DVD Review: The Street Stops Here

Looking at Bob Hurley’s coaching resume – more than 900 wins, 23 state championships, three USA Today National and induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame this summer – it’s clear he is worthy of being the focus of a basketball documentary.

But those stats only give a glimpse into what makes Hurley special.

He is one of most respected coaches in the history of high school basketball, yet he’s passed on opportunities to coach in the NCAA or NBA. Why? Because he knows his place is in Jersey City helping kids in that neighborhood escape to play college basketball.

The stats on his players who have gone on to attend college are nothing short of staggering: Hurley has sent all but two of the hundred’s of players he has coached to college during the 35 years he has coached at St. Anthony’s. Of that total, more than 150 players have received college scholarships.

Sure, the coaching resume above grabs your attention and is a big reason why he is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, but the fact only two of his players have failed to attend college is the most impressive stat in my mind.

Needless to say when I found out I wouldn’t be able to The Street Stops Here on PBS due to limitations set out by the CRTC I was steamed.

However, thanks to the fine folks over at TeamWorks Media, I was sent a DVD of the press screener last week.

The movie stats with a bang as the director shows Hurley kicking players out of the gym, telling local kids they can’t enter until his practice is over and then he lets loose with an explicit filled rant to his players.

The documentary provides a riveting portrait of one o the most successful basketball coaches at any level, Hurley Sr., and his career-long struggle to inspire and motivate his young players. All this while trying to fundraise enough money to keep the doors of his high school open after government funding has all but dried up.

The backdrop of the movie is captivating yet agonizing as it weaves together stories of his players fighting to get out of underprivileged neighborhoods, failed attempts at fundraising amidst the collapse of Wall Street and Hurley’s relentless attempts to mold these boys into men.

One of the best parts of watching this movie is the knowledge cameras have never captured the St. Anthony’s story from the inside to this magnitude. The camera crew filming this documentary were granted unlimited access and unfiltered access to Hurley’s St. Anthony basketball program and had cameras at every step of their journey toward their third USA Today National Championship.

From September 2007 through April 2008, the film crews captured more than 400 hours of high definition footage of the lives of Hurley and his players both on and off the court, showing Hurley’s influence in transforming his young players’ lives.

Every rant from Hurley was filmed. Each time a player messed up and risked their standing with their team was filmed. In no way is this a fluff piece where Hurley and his players get by with only pats on the back – all the highs and the lows of their season were documented in this riveting documentary.

Hurley is known as an uncompromising teacher who demands perfection from kids who’ve known little discipline growing up on the streets of Jersey City. His methodical, yet volatile style works miracles and makes for some riveting storylines and footage.

Without giving away too much of the documentary, his hard work pays off as members of the 2007-08 team featured in The Street Stops Here that are currently playing in the NCAA include Mike Rosario (Rutgers), Tyshawn Tayler (Kansas), Travon Woodall (Pittsburgh), Jio Fontan (USC) and Dominic Cheek (Villanova).

Re-read that list of players. How many high school programs across the country can lay claim to having that many players involved with so many high-level programs?

Throw in the fact that Hurley places just as high an emphasis on players graduating and maturing off the court and it’s a testament to the kind of coach and teacher he is.

DVDs are available at www.TheStreetStopsHereMovie.com or also on iTunes. 10% of proceeds will be donated to St. Anthony High School.

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DVD Review: Black Magic

When I was sent a pre-release copy of ESPN’s documentary Black Magic, I was stoked to get the opportunity to finally watch this documentary. Living in Canada, I don’t have the chance to watch ESPN, yet all summer long I kept hearing great reviews about this documentary which only served to increase my curiosity.

When I cracked open the DVD and noticed it was 224 minutes long I began to question what I got myself into. Who wants to sit on the couch for nearly four hours watching a documentary? I hadn’t even pressed play and I could already feel my butt becoming numb at the mere thought of sitting on the couch for that long.

Despite some initial hesitation, four hours later I was still trying to absorb what I just watched and wishing the documentary had been longer.

Yes, you read that right: After sitting for nearly four hours watching a documentary I was hoping there was more to watch and learn.

The documentary started with an incredible look at the secret game that John C. McClendon organized back in 1944. The illegal game between Duke University and North Carolina College was the first time a team of black players played a team of white players and is viewed by many as a huge step forward for the game of basketball and integration. The documentary continued to focus on McClendon and showed how his motion offense changed the way the game of basketball was played and the role he had in ending segregation in NCAA basketball.

We live in an era where players, coaches and anyone associated with a professional sports team are warned not to cause ripples. What amazed me while watching this documentary was the fact McLendon risked his career, reputation and possibly even his life by trying to bring about positive social change while attempting to improve the way the game of basketball was played. It wasn’t for his own personal glory, it was because he saw the benefit of this game to his players and to African Americans all across America.

While many basketball fans look to Mike D’Antoni with awe and admiration for how he’s changed the NBA over the past decade, the simple truth is what D’Antoni’s numerous accomplishments pale in comparison to what McLendon accomplished. McLendon was mentored by Dr. J. Naismith on how the game should be played from baseline-to-baseline and with that knowledge he created revolutionary offensive sets which would see lots of transition baskets and shots within the first eight seconds.

