NO Albert C. Donofrio Turnament This Year
The 60th Annual Tournament Is A Wash
But Man I Have Some Great Memories of Tournaments Past
By Jack Coll
This month would have been the 60th Annual Albert C. Donofrio Basketball Classic held at the Conshohocken Fellowship House but as most of us know the popular basketball tournament has been canceled. It’s a cancelation that most of us understand with the coronavirus spreading throughout the world, and I feel for the thousands of basketball faithful who have made their way to Conshohocken for the annual tournament for as long as they can remember.
So for now I’m left with the memories of past tournaments and some of the coaches and players that have made a tournament stop at Fifth Avenue and Harry Street. The tournament was founded by the late Fellowship House Director Albert C. Donofrio and actually held the first tournament in 1960, a three night tournament made up of players from Conshohocken and St. Matthew’s High Schools. Donofrio was quoted a number of times saying he was looking for something for the high school kids to do between the end of high school basketball and the start of the baseball season. By the second year in 1961, well a number of different teams wanted in, and so began the Conshohocken Basketball Classic, the Classic took on Donofrio’s name after he passed away in July of 1976.
In 1961, Emerson Baynard scored 170 points over four games to help lead National Paint to a 106-82 victory over Anthony’s Men’s Shop for the championship. Baynard, a Chester High school product and tournament Most Valuable Player, also netted a game high 49 points in the championship game.
In 1962 one of the greatest Philadelphia street-players visited the Fellowship House and Conshohocken was introduced to Earl “The Pearl” Monroe who played for John Bartram High School. Monroe, later known by his many nicknames including Earl “The Pearl,” “Black Magic” and his Philadelphia playground nickname “Black Jesus” went on to play at Winston Salem College in North Carolina and was later drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in the first round. And that was the start of what would become a major tournament on the Philadelphia/Pennsylvania circuit.
I wrote about and photographed the Donofrio Tournament for many years for the Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper and the year I remember most was 1985. It seemed to me that the Sonny Hill Seniors out of Philadelphia always brought the most talented teams throughout the 1980’s, along with the Roadrunners. The 1985 Sonny Hill team had a trio of Greg “Bo” Kimble out of Dobbins Tech, a team-mate of his at Tech Eric “Hank” Gathers, and Jerome “Pooh” Richardson. (I have a photograph of the threesome somewhere) Hank Gathers was rather shy but he lit up the court, I think about him often especially when I attend the tournament, this March marks thirty years since he collapsed on the court during the semifinals of the 1990 West Coast Conference Tournament while playing for Loyola Marymount and died.
Gathers played several games at the Fellowship House and was destined for the NBA. Bo Kimble was a first round draft pick in 1990 and played for the Los Angeles Clippers the first two years of his eight year career in the NBA. Pooh Richardson was also a first round draft pick in 1990 selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves where he played for two years in his ten year career.
The most anticipated player to play at the Donofrio Tournament of course was Kobe Bryant back in 1995. Everyone in the high school basketball circles knew he would not only play in the NBA but become a superstar. Bryant played for the Sonny Hill Seniors, (no surprise there) and helped them to a Donofrio championship.
There have been many father-son combinations that have played the tournament but Kobe and his father Joe “Jellybean” Bryant are the only father/son Most Valuable tournament players to ever achieve MVP status, Joe, who went on to play professional basketball for many years was tournament MVP in 1971 and 1972, and of course Kobe won the award in 1995 as a junior but didn’t play has senior year in 1996.
A few of the players I’ve enjoyed watching over the years included Lionel Simmons, A. J. English, a kid by the name of Clayton “Stinky” Adams who played for Roman Catholic, Jack Hurd, Jonathan Haynes, Aaron McKie, Gary Duda, Chris Kauffman, Larry Mayo out of Upper Merion along with Brad Scioli, who went on to play professional football, Donnie Carr out of Roman Catholic, Al Harrington, Chris King, Wayne Marshall, Gerald Henderson, Keon Lawrence, Dalton Pepper, Kyrie Irving, Khalif Wyatt, Donyell Marshall, Chuck Moore, John Salmons, Jameer Nelson, Marvin Harrison, Steve Bono, Rasheed Wallace and so many more.
During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s it wasn’t uncommon for Division I and Division II College Coaches huddled in all four corners of the gym. On any given night you might see John Cheney from Temple, actually John attended many games at the Fel as did Rollie Massimino, and Speedy Morris. Other coaches found in the gym scouting out a player or two included guys like P, J. Carlesimo, Rick Pitino, Dean Smith, John Calipari and Jim Boeheim just to name a few.
A few of the players who participated in the tournament at the Fel before I got there included Gene Banks, Mike Bantom, Larry Cannon, Fred Carter, Tony Costner, Matt Guokas Jr., Andre McCarter, Earl Monroe and John Pergine. Its been documented that more than 200 basketball players who have participated in the Donofrio Tournament over the years have gone on to play professional sports.
Many of our residents who have never attended the tournament are likely to think it’s no big deal that the tournament has been cancelled but it is a big deal. The Fellowship House to this day relies on the tournament income for a large part of their annual budget. In recent years our little league baseball and football organizations along with St. Mark’s Boy Scout Troop have benefited from the concession stand sales.
Well here’s to what would have been the 60th anniversary of the Albert C. Donofrio Basketball Classic Tournament, perhaps the tournament will return next year bigger and stronger than ever, with a lot more memories to be made.
Thanks for the memories
See Ya next year!