Editor’s note: Tanner Castora is a redshirt sophomore men’s basketball player and a journalism major. He provides insight and commentary as a student-athlete.
If you weren’t sure what senior forward Jimmy Hall has meant to the Kent State men’s basketball program the past four years, senior night may have given you some type of indication. As he held up his framed jersey before the crowd of the sold-out M.A.C. Center, you would be hard-pressed to find a single person not on their feet while applauding.
It was nearly all for naught.
Nearly four-and-a-half years ago, Hall had his own jumpsuit, but not one you wear during pre-game warm-ups. It had his own personal number written on it, but it wasn’t his trademark 35. And it wasn’t blue and gold, but rather orange; he was a jail inmate. Hall’s once-promising college basketball career was in serious jeopardy.
The New York metropolitan area, to most, will bring thoughts of a city that never sleeps: the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Wall Street and more pizza eateries than one can count. But there’s something else New York is surely known for — basketball. Jimmy Maurice Hall Jr. was raised 20 minutes outside of New York City in the apartments on East 51st and Winthrop in Brooklyn, New York.
Hall’s mother, Noreen Stallings, valued education. She wanted her boy in a safe but also diverse environment and felt private school would best suit her wishes; she chose the Little Red School House in New York.
“It was a very diverse community where he could mix and mingle with kids from all different kinds of backgrounds,” Stallings said. “He really found his place at the Little Red School House.”
Throughout elementary school, he ran cross-country, swam on the swim team and played goalie for the school’s soccer team. But basketball seemed to be most fitting to Jimmy’s attributes; he had an attribute that you couldn’t teach: size.
Stallings began shopping in the men’s department for her son when he was just eight years old. It was apparent early that Hall was not going to be your average-statured man. As his elementary years progressed, so did his game.
Hall knew if approached with the passion and commitment necessary, hoops could be his ticket to college. His mother felt the same. The Little Red School House offered a K-12 education, but Hall’s mother felt he needed bigger opportunities to develop and showcase his emerging talent.
Jimmy’s uncle, Anthony Stallings, was a high school basketball coach in Mississippi.
“One day I got a call from my older brother telling me (Hall)’s academics were sound,” Stallings said. “He told me, ‘If you want him to play basketball and to do well in it, you need to get him to Coach Bob Hurley Sr.’”
Hurley worked in the rugged streets of Jersey City as a probation officer for 35 years before retiring in 2008. He is also the head basketball coach at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, and has been since 1972.
Known for his bone-chilling intensity, ultra-high standards and jagged tough love, Hurley has coached well over 150 players that have gone on to play Division I basketball on full scholarship. Five players have gone on to be NBA first-round picks. They have won 26 state championships and 4 national championships, and no other high school in the United States can claim more basketball state titles to their name. A senior class at St. Anthony has never gone four years without winning at least one state title. In 2010, Hurley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
If you were imagining St. Anthony to be a school of glitz and glamour, you would be painting the wrong picture. In 2010, Kevin Shaw produced a documentary called “The Street Stops Here.” The documentary is centered around Hurley and his kids in the basketball program at St. Anthony while also chronicling the struggles the school faces.
The building was built in the early 1900s and is in dire need of renovations. Some classes are held in trailers outside of the building. They have their own small, make-shift weight room in the basement of the school and the team must rent out gym time at the local recreation center to practice because they do not have their own gym. The school is also in a desperate financial situation and has been now for quite some time. Every season could be the school’s last. It will reportedly take a “miracle” to keep doors open in 2017. Despite the many disadvantages faced every day at St. Anthony High School, it hasn’t stopped Hurley from building a dynasty.
As a freshman, Hall enrolled at St. Anthony High School. Every day, Hall would make the hour trip to school from his hometown of Brooklyn, to Jersey City via bus and two separate trains. When class and practice finished, he made the hour-long trip back home.
During his first year, Hall competed with the freshman basketball team. The following year, Hall split time between junior varsity and varsity. Finally, as a junior, he played every game on the varsity team.
“He demands a lot,” Hall said. “He doesn’t accept any kind of excuses at all; He’ll send you home real quick.”
The 2010-11 St. Anthony Friars basketball team was riddled with talent. Eight kids in total from that year’s roster played Division I basketball after high school. Kyle Anderson was the most notable name, as he later starred at UCLA and is now a member of the San Antonio Spurs. Hall showed up late to practice one day. Instead of making Hall run or sending him home, Hurley handled the situation the way only he could: He forced Hall to sit in the corner of the gymnasium, facing the wall, while the rest of his teammates had to run sprints for his actions.
Nevertheless, Hall became a prominent role player on the team. He grew to 6’7” with lanky arms built for snatching rebounds and altering opposing players’ shots. The Friars won the state and national championship that year, boasting a perfect 33-0 record.
Plenty of Division I programs noticed Hall’s size and skill set. As his junior year came to an end, Hall had his options set.
Before the start of his senior campaign at St. Anthony High School, Hall trimmed his offer list down to five schools: Penn State University, Temple University, George Washington University, Siena College and Hofstra University. Hall chose where he felt most comfortable.
“Jimmy came into the kitchen and said, ‘Hofstra University has done something that the other schools haven’t done. They made me feel like I’m part of their family,’” Stallings said.
