Live From Sin-City

by August 19, 2008
53

While the Boston summer basketball scene has been considered non-existent compared to the Big Apple’s and other major cities over the years, there is one tournament that is slowly fighting off that stereotype.

The Hoganz Classic, which takes place just north of Beantown in Lynn, Massachusetts, annually brings out some of the best players in the region. The Classic, run by Fred Hogan and Simmie Anderson in the Marian Garden Projects, has garnered some top local talent over the years including former NBA players like Rick Brunson, as well as high level talents like Will Blalock (Iowa St/Detroit Pistons), Anthony Anderson (UMass Amherst), Dwight Brewington (Providence/NBDL) and even some younger players and street ball legends who for one reason or another chose to remain nameless.

For this years tournament SLAM’s own Sammy Newman-Beck used his Boston connections to put together (along with the help of Boston native Will Dickerson)a SLAM All-Star team to compete and represent the “best ball mag in the country”. Luckily enough, SLAM correspondents Adam Fleischer and David Duane came along for the ride and checked out the scene, players and even took in some incredible ball playing.

Interviews, words and reporting by:
Adam Fleischer, David Duane and Sammy Newman-Beck

The scene

We parked in the back lot of a church where the league directions stated to do so. On the opposite end of the lot, there was a small opening in a fence that lead to our destination. Upon entering you could smell the freshly sprayed lighter fluid cooking up summertime hamburgers and hotdogs.

After walking through what seemed to be a small housing project we came upon the main attraction. Music was blasting as the beat and bass of current hip hop chart toppers, blended in easily with the old school Biggie throwbacks. To the right there were kids – dozens of them – playing on swings, climbing the jungle gym, running around and throwing mini-footballs back and forth.

Two sets of green, peeling bleachers were to our left, lined with onlookers, mostly locals, who were screaming for any hometown player to take the court. To the left, was the grill, operating out of someone’s backyard with a small tent covering the “cash only” cashiers. But in front of us was the main attraction, two high school boys teams, (who looked more like young men with a couple 6’7 and up kids), one from Lynn and one from Boston, were battling in a frenetic, high scoring game out on the fresh, one week old, outdoor basketball court at Marian Gardens.

Welcome to the Hoganz Basketball Classic.

Fred Hogan, the Director of the HoganzClassic, has been involved with the Tournament in each of its 16 years running. The current Lynn English High School girls coach has been around since there were only four teams involved, all from the different areas of Lynn. Now, the tournament boasts 10 open division mens’ teams, four high school girls’ teams, four high school boys teams, a 15 and under division, a 14 and under division, and a 12 year old showcase.

“We actually used to have a cash prize, and it was just a couple of neighborhood teams that were battling for bragging rights in the city,” explains Hogan in discussing the mens’ portion of the tournament. “Then word started to spread that we had a good little thing going down here and we quickly added to eight teams.”

While the play on the court is spectacular at times, the best part about this year’s Hoganz Classic was the brand new court, resembling a miniature Rucker Park located at the center of the Marian Gardens housing complex. Anthony Anderson who is a lifer at the tournament, was awed by the transformation that took place only a week before the tournament. The court now has brand new Glass backboards with collapsible rims and garners a freshly painted court with the etchings of Marian Gardens spelled out on each end.

“It’s crazy, right?” Anderson rhetorically asked. “They just got it done earlier this week. They kept saying ‘we’re gonna get it done, we’re gonna get it done.’ They got the rims last year. ‘We gonna do the court, we gonna do the court.’ We ain’t played ball here all summer because of the way the court was. Then one day my cousin Simmie called me and said ‘Yo, they’re doing the court.’ Came over here and it was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Friday night
The Friday-Sunday Hoganz Classic, now with a new playing surface, holds claim to being one of the most competitive tournaments in all of Massachusetts as it annually brings out some of the best current overseas players, as well as numerous former division 1 players and on special occasion an NBA player or two from all over the Northeast.

Friday night’s main event featured the local favorites from Lynn, also known as team Shoe City. Shoe City featured local superstar point-god Anthony Anderson as well as former Robert Morris PG Derek Coleman, former Jacksonville State big man Dorien Brown and former Toledo swingman Corey Bingham.

Anderson, who starred at the University of Massachusetts and is the older brother of Memphis swingman Antonio Anderson, is a local legend who is known for besting former NBA veteran Rick Brunson’s scoring record in the tournament a year ago. According to numerous on-lookers Brunson had scored 50 points in a game at the Classic two years ago, and last year Anthony broke the record against Brunson’s team after a 30 point first half and a total of 52 points.

Anderson, who at a measly 5’11, has garnered the hardest to guard in the northeast status, just recently completed a season in the ABA for the Manchester Millrats where he took home both League and All-Star game MVP and even more recently just signed a major contract to play across the waters in the 1st league in Cyprus.

While it was no surprise, Shoe City dominated their first day’s competition. While the first night festivities were fun, the next day was going to be one helluva day of basketball.

Saturday

The biggest threat to Anthony Anderson and Shoe City was the Boston SLAM All-Stars, featuring many of the recent high school and playground legends from the area, as well as some recently graduated college players and accomplished pros.

The biggest name on the SLAM All-Stars was Will Blalock. A star at East Boston High School, and later at Iowa St., Blaylock is one of the few Boston ballers to make it from the city to the ultimate basketball dream, hearing your name called in the NBA draft. Blalock who was picked in the second round by the Pistons has continued to impress during his stints at the NBA’s Summer League, in the NBDL and overseas.

