Sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises
By BOB YORK
Jason Curry is a “King of Queens,” too.
Curry was born and raised in the same New York City borough that Kevin James introduced to the world via his television sitcom: “The King of Queens.” In it James portrayed Doug Heffernan, a parcel deliveryman with a smart-aleck personality and a love for food that won him an Emmy. He will likely be remembered forever – thanks to syndication – by this municipality for his impersonation, even though he loaded up his delivery truck one final time on May 14, 2007, and rolled out of town forever.
Fortunately for the estimated two-and-a half million people who call Queens their home, about the only thing Curry and Heffernan appear to have had in common was a zip code. Curry prefers playing sports – particularly basketball – rather than watching them. More importantly, however, Curry has no plans of leaving town and that’s good news for the residents of Queens and its surrounding boroughs, because over the past two decades he’s delivered big time for many of them.
Curry, a former New England Prep School Athletic Council basketball standout at Cheshire Academy and later a four-year starter at St. Michael’s College, began playing the game on the courts of Queens as a youngster. Now, as far as lessons learned are concerned, he’s paying it forward to student/athletes following in his footsteps. He began that process back in 1999 by founding Big Apple Basketball, a non-profit organization that teaches prospects to use basketball as a tool to further their academic and professional careers.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing basketball and helping people and being in a position to help student/athletes is why I do what I do,” explained Curry, who has set the bar so high for what he does and the way he does it, the Junior NBA and Positive Coaching Alliance recently named him its 2019 National Junior NBA Coach of the Year.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Curry, who was one of 31 candidates representing an NBA or WNBA team as their local community’s coach of the year. “I’ve been blessed to have an amazing support system of friends and volunteers who have helped me live my vision and mission of Big Apple Basketball,” added the BAB boss, who represented the New York Knicks in the voting. “There are so many great coaches and mentors in the New York City area who go unnoticed that it’s a privilege to even be recognized in this capacity.”
What convinced the Knicks to sponsor Curry in this contest – and the Coaching Alliance to ultimately crown him – was for what Curry described as a “labor of love,” in using his foundation to annually assist anywhere from 500 to 1,000 student/athletes between the ages of 7 and 18 with preparation for college athletics and scholarship opportunities. It does so by providing skill development, mentoring, exposure to college coaches, media and the general public that are focused on helping improve their educational, athletic, professional and life development abilities.
Adding to his aura, as well as his electability, was the fact that since starting BAB two decades ago, Curry has made it his responsibility to personally oversee its daily operations and supervise every one of its programs – and they are numerous. They include a High School Challenge, which showcases top high school talent; a High School Invitational, a two-day event showcasing elite high school teams; a Shooting Challenge, which is designed to select top free throw and three-point shooters; Scholarship Games, which are designed to help raise money for college scholarships as well as academic eligibility seminars, a mentoring program and basketball training.
Although the vast majority of BAB’s programs are designed for middle and high-school players, Curry’s itinerary manages to keep the adults busy, too. Those would be a Pro Touring Team and a Pro Summer Team, which Curry coaches. The Pro Touring program features former NBA players as well as players from college powerhouses, including 18 alums who participated in this year’s NCAA Div. I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Enrollment allows players an opportunity to gain exposure as well as using it as a springboard to other basketball openings.
The Pro Summer Team, meanwhile, is designed to give current pro level players a chance to play in elite summer leagues during their off-season, including the Nike Pro City Summer League, which is officially sanctioned by the NBA and has recently entertained league standouts such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the past.
It’s unlikely that immersing himself in a project such as BAB would surprise anyone who knows of Curry’s passion for basketball, nor would they be shocked to hear that during the program’s growing pains, Curry paid for everything – basketballs, uniforms, gyms and staff – out of his own pocket to insure its continued development.
“I had no idea when I started out that this would become a full-time occupation for me … but I’m glad that’s the way it’s turned out,” said Curry, who spent the four years prior to starting BAB in broadcasting as a college basketball TV color commentator, analyst and sideline reporter on such networks as CNN, WNBC-TV and WABC-TV. “It’s not only given me the opportunity to help future generations of basketball players learn how to play the game, but to learn how to take advantage of the game and allow it to open doors that otherwise may never have opened.”
Turns out, Curry proved to be an ideal orator for discussing what his charges can do for basketball as well as what basketball can do for his charges. During his days at Archbishop Molloy, Forest Hills and Hillcrest high schools in the Queens and Lawrence-Woodmere Academy, a private school on Long Island, Curry did plenty on the court to attract the attention of college scouts and coaches. As a standout point guard, he earned both All-Queens and Honorable Mention All-City nominations while averaging 21 points and six assists per game during his career. His exploits in the classroom, however, failed to garner such plaudits.
“During high school, I proved to be a much better basketball player than a student,” confessed Curry, “and through Big Apple Basketball I want to stress to the kids that they need to strive to be their best in both areas … because to be truly successful in life, you’re going to need both.”
That fact was made crystal clear to Curry during a postgraduate year at Cheshire Academy – and he responded. In the classroom, he graduated with academic honors and earned a scholarship to St. Michael’s College. As for his basketball talents, they continued to rise, as he helped lead the Cats to a QUarterfinal appearance in the NEPSAC tournament.
“Attending Cheshire was the best thing that could have ever happened to me … Cheshire changed my life,” admitted Curry, who was elected this spring into its Athletic Hall of Fame. “When I got to Cheshire, I knew it was my last chance to really make something of myself. I knew that’s what I wanted to do … I just didn’t know how. Fortunately, the teachers and coaches at Cheshire showed me how, then refused to let me fail and for that I will forever be indebted to them.”
One of those mentors who helped Curry get his act together was Cheshire basketball coach, Bill Casson, whom he remains close to and who currently coaches basketball and is associate director of admissions at Trinity Pawling School.
“I’m proud to know him and I’m proud to say we’re good friends,” said Casson of his former point guard. “Jason’s a special human being … not just anyone could have gotten something like Big Apple Basketball up and running and kept it running the way he has for the past two decades. He’s done an amazing job with it and is truly deserving of this award.
“As for his year at Cheshire, Jason came knowing what he had to do to be successful in the classroom as well as on the basketball court and he hit the ground running to achieve success in both,” added Casson of Curry, who would go on to perform at a level at St. Michael’s that would earn him a spot in its athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
When Casson inferred that Curry “hit the ground running” when he got to Cheshire, he meant it literally, too. Casson, was also the school’s cross-country coach and to insure his players were in shape come basketball season, he encouraged them to compete in cross-country during the fall. Curry obliged, and did quite well.
“I won two meets and finished in the top three in five others,” remembered Curry, who would earn team co-MVP honors, “which, considering I’d never run cross country before, I don’t think it was too bad a start.”
He may not have run like a rookie, but he certainly looked like one. There was one telltale sign that Curry was more at home dribbling on a basketball court than running through forests and fields. That indication was his footwear.
“I ran in my white, hi-top, Converse sneakers,” quipped Curry, “and by the time basketball season rolled around, they were pretty dirty.”
The NEPSAC SPECIAL NEWS is sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises. Scoreboard Enterprises is a Sports Technology Company and exclusive Daktronics dealer in the New England area. We provide, install and service scoreboards, video displays and audio systems designed specifically for athletic facilities. Contact us for more information at www.scoreboardenterprises.com; 274 Fruit Street Mansfield, MA 02048, 508-339-8113.