Inside St. Al's gym during the Randolph-St. Dominic's varsity game.
JERSEY CITY, NJ - A high school girls JV game was on tap on Saturday afternoon.
No heat in the gym. No problem?
Mother Nature blessed us with a day in the low- to mid-60's. We have Randolph from Morris County (about 30 miles west) facing St. Dominic's Academy of Jersey City. St. Dom's does not have a home court so on this day they are at St. Al's Gym on West Side Avenue near St. Peter's College. My partner is Iris Garcia, one of my favorites to work with.
Iris was an all-state player at nearby Ferris High School in Jersey City during the Nineties. Iris, about 5-6 was an explosive scorer and outstanding all around player, good enough to get a long look from UConn. Her high school coach Bill Millevoi, who later assisted Stephanie DeWolfe at St. Peter's told the story recently.
"Iris was being recruited to the point Chris Dailey, the UConn coach, came to one of our practices," Millevoi recalled. "After that I wrote letters (before the text message craze) and called. I finally got a letter back saying the UCONN staff was very impressed with Iris but found someone who was 6-2 and could do everything she did."
"Right then," Millevoi smiled, "I learned a lot about college recruiting."
Millevoi, today stays active helping his son and Secaucus High School coach, Bill jr. working with the big men. He is very pleased and proud Iris has stayed with and is giving back to the game as an official.
Our game went smooth. Randolph had size and their bigs could put the ball on the floor. St. Dom's played hard but was overmatched. An alum, Caitlin, still in school at St.Peter's College, is the coach of St. Dom's and works hard with the team.
Our officiating assignor Pat Devaney stops by to watch. At the half Pat gives us each a bottle of Gatorade.
"Thanks Pat," I said. "But you were going to get a mention in my column anyway."
Pat tells Iris , "Ray is doing a story on you."
She looks puzzled into I explain the details. Later Iris told me as a high school player she went to camp in East Stroudsburg, PA.
"Rebecca Lobo was my counselor," she said. "My mentor, she taught me so much. But coach Bill (Millevoi) was the best coach in any sport I had."
Last two quarters we are in 'game management' mode. If it is close give it to white (St.Dom's) who is down thirty something. During one of time outs I have the ball on the sideline. The Randoplh varsity coach seated, makes small talk saying, "They said this gym would be small but we walked in saying 'wow'. We have an auxiliary gym at school bigger than this." Not a complaint as Randloph won the earlier varsity contest by about 20, just stating a fact. The 'cozy' facility is on the small side.
Early fourth quarter they forget to start the clock. We make a correction and adjustment. "Doesn't it drive you nuts when kids are on the table," Pat says to me as I inbound the ball. Actually, outside of that and another minor mishap, they did fairly well. The game winds up 50-16 final in favor of Randloph. A pet peeve is how these games finish. On a higher level with thirty seconds to play and a score of this nature, a team would just walk it up the floor while the defense is in a passive mode. Here both teams are going helter skelter, over 100 mph. Ladies, the game is over at that point!
Overall, Iris is having a good game. Working hard as usual and exercising good judgment. As a player who performed at a high level in high school and played at Southern Connecticut, she knows the game. That intuitive knowledge goes a long way in officiating. We are on the same page with a good chemistry that makes the game, given the one-sidedness, more enjoyable.
Post game, we wish the coaches good luck down the road. Tell Iris it was a pleasure working with her and hopefully we will be on the court together soon. She says the first thing on getting home will be to take medication - a bad cold is coming on. Seems the succession of cold gyms you can work on in Hudson County has taken its toll with her. Yours truly, is just on the ending stages of one brought on in a similar fashion.
Speak with Pat a few minutes as we exit for the parking lot. He was set to officiate in Staten Island the next day as i would head to Queens to cover St. John's-Louisville. A great finish to the week followed by a nice start to a busy one ahead.