Another part of the documentary that caught my attention was the rare candidness that Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland showed when talking about the mistakes he’d made in life. Far too often professional athletes hide behind cliches when “apologizing” for their mistakes. Kirkland broke free from this and was refreshingly honest and candid in talking about the mistakes that resulted in him spending time in Northeastern Penitentiary. The part with him talking about Kirkland ripping up the Anthracite Basketball League and scoring 100 points in a game while in NE Penitentiary is some truly remarkable material.

Just when my attention was starting to wane, another gem came out about the start of John Chaney’s coaching career. While most basketball fans know Chaney as the coach at Temple, his coaching career began at Cheyney State College where in 1978 where he brought his team to the Division II Finals. Chaney has long been a favourite coach of mine so the chance to listen to him tell stories of his time as a head coach had me completely mesmerized.

I consider myself as a fan of the history of the game, but after watching this documentary I realized just how much I have to learn about the game. Between all the anecdotes from Willis Reed, John Chaney, Bob Love, Al Attles, Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland, Bob Dandridge, Sonny Hill, Harold Hunter, Cleo Hill, Ernie Brown, and the widows of Clarence “Big House” Gaines and John McLendon, I’ve learned that I still have a ton to learn about the history of basketball and the NBA.

Throw narration by Samuel L. Jackson and music by Wynton Marsalis and Black Magic is able to provide the perfect combination of entertainment and information.

I don’t care how big of a basketball historian you consider yourself, I feel confident that there are parts of this documentary that will teach you something. For a rabid basketball fan like myself, watching this documentary was like sitting in a lecture hall for four hours while soaking up over 100 years of the history of the game.

If you’re looking for a way to get your basketball fix this month and learn something new, I’d like to recommend picking up ESPN’s riveting documentary Black Magic.

DVD Review: 4 Chosen

Imagine being a high school kid traveling to an out of state tournament. Think about the excitement your feeling about heading away from your parents for a couple days. The nerves over playing with different players and the pressure to impress coaches. The pure bliss of a road trip with your buddies.

Now, imagine how you’d feel if you were pulled over by state cruisers and they opened fire.

Not just once.

Not twice.

The police pulled a Rambo and emptied 12 rounds into your car.

This is the tragic story of Danny Reyes, Jermaine Grant, Rayshawn Brown and Keshon Moore.

This summer when I received an email from the director 4 Chosen telling me about his new hoops documentary I had no clue about the story involving these four boys because I rarely watch the news. Because I’m always wanting to learn more about the untold stories of basketball players I jumped at the opportunity to review this documentary.

This is one story I almost wish I hadn’t heard because of it’s unsettling nature.

As the DVD unfolded I found out the boys were on their way to a basketball clinic in North Carolina when a New Jersey State Police cruiser pulled up next to their car. The cops looked into the van and after noticing the colour of these kids skin they immediately pulled their car over. When the media inquired why the teens car was pulled over troopers James Kenna and John Hogan claimed they “clocked” the van going 74 miles an hour.

The problem with this story is these troopers didn’t have radar equipment in their car.

Things then escalated when Trooper Hogan came up on the driver’s side and put his gun to the window and a spooked Moore accidentally knocked the gear into reverse and the van started to move.

This ignited the cops on shooting rampage that lit up the sky like a firecracker on the fourth of July.

Trooper Kenna smashed the front passenger window with his baton and then shot Reyes who tried to put the van into park.

The troopers then proceed troopers to pull a Rambo and fired 12 rounds – pausing only to reload their weapons.

Reyes was hit six times, Grant four and Brown twice.

The cops were the only ones armed as a police search found no guns or drugs in the van.

This haunting story is the basis of the documentary which looks at how these young boys fought through their rehab, rallied around the support of Johnny Cochran and Al Sharpton and eventually were given $12.9 million by the state of New Jersey for being the victims of racial profiling and police abuse.

While watching this DVD I felt a flood of emotions as I went from feeling angry at how these kids were treated, encouraged as I saw countless people rally behind these teens, outrage at what the police were allowed to do and finally relief as these boys were eventually taken care of. Despite the positive ending to this documentary I debated for awhile if I could recommend this flick because it really shook me up and left me disturbed at some of the events that unfolded. After taking a couple of days to reflect upon this I realized that because this movie got to me that I needed to pass on the word about this flick. Isn’t that the point of art, to move and inspire you? This documentary definitely accomplished that goal as it stirred up countless emotions in me while I watched it.

Next time your trying to decide what movie to rent at Blockbuster I recommend you rent 4 Chosen.

Click here for the official website for the 4 Chosen Documentary.

DVD Review: “With This Rock”

By Ryan McNeill

This weekend I was fortunate enough to watch the basketball documentary “With This Rock.” This DVD is an independent release and doesn’t have the same flash or production as ESPN’s “Through the Fire” or the ‘90′s classic “Hoop Dreams” but it does an excellent job capturing the politics and corruption involved with basketball in Flint, Michigan. The DVD begins with a scene from the Michigan State National Championship ceremony in Lansing but the documentary quickly changes gears to show that things weren’t all positive in Flint in 2000. Between clips showing physical abuse by the police, shady business deals by crooked politicians to profiles of players who failed to make their mark once they left Flint, director Emmanuel White does a great job of shedding light on the fact that basketball has broken numerous hearts in Flint.