Early during his senior year of high school, Hall elected to stay close to home at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York. He and the St. Anthony Friars figured to have another spectacular season on the hardwood chasing back-to-back state titles.
The Friars defended their state championship and completed another unblemished season, but Hall wasn’t there for the entire journey: Two-thirds of the way through the season, Hall and some friends were caught shoplifting at a local supermarket. Hurley removed Hall from the team, though Hofstra still welcomed him with open arms.
Hall’s career at Hofstra began about as well as anyone could have hoped. As a true freshman, Hall was named a starter. Hofstra won three of their first four games, including a 103-100 win over Marshall where Hall tallied 16 points and 14 rebounds. Through the first seven games of the young season, Hall was the team’s leading scorer averaging 12.7 points per game and the team’s leading rebounder at 9.4 rebounds per game.
As abruptly as Hall flashed onto the scene, he vanished even quicker.
Hall never played another game for the Pride. On November 30,Hall and three other teammates were arrested on burglary charges. Per the New York Post, the trio of freshmen and one sophomore players systematically stole more than an estimated $20,000 worth of Apple electronics products from six dorm rooms. Hall spent three days in county jail before being released.
“Eating that food, wearing that orange jumpsuit, sitting in that cell… it created a whole image of what I didn’t want my life to be,” said Hall, who was later sentenced to three years probation and 100 hours of community service.
“It put fear in my heart. That was the lowest point of my life.”
A few months prior, Hall left his home in Brooklyn for Hofstra with friends and family proud to see him go, wondering what big things lied ahead. He was now back in Brooklyn, and he had let them down. He wasn’t supposed to be home sleeping in his own bed — he was supposed to be away at college.
Hall could have sulked, could have dwelled on the past, could have gave up on his dream, but he didn’t.
“I knew I had to try and get into a school,” Hall said. “I had to start the process somewhere.”
That somewhere was ASA College, a junior college in Brooklyn, New York. He enrolled there in February 2013. Although the ASA Avengers were amid their own basketball season, the coaching staff liked Hall and let him around the team. Though Hall could not participate in actual live games, he would work out and practice with the team daily. Hall’s proactive behavior would soon pay off — a second chance was coming his way.
Kent State was looking for a post player who could transfer in during the 2013-14 season, sit out, and be eligible to play the following season. While scanning the transfer list, coach Rob Senderoff and assistant coach Bobby Steinburg came across Jimmy Hall’s name. Senderoff, a New York native, knew of Hall during his high school days. There was a connection: He knew Hall’s former AAU program director Kimani Young. He told Steinburg to check in on Hall. After a few phone calls, coaches discovered Hall was enrolled at ASA College. Next, Steinburg contacted Hall himself.
“I got a message on Facebook from Bobby Steinburg,” Hall said. Steinburg told him they knew what had happened at Hofstra and asked if he would be interested in a second chance. In the coming weeks, Hall took an official visit to Kent State.
“Jimmy didn’t want to be at junior college and his mom wanted him out of New York”, Steinburg said. “The best option was for him to come here and sit out for the following season.”
Hall bypassed playing a full season in junior college and enrolled at Kent State in the summer of 2013.
Because Hall played Division I basketball the year prior at Hofstra, he was ineligible to compete for the Flashes during the 2013-2014 season. He redshirted to ensure himself three years of playing eligibility. The following season, after nearly two years, Hall was back in uniform.
He hadn’t lost a step.
Hall would lead the team in points per game and rebounds per game on his way to earning First Team All-MAC. As a junior, Hall again led the team in both statistical categories and, for the second straight year, he was named a First Team All-Conference performer in the MAC. The kid from Brooklyn came a long way, but his senior season was now upon him.
Hall’s past two seasons at Kent State were impressive, but his senior year would top both. Regardless of who the Flashes played, the number one objective of the opposition was to stop Hall. Throughout his final collegiate season, he saw double-team defense, and in some cases triple teams, but it didn’t impede success. In fact, he only got better. For the first time in his career, Hall averaged a double-double with 18.7 points per game along with 10.6 rebounds per game, not to mention 2.6 assists per game. All three categories were team-highs and all three were career-bests. For the third straight season, Hall was named first team All-MAC. But there was just one thing missing from his legacy: a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
A sixth-seed in the MAC Tournament meant a first-round home match-up against the 11-seeded Chippewas of Central Michigan. During his final game in the M.A.C. Center, Hall gave maybe his best effort yet, posting a career-high 33 points to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists without a single turnover in a 116-106 overtime thrilling victory. A trip to Cleveland was next.
Hall and the Flashes defeated the third-seed Buffalo Bulls in the quarterfinals before knocking off the second-seeded Ohio Bobcats in the semifinals by a combined five points. A date in the conference tournament championship was set. Kent State met their hated rival, the top-seeded Akron Zips. The Flashes prevailed 70-65, finishing off the magical run that would send them dancing for the first time since 2008. During the MAC Tournament, Hall averaged 24.5 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game, cementing himself as one of the greatest to ever play at Kent State.
This Friday, Hall and the Flashes travel to Sacramento to take on UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Whether Hall’s number 35 is retired at Kent State is up for debate, but there is one thing that is for certain: None of it would have been possible without a second chance.
Tanner Castora is a contributor for The Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]