thStreet, you know, that was good. It was a bunch of tournaments, but City Wide was the major one, because there was a winter one and a summer one, so we had a winter team and a summer team for that. And we had some good teams back then. I started playing with Riverside when I was a biddy, so we just used to play all over the city, but City Wide was like the major tournament, because there was a summer and a winter [edition],” he said of basketball tournaments in his younger days.
Because of those tournaments, Lockhart began to make a name for himself throughout the city and by the eighth grade, he started to receive media attention by publications such as the New York Daily News, which did an article on him in January 1992.
On how it felt for him to gain recognition at that particular time, he replied, “Nah, it was crazy. To be that young and you know, to be in the papers, the Daily News, and you know, at that time, I was at St. John’s Elementary School in The Bronx. It was crazy, because Channel 7 was coming to do interviews, they did a special, Channel 11, Fox 5, everybody was coming, so it was just kind of really, really fast, but for me, I was always humble, and I just took as it came, just tried to deal with it, had a good support system, moms and my grandparents, my Godfather was around, so they just kind of kept me grounded. You know, for a young kid getting attention, it’s always going to be, you know, you have a level of you know, surprise and things like that, but I mean, I just tried to take it all in and be as humble as I could, even back then.”
When it came to choosing high school, he chose Mount St. Michael Academy, a private, Catholic all-boys school in the Wakefield section of The Bronx. “When it came down to it, it was probably Mount St. Michael, it was all Bronx schools [to choose from], so it was Mount, Fordham [Prep], Cardinal Hayes and then St. Raymond’s. I was trying to choose between those four, and I took one of those, I know they still probably do it, like a shadow day, to Mount St. Michael, where you follow, you know, you stay with a ninth-grader throughout the whole day, and I just fell in love with it, with the gym, the gym was like the biggest gym in the city at the time and the playoffs and all the major stuff was held there and I was like, ‘I want to go there.’ So, you know, I got the support from mom and, you know, my family, and we just decided on Mount, but I think it was a great decision for me.”
In July 1992, the summer before he started high school, he would play in the prestigious ABCD Camp in California, and would hold his own as one of the few rising freshman in the camp. “I want to say, I was the only rising freshman in the camp, I was the youngest kid in the camp that year. It was interesting, because that was my first introduction to big-time basketball, and just the whole circuit and the sneakers, and back then, I think it was Converse when I went. But Sonny Vaccaro, a big-time guy, in the industry and the sports world, and the sneaker stuff, [was there]. But for me, it was just bonding with the New York guys that went. Like Felipe [Lopez], I remember Felipe taking me under his wing, that was when Felipe was the best like tenth-grader or something in the country, so Felipe and me bonded. Kareem Reid was there on that trip, Reggie Freeman, and Tyler Brown, Jason Hoover, all of those guys that went to All Hallows, Ed Elisma that went to LaSalle back in the day, it was like 10-11 of us from New York that were actually at that camp, but those guys, they supported me. I knew I was the youngest guy there, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I was the youngest guy there, because they all showed love. It was just one of those things, but as the week went on, I felt more comfortable, and I did my thing there.”
When you’re one of the best freshmen in the city, most likely, you’ll be playing on the varsity. But unfortunately, for Lockhart, it would not be the case, as Mount St. Michael had a rule that said that freshmen would not be allowed to play varsity basketball.
“I went in as a freshman, and Vat the time, they had a rule that said that freshmen couldn’t play varsity basketball, so I had to play JV, and I would try to see how I could change the rule, and it was a whole big thing when I went, because you know, everyone wanted me to play varsity,” he said. “It was like, ‘You went to Mount and you can’t even play varsity,’ but I played JV and we ended up winning a city championship. For me, it was about the experience, because I knew it would be something special, we ended up winning a state championship and you know, I just had a great experience, but that was a school rule, you know, they were trying to get it lifted and changed, but when it was time for me to go into my freshman year, it just didn’t get done, but it was what it was, but I think it humbled me a little bit, too, I mean, I had to play JV and wait. So, it just made me work on my game and get better and I came back that sophomore year and kind of did my thing.”