Through watching documentaries like “With This Rock” or “Flint Star” this summer I have come to the conclusion that Flint basketball players are so successful because they dedicate their lives to basketball in an attempt to escape their poverty. Because they have so much to gain through success at basketball and so much more to lose by not escaping Flint they are willing to spend countless hours honing their craft in an attempt to get a scholarship or to obtain riches through playing in the NBA.

A local high school coach, Greg Burks, backs-ups this belief when he tells White that “I’ve been to New York. I’ve been to Kentucky. I’ve been all over the country. I’ve seen and been around the best and I haven’t seen anything compared to Flint basketball players. They have a certain amount of toughness, a certain amount of drive that kids usually don’t have.”

It’s this mental toughness and desire to escape Flint that is something that either catapults Flint players to greatness or devours them. “With This Rock” does a great job of documenting how this drive effected the lives of Terry Furlow, Charlie Bell, Justus Thigpen Sr, Leon White, Roy Marble, Bill Harris and Eric Turner. This drive to escape Flint helped most of these local legends achieve greatness but it also resulted in Furlow’s life ending prematurely due to drug use.

While most of this documentary is dark and depressing there are parts of the documentary that show some of the redeeming qualities of Flint. One highlight for me was the way that Charlie Bell’s parents instilled the value of an education in their son. As children basketball prodigies are often coddled by the public and their parents. The problem with this coddling is when they don’t make the NBA because they are quickly dismissed by fans and “leeches” that had attached to them for the next big thing. This leaves these young men without an education and any way to sustain the flashy lifestyles they become accustomed to living. White was able to sit down with the parents of Charlie Bell for this documentary and it was clear that they had prepared their son for the fact that he might not be able to make a living as a pro basketball player. One of the things they stressed to Charlie since a young age was the need for an education so that he could support himself once his days playing basketball were over.

Another highlight was the profile on the playing career of Flint legend Eric Turner. While watching “Flint Star” earlier this summer Turner was a player that was mentioned but Marcus Davenport wasn’t able to dedicate a lot of time in his documentary to Turner. White was able to collect a lot of video from his playing days and he did a great job of interviewing a wide variety of coaches and former players about Turner.

While this DVD isn’t as polished and slick as Marcus Davenport’s “Flint Star” and tends to be depressing at times, it’s still worth checking out because it will give you some more valuable insight into what life is like within the Flint basketball community.

Look for an interview with director Emmanuel White on the Hoops Addict Podcast later this week.

Flint Star: Economic Hardships of Flint

This week I’ve mentioned the economic hardships of growing up in Flint, but I’ve received some emails reminding me that I’ve failed to provide you with stats to back this up. According to a 2000 census, 124,943 people live in Flint, it has an unemployment rate of 12.9% and 18,832,000 residents don’t have a diploma or GED.

Coach Swain from Delta College told Davenport that, “we don’t have no $30,000 jobs no more here now. It’s just keeping it real now in the hood. All we now is the court. That’s where we’re working at now.”

Early into the documentary Flint hoops prodigy Mateen Cleaves summed up the plight of his community when he told Marcus Davenport that “coming from Flint you got guys that are hungry. You see friends here one day, the next they calling you to say their dead. You grow up and you see the drugs being sold. A Mercedes Benz? I never saw one as a kid unless I was out in the suburbs and I saw someone driving one down the street. I always dreamed about getting out of the neighborhood. I knew I wasn’t no rocket scientist. I wasn’t the smartest kid. I was decent in school but I knew I had to obtain a certain grade point average to play basketball, and that’s why I went to school – to play basketball. That’s why I went to school, to be honest, to play basketball. I knew basketball was my way out. I knew basketball was going to put food on the table for me and my family. Like I’ve said, I’ve seen drugs being sold, guns, violence and all that kind of stuff and I’m like man, this ain’t the lifestyle for me. This isn’t how I want to live the rest of my life.”

Flint Resident, and Clark Atlanta University student told Davenport that, “out here in Flint there’s already a high crime rate, without basketball it would be nothing but a ghost town. So many cats thrive off basketball, so many cats live off basketball down here. Basketball down here is a way of life, it’s a way to get out. A lot of cats struggle but they know that if they hoop and can get to college and get that degree than they can go anywhere in life.”

A coach at Genesee County Job Corps Basketball told Davenport that, “the reality is this right here, a lot of our males today come from single parent homes. The mother was working one job, now she’s working two jobs so now you have young males raising themselves. So in the process of raising themselves, if they don’t have a good foundation of positive peers around them, good positive community around them, what are you going to get? Nine times out of ten you are going to get something society that don’t want to see on a daily basis.”

Watching Marcus Davenport’s hoops documentary Flint Star reminded me of how fortunate I am to have grown up in a suburb in Ontario because I’ve never had to worry about money and I have been blessed to live a fortunate life.