For anyone hating on New Jersey, listen up.
It can be argued that throughout the history of high school basketball, other states have produced better teams and better players.
How about Indiana, you know, the Hoosier State? Yeah, Gene Hackman gives a pretty compelling performance and we've all heard about how high school basketball reigns supreme out there, but I mean, Jared Jeffries was your Mr. Basketball in 2000? Cmon, guys, this is coming from a Knicks fan!
Oh, and what about the friendly neighbor across the Hudson? I can hear Sinatra now, "If you can make it there, you're gonna make it anywhere." Yeah, New York's got some serious game, it's true. I can't count the number of times I've taken the train across the river to watch some of America's standout talent compete for powerhouses such as Lincoln, Rice and St. Raymond's.
But what I love more? Watching St. Patrick's, St. Anthony and St. Benedict's make an annual mockery of the finest New York has to offer at the usual winter invitationals. Oh, and by the way, Frank Sinatra and his million-dollar vocal chords, they're from Jersey, too.
Believe or not, I'm not here to simply run the dozens on high school basketball in these other states but instead to offer this: that at least for this year, New Jersey is the Mecca of high school hoops.
Remember when LeBron James and his Akron, Ohio-based St. Vincent-St. Mary's high school team took the nation by storm?
In his junior and senior seasons, James and his crew took on some of the best that the country had to offer, including an Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, VA) team with a guy by the name of Carmelo Anthony (ever heard of him?) and a Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA) squad featuring the likes of DJ Strawberry (seriously, ever heard of him?) on a nationally televised unprecedented ESPN telecast.
Sure, St. Vincent-St. Mary's won the Ohio Division II State Tournament in 2003, by beating middle-of-the-pack Kettering Alter by a mere four points. Wait, Kettering who?
When nationally ranked No. 2 St. Anthony (Jersey City, NJ) "upset" nationally ranked No. 1 St. Patrick's (Elizabeth, NJ) in the New Jersey North Non-Public B Final, it was more than just a regular state tournament championship. This was not just No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the state, but in the entire country.
New Jersey high school basketball is so deep that the unofficial national high school basketball championship game occurred in just a portion of the non-public north bracket.
To the kids playing in the game and the coaches involved, this was a rivalry renewed. Tickets were scalped outside the Louis Brown Athletic Center for up to $75! Forget about the lowly Nets, the Knicks are just now reaching $75 scalping levels because Carmelo Anthony is on board.
People wanted to see the stylish Kevin Boyle try to out-coach the legendary Bob Hurley. They wanted to see Kentucky-bound Michael Gilchrist take on Rutgers-bound Myles Mack.
The outcome of the game was kind of irrelevant. St. Patrick's lost and relinquished its No. 1 state and national ranking to St. Anthony, which will now compete further in the state tournament. The real winner here, besides the Bob Hurley's kids, is the state of New Jersey. There's not another place in the country right now producing this level of talent.
So go on, make another "Jersey Shore" joke. When it comes to basketball, the Garden State's got the last laugh.