Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
This is Part 5 of a sixteen-part series called, “This Is New York,” as we are 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.
Now in its third summer, the NY vs. NY tournament, which is the creation of Nike, has had New York City in a frenzy since its inception. Every week, there are large crowds drawn out by the best high school players in the tri-state area and the style of play by the teams in the event is sensational.
But if there were one team to beat in the event, it would be the Gersh Park squad. For the last two seasons, the team presenting the Nike/Jordan Brand-sponsored tournament out of the East New York section of Brooklyn, has won it all and are currently the two-time defending champions of the event. This summer, Gersh is back and looking to make it a three-peat.
But the key to the success of the squad, outside of the phenomenal play of the players, is the coaching. And the coaches are none other than Charles Jones and Gary Ervin, two players from the borough that have been to the highest levels and were once spectacular high school players themselves.
Jones, the elder of the two, was a star at the now-defunct Bishop Ford High School in the early-to-mid 1990’s. In his senior year of high school, he averaged 26.7 points per game for the Falcons and then went on to Rutgers for two seasons. In his time with the Scarlet Knights, he averaged over 13 points per game in both seasons. He would then transfer back home to LIU Brooklyn, where as a junior in 1996-97, he made a name for himself nationally by averaging 30.1 points per game and leading the NCAA in scoring. As a senior, he again led the Blackbirds with 29 points per game. Although he went undrafted in the 1998 NBA Draft, he would play two seasons for the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Clippers and would then play overseas professionally.
Ervin was also a star in his own right in high school, as he averaged 28.5 points per game as a senior at Paul Robeson High School and was named the New York Daily News Player of the Year in 2002. He would then go on to a postgraduate year at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where he averaged 17 points and seven assists and led his team to a 30-9 record. In college, he spent two years at Mississippi State, where he made the 2004 SEC All-Freshman Team and two years at Arkansas. After college, he played professionally in the NBA G-League and in Canada, South Wales, Venezuela, Australia and France.
Now retired, both players have gone into the coaching ranks, as Jones is on the coaching staff of the New York Lightning AAU squad on the Nike EYBL circuit and helped lead their 17U squad to a Nike Peach Invitational championship this summer, and Ervin is an assistant coach at Nazareth Regional High School in East Flatbush under legendary head coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, and helped lead the Kingsmen to a 19-7 record and a berth in the CHSAA “A” Division semifinals.
When asked about coaching a very talented squad of players in such a great event as NY vs. NY, Ervin replied, “I mean, I think it’s been great for two reasons, you know, to be coaching with another person that’s a legend in Brooklyn and around New York City and someone that played in the NBA, and it’s just good to give back to the kids. You know, that’s something that a lot of us wasn’t able to get [as youth], and to get that [opportunity to coach them] is a blessing.”
When asked if they wished that they had something like NY vs. NY in their day, Jones replied, “Yes & no. I spoke to Tom Konchalski one day and he told me that my era wouldn’t have survived social media, which is actually true, but the platform they got for the kids, I’m happy, I’m happy for them.”
Ervin added: “I mean, if we had this back then, we probably wouldn’t have it now, so I’m happy that the kids are able to experience something like this now.”
On this year’s team, they have a who’s who of talent in players such as Kadary Richmond (South Shore/Brewster Academy), Femi Odukale (South Shore), Isaiah Richards (South Shore), Max Ragusa (Poly Prep), Josh Gray (Knox School), UConn commit Richard Springs (MacDuffie School), Kareem Welch (Thomas Jefferson), Jared Garcia (St. Thomas More) and last year’s MVP Jaquan Carlos (Thomas Jefferson).
The last two years, Gersh Park managed to emerge victorious as the NY vs. NY champions. But as many know, it is hard to do a three-peat. But this summer, the boys from Brooklyn don’t seem fazed by anything as they have steamrolled through the competition, losing only one game to West 4thon July 23rd at Gauchos Gym in The Bronx.
When asked how it felt to be the two-time defending champions, Jones replied, “I’m just happy to see the kids having fun, man. That for me, I mean, I’m happy, as hard as they’re playing, and to still be this aggressive, even though you won it twice.”
When asked about the South Shore trio of Richmond, Odukale and Richards, all of whom led the Vikings to a second straight PSAL championship this past March at Madison Square Garden, Ervin replied, “I mean, they’ve done a lot, they’re a big part of what’s going on, but that comes with coaching and having other guys that can jell with the rest of them, that’s the biggest thing, when you can get a group of kids that’s not going to worry about egos. They genuinely care about each other.”
Jones added: “They genuinely love each other. The other kids on the team wanted him [Richmond] to get 50, we don’t usually get that, so a lot of times, dudes want to get theirs. They genuinely care about each other, man.”
After beating Tri-State in the quarterfinals by the score of 90-64 on Tuesday night at Riverbank State Park in Harlem, Gersh is back in the semifinals once again, and facing a familiar foe, Dyckman, whom they beat twice in the championship game the last two seasons. But this time around, a three-peat won’t be promised.
When asked about the impending semifinal game, which will be held at Achievement First High School in their home borough of Brooklyn, Jones replied, “I think more of the same, Dyckman is probably going to press and do a lot of trapping. Our guys play together, ‘cause like I said, they care about each other, and I mean, as long as we do what we’re supposed to do, we should be successful.”
Ervin added: “I don’t think we change anything [for Tuesday]. You know, I mean, obviously, we know what’s going to be the task at hand, they’re going to try to take Kadary out and double and do all of that stuff, but when you’re a smart basketball player that can get others involved, that’s when everybody else got to step up. We’re a team, you know what I mean, it’s not one person, obviously. You see 51 [points] on the scoreboard, but that was just a special day, who knows, maybe next week, it’s going to be somebody else’s turn.”
This coming Tuesday, August 13th, Gersh will have homecourt advantage against Dyckman. The matchup is set. The atmosphere will be crazy and exciting and both teams will do what they have to do win. Whomever wins will get the chance to get to the championship game on Saturday, August 17that the world-famous Rucker Park against the winner of the other semifinal game against Watson and West 4th.
When you’re the champions, you become the hunted instead of the hunters. But when you’re as mentally strong as the players and coaches from Gersh are, there’s nothing that can break a close-knit unit. This coming week, it’s going to be a battle.
Check out Part 6 on Tuesday, August 13th, as we will chronicle Queens native and NBA Slam Dunk champion Hamidou Diallo about his first-ever basketball camp and the second annual, “Hami Day,” event at Hoffman Park in Elmhurst.