As a sophomore, he finally made it to the varsity level and shone very brightly as he was named to the CHSAA Archdiocesan Honorable Mention in the Daily News. His junior season, 1994-95, was when he took over, as he averaged 24.3 points, eight rebounds and four assists and led the Mountaineers to the CHSAA B Division championship and the New York State Federation championship. Then in his senior year, 1995-96, he led the Mountaineers to the city championship once again and averaged 24.5 points per game and finished as the all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,776 points, which still stands today.
“It was a great experience, man,” he said of his days at Mount St. Michael, “Just academically, and athletically, as well. You know, I got the best of both worlds, I still hang with a lot of those guys that I graduated with, [like] Brendan Dunlop, who was my backcourt mate who ended up going to Virginia Tech and is one of my best friends, so I had a great experience there, academically, athletically, socially, so I always tell people, I made the right decision in terms of that.”
There is also one other distinction that Lockhart holds at Mount. He’s a part of the onlyteam in school history to win a New York State Federation championship, which took place in 1994-95, his junior year, when they went 27-1.
In regards to that team, he added: “It’s funny, man, because we lost our first game of the year, to Rice High School, right, by one point in overtime. So you had Chudney Gray on that team, Bevon Robin, Gary Saunders, Tariq Kirksay, but they had a crew. We lost that first game to them and then we won like 27 straight games after that, which was unheard of. We lost the first game of the year and didn’t lose, after. And we won city and won the states in Glens Falls, all that stuff. That yellow banner that’s at Mount St. Michael, when you walk in at the very end at the top, that’s the only state championship in Mount history, so I definitely take pride in that.”
On how it felt to be a part of the only team in the school’s history to win the state championship, he replied, “It’s crazy, man, like I said, that’s the only yellow banner that’s in there, so even when we go back now, people that know and kind of understand what we did, they show us a lot of love and [head] coach Thomas Fraher, he’s still there, so, we’re good friends, and back then, those were his first couple of years, like my first varsity season was his first coaching year, at Mount, so we have a unique relationship. But it felt great, and it’s an honor, I mean, it makes you feel, you know, proud of your accomplishments, to come back twenty-something years later and see that in the gym, and it’s a blessing.”
On the AAU front, Lockhart was part of a powerful Riverside team that took no prisoners and was one of the most dangerous in the tri-state area and nationally. “Riverside was great, we had really great teams there, and we talk about this a lot, in terms of like, who was on those teams. Like going into my junior year, we had a team that like, everyone went Division I. So it was like, you had Willie Dersch, who ended up being Mr. Basketball in New York, he went to Virginia, Vassil Evtimov, who ended up going to North Carolina, Rhese Gibson, who went to Georgetown, Kevin Morris, who ended going to like Georgia Tech. And they would add like, the younger guys, that were under us, like the Elton Brands and the Ron Artest’s sometimes. It was like, back then, Riverside and Gauchos, they just had so many guys, it was just talent everywhere, it was like Riverside and Gauchos, all of those guys were going Division I and playing major college basketball, and that kind of exposed me to a lot of stuff too, because I got to travel, so all the major tournaments and camps and stuff like that, we would go to, and you know, I was exposed to that early.”
As far as his college recruitment, he had attention plenty of schools in the nation, including schools in the Big East Conference, which was one of the premier conferences in the nation. But in April 1996, he decided to commit to the University of Pittsburgh.
When asked about his decision, he replied, “Well, obviously, I ended up going to Pitt, but it came down to Pitt & Villanova, those were my last two. I was thinking about Florida State, I had went to visit there, I was thinking about Providence, and St. John’s actually came in late, when Fran Fraschilla got the job, and I was thinking about it. But for me, I just had to get away from home, you know, I just thought that was the right decision for me, to get out of New York for a little while, do something different and do different things, but still be in a place where my family could kind of see me, so playing in the Big East was perfect.”
In the 1990’s, the Big East Conference was one of the premier conferences in all of college basketball, so it was a no-brainer that Lockhart decided to play in that conference. “You had St. John’s and Seton Hall, Georgetown was four hours away, all of those close places that my family could come see me, and then obviously, the Big East Tournament at the Garden, that was always an added plus for me, that’s what I always wanted to do since I was little, the Big East Tournament. You know I used to go [to the games], when I was smaller, grade school and stuff like that, and just the environment and the experience, and just playing in the Big East was like the best league in the country, they had pros every night.”
