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Bosco’s Corner: It’s a lot more than just hoops

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Hank Carter’s kindly voice used the phrases “God willing” and “blessed by God” more times than I could scribble down in my notepad when I spoke to him Monday. There seemed to be no ounce of false modesty from the man, who has almost single-handedly turned a once very small charity basketball game into a city tradition.

The 28th installment of the Wheelchair Classic was held this week at St. John’s University, an annual event which features the very best high school boys’ and girls’ basketball players in the five boroughs. The boys’ Classic was slated to culminate Thursday night, featuring three back-to-back games at Alumni Hall, while the girls were to finish up at Elmcor on Friday.

Carter, 59, founded the Classic after his best friend, Al Fogle, was paralyzed by a stray bullet while leaving his house in 1972. Since then Carter’s efforts have helped raise more than 100 motorized wheelchairs for Coler-Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island, something he said he hopes his organization will continue to do for years to come.

“As time goes on, we’re doing more and more with God’s help,” Carter said. “This year we’re going to get everyone in the hospital cable TV. We’re truly blessed by God that we can do things like this.”

The charity games — from which Carter says no one in his organization profits a penny — pit all-star teams from Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens, against one another in a four-team tournament. But this is no ordinary all-star game, far from it.

“Every penny goes to people in wheelchairs,” Carter said. “Nobody gets paid. We started making $5,000 a year. Now we make $1 million a year.”

Over the years the best of the best high school basketball players in New York City have participated in the prestigious event, a veritable who’s who of New York City basketball, including: Bernard King, Rolando Blackman, Chris Mullin, Kenny Smith, Kenny Anderson, Sam Perkins, Malik Sealy, Jayson Williams, Stephon Marbury, Mark Jackson, Erick Barkley, Rod Strickland, Bill Wennington, Felipe Lopez and Anthony Mason, just to name a few.

Just last year the Classic featured the so-called “Holy Trinity” of point guards, Omar Cook, Taliek Brown and Andre Barrett, a final that featured Queens toppling Brooklyn, 94-78. Christ the King’s Cook, who scored 17 points with seven assists, became the first players ever to win back-to-back MVP trophies.

But Carter is quick to point out that though his annual event draws the top players, it is not just about basketball.

“You’re not allowed to play in the game unless you visit the hospital and write an essay on your visit,” said Carter. “It’s not really an all-star game. It’s not just basketball.”

The Queens team visited the hospital last Wednesday, while the last of the student visits to Goldwater occurred Monday with the Bronx.

The Wheelchair Classic also includes a dinner, to be held May 17 at the Hilton on 53rd Street in Manhattan, and a pro game, which takes place over the summer, featuring some of today’s top NBA players, including several alumni, most notably Mark Jackson, the organization’s president.

“He works so hard,” Carter said of Jackson, the Cambria Heights native and current New York Knicks star out of Bishop Loughlin and St. John’s. “Their heads are in the right place. A lot of those guys give so much.”

The Wheelchair Classic lost a valuable member of its family last year with the death of Sealy, a former Tollentine and St. John’s University standout who went on to stardom in the NBA. His death is still tough on Carter.

“We miss Malik so much,” Carter said.

Last year a snafu with the NCAA led to the games being non-sanctioned, thereby keeping college coaches such as Syracuse’ Jim Boeheim, Matt Doherty from Notre Dame and Boston College’s Al Skinner, standing outside of Alumni Hall while the games were being played. This year, Carter said, the NCAA has gone out of its way to ensure the games are sanctioned and that all college coaches are allowed to attend.

This year’s team from Queens is as diverse as it is talented. The roster includes: St. Francis Prep’s Rashad Bell, McClancy’s Kevin Bishop, Tim Doyle of St. Dominc’s (L.I.), Holy Cross’ Chris Fileti, Damien Herard of Francis Lewis, Cardozo’s Daryl Hill, Joe Marino of Holy Cross, Devon Ray of Campus Magnet, Amityville standout and St. John’s-bound Tristan Smith, Mike Thompson of Hillcrest, Holy Cross’ Sean Wallace, DeShawn Warren of Bryant, St. Francis Prep’s Kevin White and Redemption Christian Academy’s Ryan Williams.

The head coach of the team is Holy Cross varsity head coach Paul Gilvary, who will be assisted by Newtown’s Pat Torney and Lloyd Desvigne, an assistant of Gilvary at Cross.

The girls’ roster was still not set as of Monday, but the team is to be coached by Mike Eisenberg, who led the Francis Lewis Patriots to a city final berth this year.

Simply by looking at the basketball side of things these games have always been competitive, with the best players in the city battling for borough bragging rights and college exposure. But these games are about more than just basketball.

And if you ever meet Hank Carter, you’ll believe it.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:04 pm, October 10, 2011
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