Basketball – Shore Summer Tradition: JSBL Set for 50th Season
The Jersey Shore Basketball League has produced some memorable moments at over the last five decades and Greg Kapalko has been there for entire ride. He remembers the early days of the league on the outdoor court at Jerry Lynch’s – an Ocean Ave. hotel in Belmar, where the night-time fog would often roll off the ocean on onto the court while hotel guests watched from the windows of their air-condition-less rooms.
Then there was the Headliner, still a popular spot just over the Route 35 Bridge in Neptune, although no longer for basketball like it was in the late-70’s and 80’s. Kapalko recalls the court – typically suited for around 1,200 spectators – packing in well beyond 2,000 when Scott Skiles showed up after being drafted by the Orlando Magic out of Michigan State.
“It was insane,” Kapalko recalled. “People parked their cars near the court and were standing on their cars to watch the game. Skiles was unbelievable – I think he put up 55 (points).”
The league became NCAA-sanctioned upon its move to Birch Hill Swim Club in Old Bridge in 1989 but the stay was short-lived after a rainy summer nearly wiped out the season. That prompted a move to St. Rose High School, where the league has made its home for the past 27 seasons, save for a three-year stint at Wall High School.
Whether it was on the court – with New York Knicks forward Anthony Mason making trips south to the Jersey Shore and blocks-long-lines forming to get a looks at Duke star Bobby Hurley – or off of it when Stephen Curry came to watch his Davidson College teammate Steve Rossiter from the bleachers while fielding autograph requests and propositions to suit up and play, St. Rose has seen its share of memorable moments as well.
For the first 49 official seasons, the JSBL has lived by the mantra: “You never know who will show up at the Jersey Shore.”
The JSBL’s 50th season is set to tip off Wednesday night with a double-header at St. Rose’s McCann Activities and Athletic Center – named for longtime St. Rose coach and the first ever JSBL commissioner, Pat McCann. As much as the unknown ringer is the wild card at St. Rose, Kapalko and the coaches of the league’s six teams are excited about the players who will make up the league’s regulars.
This year’s pool of teams includes mainstays like Larson Ford, RKE Athletic, Sea View Jeep and Stern’s Trailer, as well as the newer team sponsors Orthopaedic Institute and Island Title.
In his five decades following and participating in the league, Kapalko has gone from fan to coach to general manager and is now the chairman of the league’s board of governors, working alongside Ron Kornegay – the fifth commissioner in JSBL history.
“Ron is the perfect commissioner to work with because he loves it,” said Kapalko of Kornegay, a former Monmouth University and JSBL standout in the early days of the league. “He is in the gym every night.”
In Year 50, Kapalko and Kornegay are doing some fine-tuning in an attempt to make the league more appealing. The double-headers will now start 15 minutes earlier than in past years, with the first game scheduled for 7 p.m.
In addition to the earlier start times, there will be a new overtime structure as well. Instead of a timed overtime period that could result in subsequent overtime periods, the winner will be the first team to score seven points in the extra, untimed period.
“Last year, we had a four-overtime game during the first week of the summer and it really threw off the who night and the whole week,” Kapalko said. “We may go back to the regular rules for the playoffs, but we don’t want the possibility of regular-season games starting at 10 o’clock with the other teams waiting around for an hour.”
Kapalko said the rule change was based on a rule in The Basketball Tournament – a national tournament in which the winning team is awarded $2 million. In TBT, instead of playing the final four minutes, the two teams play to a point total that is eight points higher than the team that is winning at the time the game reaches the four-minute mark.
“It should add some excitement to overtime,” Kapalko said. “It takes away the need to stop the game with fouls and timeouts, plus the game is guaranteed to end on a basket.”
The 2019 season of the JSBL is sure to blend the new with the nostalgic, as the league reflects on its half-century at the Shore. Over the years, some of the league’s best include Bob Verga, Kelly Tripucka, Pearl Washington, Clint Wheeler, John Crotty, Bobby Hurley, Rod Strickland, Donyell Marshall, Lloyd Daniels, Adonal Foyle, Troy Murphy, Jason Thompson and Justin Robinson – the latter of whom returns to the Sea View Jeep squad as one of the league’s top current stars and a local favorite after a standout career at Monmouth University.
The JSBL has also been home to top officials over the years, with at least six officials, Kapalko estimates, going on to officiate an NBA Finals game: Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney, Jackie Niese, Kane Fitzgerald, Tom Washington and Tony Brothers. Three JSBL alumni also currently work as NBA radio color analysts: Crotty (Miami Heat), Brevin Knight (Memphis Grizzlies) and Alaa Abdelnaby (Philadelphia 76ers).
The NBA Summer Leagues have drained the potential talent pool of the JSBL in recent years but the league still has its buzz-worthy moments, whether it was Curry showing up in 2008 or recently-graduated Ranney stars Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine taking the court with Team Rio for a one-time game last summer.
“We would like to get some of the old-timers in the building over the course of the summer and maybe work out another guest appearance like we did with Rio last year,” Kapalko said. “Scottie Lewis played the one night last year and he’s a possibility for later in the summer when he’s in town so we’ll see how it works out. You never know.”
Kapalko has seen them all since 1970 and with this being the landmark 50-year anniversary, he suspects the league live up to its age-old reputation over the next six weeks: you never know who might show up.