On why he chose Pitt, he replied, “So at the end of the day, it was Pittsburgh, and it was one of those decisions that I made, and like I said, I loved the campus when I went to visit, I fell in love with it and the guys that were on the team, the coaching staff. For me, it made sense, so I picked Pitt at the end of the day.”
When asked if he ever thought about staying local and playing at St. John’s, he replied, “Yeah, I thought about it, you know, like I said, for me, it was the right decision just to kind of get away from home for awhile. But I think, any time, you look at a situation, you know, playing at home, in front of your family and friends every night, I mean, who can kind of get better than that? But just for me, I had to kind of grow as a person, as a young man, and just, spread my wings a little bit, so if I would’ve stayed in the city, I might not have been able to do that as much, but it would’ve been great, the tradition and stuff, it would’ve still been kind of great, [them] playing in the Big East too, but for me, Pitt was the right decision.”
As far as other reasons to why he committed, he replied, “Yeah, I liked the city and the campus, the coaching staff, the guys that were on the team, and I grew up with Mark Blount, he was a 7-footer from New York City, who was already a freshman at Pitt, so we actually grew up together in the same building, so he made my decision a little easier, because I was familiar with him, so I knew going there, ‘This is my man, we’re going to try to do big things here,’ so he had a lot to do with me going to Pitt as well, but once again, it had to do with the coaching staff. At that time, Sean Miller was at Pitt, that’s at Arizona now, so he was involved in my recruitment, so just in general, it was a great situation, so I definitely think I made the right choice.”
As a freshman, he had to wait his turn and didn’t play much. But in his sophomore season, 1997-98, he averaged 11.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. As a junior in 1998-99, his numbers went down to 7.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Then, as a senior, he gave the Panthers a great performance by averaging 11.9 points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game.
When asked about his early years with the Panthers, he replied, “My freshman year, I didn’t play as much as I would’ve liked to, there was some good players, there was some great guards there already. You know, you had Vonteego Cummings that went to the League, that got drafted in the ’99 Draft in the first round, you had Kelly Taylor, who led the nation in steals for a couple of years at Pitt, so when I went in, it was just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, and defensively, what Coach Willard wanted. Ralph Willard was the coach, Kevin Willard’s father, that’s at Seton Hall, who’s the head coach. He was defensive-minded, so me coming from Mount, being a scorer, and not being as defensive-minded, I struggled a little bit with the defensive concept, so just trying to get on the court was a lot.”
Although he had to sit a lot that first year, Lockhart never let it get him down for long. “But I worked my tail off during that summer, came back my sophomore year and started, I think I averaged 11-12 points or something like that. Junior year, my averages actually went down a little bit, just from injury and stuff like that, and then my senior year, they went back up, you know to double figures, but you know, we had some good teams, New Yorkers like Ricardo Greer, but we had some good teams. We had a stint where we played in Puerto Rico, and we played against Maryland, Xavier and Kentucky, and in the late ‘90s, they had pros like Steve Francis, Juan Dixon and those guys playing at Maryland, you had Tayshaun Prince at Kentucky, even Xavier, I think, had a couple of pros on that team, so we played in the Puerto Rico Shootout my junior year there, we were ranked for a little while, but we had some good teams there, so I enjoyed my four years there. My senior year, we ended up getting a new coach, it was Ben Howland, who’s at Mississippi State now, and after I left, they ended up changing that whole program around. Guys started going to the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight and stuff like that, so Ben Howland really changed that program before he went to UCLA, obviously now, he’s at Mississippi State, but he was a great coach for me to have my senior year, ‘cause he kind of instilled certain discipline, and made me one of the leaders of the team, and one of the captains of the team. But my four years [at Pitt] was great, I wouldn’t change it for anything, man.”
Unfortunately, for all of the success Lockhart had at Pitt, he never got to play in the NCAA Tournament. When asked if he wished that he had played in the Big Dance, he replied, “Absolutely. That’s one of the things, like somebody asked me that recently, I said that’s one of the things that I missed out on, not necessarily a regret, but just missing out on the experience. We got to the NIT my freshman year, but after that, like I said, we had some good teams, where we just struggled with our record, getting wins, but that’s one of the things that I look back on, and say that I wish we made the NCAA Tournament, but things happen for a reason, man.”
