Ron Naclerio talks a mile a minute. If ever there was a marathon for talking, the head coach of the Cardozo High School basketball team would win in a walk.
On Saturday I had the pleasure of riding with Naclerio from Queens to upper Manhattan to see one of his former players at Cardozo strut his stuff on the hardwood at Riverbank State Park. The player was Rafer Alston and the scene was Alstons own Skip To My Lou Celebrity All-Star Game.
When I think of Naclerio, I immediately think of Alston and vice versa. The two are intertwined in my mind stemming from their three tumultuous years together at Cardozo back in the mid 1990s.
The day belonged to Alston, now a point guard with the Milwaukee Bucks, but it was Naclerios frenetic movement all about the gym and his machine gun-like tidbits of information that are what I will remember most about the first annual Skip To My Lou charity game.
Naclerio uses the word shot more than Billy The Kid, Jesse James and John Dillinger ever had. But his meaning of the word is slightly different than that of those old time outlaws.
Last year when he talked of his team, the defending PSAL city champions, he used the word shot to describe them. Theyre all shot, he would say, meaning, of course, that they simply could not get their acts together on the court.
He never uses the term viciously, never as some sort of condescension, but almost as a term of affection. Instead of saying the team is struggling or some kid doesnt have his head screwed on straight, he will use the word shot.
Sometimes it makes me scratch my head, but, with Naclerio, that happens all the time.
In his early 40s now, Naclerio shows no signs of slowing down. At Riverbank on Saturday afternoon, he was in perpetual motion, bouncing from one basketball player to another, running all over the gym to share some little nugget of information with whoever was in earshot.
I just sat in the corner with my friend Pat watching the days events unfold, cracking a smile whenever Naclerio darted by.
Every now and again the coach would stop on by to let me know what was going on in some far corner of the gym. He wouldnt necessarily stop to have a conversation, it would be more like, You know that Ice T is here, right? or You see Duane Woodward over there? He just had surgery on his shoulder and, perhaps the most priceless moment, I gotta ref the second half.
All these updates were followed by my trying to say something and Naclerio darting off into the distance.
And while I kid Naclerio about his seemingly endless energy, he is also a fountain of knowledge. The most visible white person in the entire building, Naclerio bounced from one group to another endlessly and must have shook hands with close to 500 people.
We arrived early at Riverbank Saturday, at about 4:30 p.m. The game was supposed to start at 5, but as we crossed the Triboro Bridge, Naclerio let slip that it would probably not go off until 6 because thats just how those things work.
You say five, that means six, he said.
OK, I thought, no problem, just more time to take in the atmosphere.
But 6 quickly turned into 7 as my friend and I watched the stands slowly fill up. Security was at a premium at the gym, which meant that every spectator, everyone in the gym not wearing a security or police uniform, had to pass through a lone metal detector. This slowed things up just a tad, but such nuisances are necessary, unfortunately.
The first person I recognized at the gym, other than the few people I knew involved in its organization, was International Boxing Federation junior welterweight champion Zab Judah. The 140-pound titleist from Brooklyn seemed downright tiny up close, surrounded by a small entourage of people.
The next famous face to enter the gym was former Chicago Bull and current Los Angeles Clipper Elton Brand. Brand, a Poughkeepsie native, was pointed out to me by Pat, who also noticed that the light blue sweat suit the former Duke Blue Devil was wearing looked more like North Carolina Tar Heel attire.
And I dont know how it happened, but at one point, as Naclerio bounced from one person to another, he and Brand hooked up about 20 feet from my position. In short order the coach from Queens was giving the multimillionaire NBA star an impromptu lesson on how to post up.
The funny thing about the whole scene, though, was that Brand seemed to be listening in earnest.
Thats the thing about Naclerio, for while he has never made the jump from the high school to the collegiate ranks as a coach, he still gets the respect from the best players in the world, all of whom he seems to know personally.
And he gets that respect because he works hard for underprivileged inner-city kids he helps navigate through the high school system, whether they play for him or not, and make their way to the next level.
So, while he may talk a mile a minute, he knows what hes talking about. If he could honestly give me an unbiased view of himself, I have little doubt the word shot would be included in his description.
But in a good way.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2001 Community News Group
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