Another big name for the SLAM team was Steve Hailey. The Worcester Academy grad and Boston native had a solid career in his couple seasons at Boston College. From there he too has moved on to playing professionally, starting at the PG position for the Cape Cod Frenzy in the ABA.

Kenny “Boobie” Jackson, a former Iona hooper, played well in both of the day’s games, hitting trey after trey in the first game, then showing off his defense in the second game of the day by pinning two different lay-up attempts against the backboard at Lynn Tech High School (rain forced the game inside.)

A former Charlestown High School (CHS has dominated the high school scene in Boston for the last 10 years) star, Rashid Al-Kaleem, may have been the most imposing wing player on the court for any team on Saturday. After a slow start in the first game, Rashid used the skills that earned him a spot on Billy Donovan’s roster at Florida and later on teams such as the Frenzy and the Millrats to put away their second opponent of the day. In a three play stretch he managed an “and-1” dunk, another fast break two hand flush, and then a deep three from the left wing which helped to expand SLAM’s lead to the high teens before the stars took the rest of the game off.

Saturday was an easy day for the SLAM All-Stars. Dispatching a team from New Hampshire with ease before pulling away in the second half against another team from Lynn, L.G.T., to close out their two game set. Claims of “why are we here unless we playin’ against Lynn (Shoe City)” would hold true for the Beantown ballers. Sunday would provide the first real test for both squads.

Sunday

It was the game everyone had been waiting for, and yet the championship was still six hours away due to the double elimination rule in the tournament.

Somehow, the two top teams at the Classic squared off at high noon outside on the blacktop, putting their undefeated records on the line in the double elimination tournament. The scene had a different feel than the previous days. Many Boston fans had made the 30 minute drive up the Tobin Bridge to take in the game, and defend the reps of their hometown players. While on the other hand the Lynn and Anthony Anderson faithful were all in attendance and showing their utmost support.

The game tipped off right on time and the players went straight to work. SLAM’s Steve Hailey sparked the game off early constantly creeping his way to the free throw line time and time again for his pull-up, high release jump shot. He was followed by 6’5 freak of nature Al-Kaleem’s constant attacks of the rim. Lynn fired back however as Double A (Anthony Anderson) used his relentless attack to keep SLAM’s lead at bay. Soon enough however Lynn’s Shoe City found itself down a large deficit at half time.

Anderson however turned that halftime deficit into a substantial lead for Shoe City midway through the second half. Anderson sliced his way to the rim repeatedly, finishing among constant contact. As the game headed down to the wire the ball ended up in Steve Hailey’s hands as he missed a controversial no-call lay-up to lose the game by two. While many of the Lynn faithful reacted as if the day was over, it was far from that as SLAM and Lynn would eventually meet back up in the championship.

As the day wore on, so did the thunderstorms which caused the tournament to be moved back inside. The SLAM All-Stars waited patiently as L.G.T. or LaGrange Terrace from Lynn came out of the loser’s bracket to face them a second time. The weary LaGrange team which featured many local Lynn street legends put up a decent fight, but looked worn down from playing consecutive games, and again fell to the deeper more talented squad out of Boston.

After a round of high school championship games, the stage was set for the showdown that had been promised from day one. The game that happened earlier in the day was no longer a concern. Shoe City would face the SLAM All-Stars in the Championship Game of the Open Division.

Unfortunately, the rain never subsided so the game would have to remain indoors at Lynn Tech. But the crowd came to pack the gym. With the bleachers pulled out and lawn chairs lining the court, the block party feel that made this tournament special was present again.

Shoe City in their dark blue jerseys and the SLAM All-Stars in their “Celtic” green took the court once again in the most back and forth game of the tournament. Blalock showed briefly why he was an NBA pick as he started the show again for Boston, getting to the rack and finishing three straight times. Then Al-Kaleem (who is known for his 3-point shooting) got hot, hitting a few NBA range jumpers. Before they knew it, Lynn’s Shoe City had a 10 point first half deficit.

With Lynn down 10, it was Anthony Andersons time. While scoring is his strong point, AA started off the half by hitting 6’3 former Toledo man Corey Bingham for a trio of open 3’s. The diminutive point guard pushed the ball, found open teammates for lay-ups and dunks, and tightened up on defense as Shoe City cut the lead down. With his teammates now well established, AA was free to go one-on-one, and in this tournament, in his hometown, with his people watching, there was no stopping him. Anthony poured in most of his 23 points in the second half, as Shoe City turned the double digit half-time deficit, into a 15 point
win and the pride of Lynn remaining in Lynn.

To the victors go the rewards, and nobody earned more through their play than Anderson. With all the competition out at the tournament, Double A may have just taken over the title of Best Guard in Massachusetts, if he didn’t hold it already.

What does the future hold for AA, now a triple threat MVP (ABA league, ABA All-Star game, Hoganz Classic).

“I actually had a workout with the Pacers two months ago,” states a humble and quiet Anderson. “I’m still young, I’m only 26.”

Dreams of the NBA are still out there for these talented players, but there’s always time for a little summertime fun for bragging rights at home.

**A special mention needs to go out for one player on the runner-ups. Tony Lee, a star at Charlestown High School, the powerhouse Boston Public School, was SLAM’s most consistent player of the two-day event. The six-foot guard, who plays more like a power forward at times, went all out each second he was in the game. He was a lockdown defender, and every time Boston needed a basket, he got to the rim. Not to mention, he had maybe the most impressive dunk of the tournament in the semifinal, when he threw down a two handed alley-oop over two defenders. It’s no wonder that he recently was named an Honorable Mention All-American this past season at Robert Morris University and at only 6’0 is the current “All Time Leading Rebounder” in RMU history.