After graduating from Pitt in 2000, he went on to play professionally overseas in France. “I played overseas for three years in France, it was second-level, over in France, decent competition, it wasn’t the greatest. But I went over in 2001, came back in 2003, 2004 or something like that. But it was a good experience, man, ‘cause we played against a lot of guys, in, I don’t know if they have it now, but it was called the French Cup, which would allow you to play against a different level of competition, higher level of competition, so there, I would see a lot of Americans, you know guys that I probably knew and played against, so it was a good experience. I wish I would’ve played a little longer, but the politics of it sometimes, and injuries kind of hindered that, but for me, it was a good experience and I tell people now, ‘If you get a chance to travel, play basketball, get paid for it, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the NBA, but you can go over and create some experiences, meet some people, so I still have some friends that I met over there that I can go see and that I talk to all the time, so basketball gives us so many other experiences sometimes, and we just have to kind of go with that. So the NBA, is not the end-all, be-all, there’s other ways to kind of make a living and play the game that you love, so it was good for me, though.”
After his playing days were done, Lockhart got into the next phase: coaching. Back in 2013, he was an assistant coach at the now-defunct Lincoln College of New England in Southington, Connecticut and led them to a 23-9 record and an NJCAA Region 21 championship and the District 8 championship.
When asked about his experience at the school, he replied, “It was great because I got a chance to be the assistant coach, as well as the student-athlete advisor, so I got a chance to kind of impact the athletes that played, off the court as well, so I was involved directly on the academic side as well as the basketball side, which was cool. I had a bunch of guys from New York up there, I probably brought five guys from The Bronx, a couple of guys from Brooklyn, and my college teammate, Jeremy Holmes, he’s actually from Cleveland, he hooked it up where I had three guys from Ohio, who came to the school as well. So we ended up winning the regional championship as well, and well, we lost all three games in the Nationals, but had a decent record, had a great record, best in school history up there, but it was good, because I got a chance to impact a lot of lives up there, and a lot of guys from New York that came up there with me, they got an education and we won, and they kind of have a bond, with that championship team that went to the region, and we have dinner, and we go out and those guys always call me, and we talk about things, so it was just, you know when you win, you have a certain kind of bond with your teammates, but it was great, it was a great experience up there.”
And then from 2013-17, Lockhart was a part of the coaching staff at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, as an assistant under then-head coach Anthony Evans, who is a native of Brooklyn.
When asked about the experience of coaching and being on the Division I coaching staff, he replied, “Well, my first three years, I took the job as the director of [basketball] operations, so that in itself entails kind of being in the office a lot, and there’s really no recruiting as the director of operations. You just kind of, you’re there and you’re doing a lot of paperwork, doing stuff to kind of make the program run, you’re kind of the assistant to the head coach type of thing. You know, whatever the head coach has going on, you’re kind of directly involved in, you know, whether it be academics and setting up visits for kids and stuff like that, but you know, it was good, and it was an experience where I knew if I did well in that role, in that position, I’d have an opportunity to kind of you know, be an assistant and in the process, learn from the head coach and learn from the assistants that were already on staff. So, it prepared me for the year when I did get the promotion, and got the job as the assistant at FIU, it prepared me tremendously.”
When asked about how he felt being promoted to assistant when the opportunity presented itself, Lockhart replied, “Ah, man, it was great, and like I said, I was in that director of operations role for three years, so it’s like any job, you start and you’re trying to figure it out, but once I kind of figured it out, it’s like, ‘Alright, I’m ready for the next step now.’ So, I was kind of, in-waiting, and when that opportunity came, Coach Evans gave me the chance to be one of the assistants, and I just hit the ground running. You know, it was a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of phone calls, a lot of recruiting, traveling, and trying to make the best impression I could, because I knew that was my opportunity. But things happen for a reason, but I’m glad that I got those years to kind of prepare, because I know how to be an assistant at the Division I level.”
