Best of the Rest: Mattituck tennis coach was a Georgetown hoops legend

GEORGETOWN COURTSY PHOTO | Jim Christy in his Hoyas playing days.

The basketball courts at Forest Park in Queens were not much different than many other basketball courts in New York City. They had four baskets (with no nets), a concrete playing surface, and a small wading pool was nearby where players could walk in to cool off a bit with water up to their ankles.

The features of the courts weren’t anything special, but it was a special place for longtime North Fork resident Jim Christy.

Forest Park was really where it all began for Christy’s successful basketball career. Located a couple of blocks from the Glendale home where he grew up, Christy spent countless hours there playing the game he loved. He was a Forest Park regular from the time he was 7 or 8 years old right up to the time he headed off to play for Georgetown University.

It was at Forest Park where Christy honed his game. Nothing was organized. It was almost all half-court pickup games of three on three or four on four. Rarely were full-court games played. The half-court games helped players develop the concept of proper spacing and moving without the ball, said Christy.

“You arrived [at the courts] at 8 in the morning and you might not get home until 5 or 6 at night,” he recalled.

The four baskets represented a tier system. “There was really one that you wanted to play on,” Christy said. “There was one basket where all the best players played. … Court No. 1 was where all the hot shots played.”

Forest Park had no referees, but plenty of life lessons for a young player. The incentive to win was strong. Players had to earn their playing time.

“The beauty of it was if you lost, you probably had to sit 45 minutes before you got back on the court,” Christy said. “That made for some very competitive games.”

Of course, Christy played elsewhere as a youth. As a high school student, he got to play against college players sometimes in Rockaway during the summer. He played in open gyms during the winter months and played in Catholic Youth Organization games on Friday nights and Sundays.

“The competition in the CYO was really outstanding,” he said, noting that all five starting players on one of his CYO teams all went on to play NCAA Division I basketball.

But Forest Park was Christy’s home court, his first basketball school, his home away from home.

“It was a great place,” Christy said. “It was so much fun. It was so much passion. … Everything mattered.”

Forest Park launched a playing career for Christy, who became an all-New York City player for St. Pascal Baylon High School in St. Albans, Queens. (He was selected as one of the top 100 high school players to have played in New York City by the New York Daily News about 10 years ago.)

Christy could shoot. He once scored 78 points in a game for St. Pascal. His late father, Tom, would keep track of his son’s shooting percentage by putting a penny in his left sweater pocket for every field-goal attempt that his son made and one in his right sweater pocket for every one he missed.

When it came time to think about where Christy would attend college, he had a discussion with his father about basketball being a means to an end, not an end in itself. As Christy saw it, his college choice was a no-brainer.

“Georgetown academically was the perfect fit,” he said. Plus, it was located in the nation’s capital, a major city, and not far from home.

The college game was much different back then. There was no shot clock, no three-point shot, and freshmen were not permitted to play for varsity teams. But Georgetown’s coach at the time, Tom O’Keefe, gave Christy a vote of confidence when he was a sophomore, telling him that the starting point guard job was his.

Thus began a tremendous college career. Christy played alongside teammates such as James Barry, the brother of former professional player Rick Barry; Paul Tagliabue, the former National Football League commissioner; and retired Gen. James Jones, who was a United States Marine Corps commandant.

By the time Christy graduated, he was the school’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 1,101 points (he has since dropped to 33rd on the list). Over the course of his time at Georgetown, he averaged 15.5 points per game, including 17.4 as a junior and 17.5 as a senior. His free-throw percentage of 81.6 percent ranks him second in school history.

It was during his senior year, Christy said, when the notion of a professional basketball career crossed his mind as pro teams expressed an interest in him. He evidently didn’t consider it for long, though. He responded to letters from the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks, telling them he was not interested.

Nonetheless, the Knicks made Christy their 10th-round draft pick in 1964, after selecting Howard “Butch” Komives and Willis Reed in earlier rounds. But Christy never attended a Knicks camp. He had made plans to marry his wife, Betty, and raise a family after his college graduation. “Those were the areas that were much more important to me,” he said.

It was three years later when the American Basketball Association was formed, creating more opportunities for players. Regardless, Christy said the all-consuming, travelling life of a pro basketball player wasn’t for him.

“You wonder if things would have been different,” Christy said. “I don’t regret it for a moment. You wonder [about] the road not taken. I can’t imagine that it would be any better than the way things have been.”

Christy took a job in the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District in 1969. He never left the school district until his retirement as the director of guidance in 2003.

Christy, 69, who splits time between homes in Mattituck and The Three Villages, Fla., coached numerous sports at Mattituck. He remains the coach of the Tuckers’ girls varsity tennis team.

In 1975, Christy was inducted into the Georgetown Hall of Fame. Another big honor followed in 2007 when he was selected to Georgetown’s all-century team in conjunction with the school’s 100th anniversary, joining the likes of Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jackson, Reggie Williams, Charles Smith and Dikembe Mutombo. Christy and the 24 other all-century honorees were recognized during halftime of a Marquette-Georgetown game at the Verizon Center. The former players were announced one by one. When the spotlight was cast on Christy, he took his place among Georgetown’s best.

The event gave Christy the opportunity to meet players he had become fans of and get to know them as people.

“I was very impressed with who they are,” he said. “It’s really nice to know that you’re a part of that.”

“What it did was it kind of reminded me of what was four terrific years. It brings back some very good memories. I feel as if I am reconnected with the university.”

It all began at Forest Park. Christy said the last time he drove by the park “you could hear the bouncing of the ball. You could hear the kids playing. It wasn’t quite as many kids as I remember, but still a very active community.”

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