However, it would also be a bittersweet experience. At the end of his fourth season on the staff (first as an assistant), the FIU coaching staff was let go, due to losing seasons. When asked about the experience of being terminated, Lockhart replied, “I mean, that was hard, I think that was hard, because once again, I’m only in that role for a year, right, so I’m like, ‘Wow!’ So it was one of those things where, you got to figure it out, because you know, as a man, you gotta figure it out, but for me, it was just all that preparation I did as the director of operations, and then to only get a year of the experience as the assistant on the Division I level, I mean for me, that was hard, because I was like, ‘Damn, well where do I go from here?’ But I learned a lot from that experience, because college basketball is more political, I think, than anything, it’s about knowing the right people, it’s about getting in the right situations, and you know, preparing yourself, because, if you look, the coaching carousel, people jump from job to job every year, you see guys at different schools every year, so it just made me look at things from a different perspective, and you have to always remember that it’s a business, right, so if you don’t get a certain amount of wins in that left-hand column, it’s going to be some changes, so you know, we always bounce back and it’s one of those things we learn from, and once again, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
Earlier this summer, Lockhart and his old college teammate, Holmes, collaborated and released the book, “Cheers To Fears,” which was aimed as a blueprint to youth on what to do when basketball ends for them and also life lessons.
When asked about “Cheers to Fears,” Lockhart replied, “Cheers to Fears, man. Cheers To Fears is a book you know, written by myself and my co-author, and my former college teammate, Jeremy Holmes, that I mentioned before, and it’s about our experiences, me coming from The Bronx, New York, him coming from Cleveland, Ohio, and obviously, how we met and how we developed a friendship and a biography about each of us, and just the title, ‘Cheers to Fears,’ the concept, the cheers that an athlete receives when you start playing whatever sport until you stop, you know, and that’s trying to figure it out is where the fear comes in and anxiety and it’s like, ‘What am I going to do now? It’s like, what’s my options? Like what do I have left? Or what do I have to give to myself at the end of the day? So, you know, I fell in love with just that concept, man, because we all go through it. I went through it when I stopped playing, so it’s like you’re talking from a perspective where you can kind of relate, so Cheers To Fears is one of those things where every athlete is going to experience it, so like we’re talking to you know, athletes that are going to the NBA, because at some point, you’re going to stop playing. But it just focuses on the younger athlete and just how to handle certain situations.”
In the book there are plenty of guidelines that student-athletes can follow. “We have sections after every chapter where there’s questions and guys can kind of talk to themselves, and answer these questions, and go through the book as kind of like a class, and it’s just one of those things where we felt it was needed and every athlete and every student-athlete can kind of benefit from it,” he said.
When asked about what advice he’d give to the youth, he replied, “For the youth, stay in school, get your degree, and talking from an athlete’s perspective, just try to develop some other things in terms of life objectives, because sports is not always going to be there. We’re going to be older longer than we’re going to be younger and sometimes, whether it’s injury or whether the game’s slowing down for us, we have to find other things to do with our lives with our time, and just keep striving for greatness and get some mentors that can point you in the right direction and focus on the marathon, rather than the sprint, you know what I mean, because life is short, but at the end of the day, I think we can prolong it if we can attack it the right way.”
When asked what he’d do if he could go back in a time machine to 1992 and to talk to the 14-year-old version of himself, he replied, “Ah, man, what would I tell him? Just to stay positive, because life is going to turn out the way it’s going to turn out, for most of us, it’s already written, but I think the way we go about life is we have to work hard at the stuff that we’re kind of good at, you know what I mean, just keep pushing. I think when I was younger, I’d get frustrated, and just, ‘Ah, I can’t do this, you know, I don’t want to do that.’ If we focus and kind of develop our minds and do the right thing I think we can be successful, so I would just tell him that. You know, 14-year-old Jarrett, hopefully, he’ll listen to me, but I would tell him to keep focus and don’t stop.”
Now that the book is doing well, Lockhart hopes to reach as many youths as possible. This fall, he will be coaching the high school team at Victory Rock Prep in Bradenton, Florida and will be an assistant for their post-graduate team. No matter where he goes in life, Jarrett Lockhart will continue to thrive and succeed, even with the cheers and the fears.
Check out Part 5 on Saturday, August 10th, as we will be chronicling Charles Jones & Gary Ervin, two former city standouts and Division I stars who played professionally and are giving back by coaching youth basketball, most notably the Gersh Park squad in Nike’s NY vs. NY Tournament and have led them to two straight championships in the event and their plans to lead them to a third straight championship this summer.