Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 30
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
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FIRST CLASS: Inductees in the first class of the Princeton Recreation Department’s Summer Men’s Basketball League Hall of Fame enjoy the moment before their induction ceremony last Saturday at the Community Park courts. The Hall of Fame presentation was the centerpiece of the league’s 20th anniversary celebration. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Larry Ivan, Dave Johnson, Keith “the Wizard” Jones, Gil Fisher, and Doug Snyder. In the back row are Harold Driver, Rich Simkus, and Donnell Lumpkin. Also inducted but not present were Al Baptiste, Mike D’Allegro, and Blitz Wooten.

Emotions Match the Sweltering Temperatures as Summer Men’s Hoops Hall of Fame Inducted

Bill Alden

It was sweltering around the Community Park basketball courts last Saturday evening as the temperature hovered in the mid-90s but the heat didn’t keep them away.

As the thuds of bouncing basketballs, shouts of teammates, and the whistles of the refs emanated from the court, the park gradually filled with male and female, young and old, white and black.

They were there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a venerable community institution, the Princeton Recreation Department’s Summer Men’s Basketball League.

By 7:15, hundreds were on hand for the highlight of the celebration — the induction of the first class in the league’s Hall of Fame.

The eight honorees on hand took a seat on folding chairs spread across the court and faced the crowd, smiling as they exchanged greetings and looked out at the people assembled.

Heads nodded, faces broke into smiles, and applause punctuated things as league commissioner Ben Stentz introduced the inductees one by one.

Mixing compliments with barbs, Stentz proceeded to fete Larry Ivan, Gil Fisher, Donnell Lumpkin, Rich Simkus, Harold Driver, Keith Jones, Dave Johnson, and Doug Snyder.

Stentz, who had earlier presented Rec Department Executive Director Jack Roberts and former Rec Department official Sheryl Perez with Outstanding Contributor awards, then offered some thoughts about the inductees not present-Al Baptiste, Mike D’Allegro, and Blitz Wooten.

After the ceremony, players and well-wishers gathered on the court to catch up on old times.

As he towered above the crowd, former Princeton University standout Simkus felt emotions that were as straightforward as one of his inside power moves or blocked shots.

“It’s just a lot of years and a lot of fun,” said a smiling Simkus. “I played against all of these guys; there are a lot of good memories.”

The 6’9 Simkus, a 1983 PU alum, is proud of what the league has grown into since starting with just three teams in 1989.

“In the first years of the league, it wasn’t all that great,” recalled Simkus, who started playing in the league in the early 1990s and played through last summer.

“You look at these guys now and, it’s God, there is a lot of talent out here; it’s certainly gotten better.

The league’s infusion of talent helped Simkus finally decide to hang up his sneakers.

“Last year there were guys on the team that weren’t born when I started playing,” said Simkus, who currently runs an investment business in Lawrenceville. “At that point, you know you are done. My knees are just too bad.”

While his knees may be in pain, the memories of his tenure in the league are pleasurable.

“When you think about that, that’s the perspective,” said Simkus. “Just playing with the guys is the main thing. Some years you win; some years you lose.”

For Lumpkin, a former Rutgers University men’s hoops star, there was pride that his excellence hadn’t been forgotten over the years.

“It’s always humbling when someone recognizes you for your accomplishments and what you brought to the league,” said Lumpkin.

“It is very humbling that someone remembered what you brought to this game that I have been playing since I was four years old.”

Lumpkin, who played in the Princeton summer league from 1995 through 2001, enjoyed the way the game was played at Community Park.

“I would supplement coming here with playing down in the Jersey Shore league with pros and major overseas players but this was always so much more special because of the local feel,” maintained Lumpkin. “The town coming out, everybody was very supportive. It was a good time.”

The fact that the league has become a local institution comes as no surprise to Lumpkin.

“They have done a tremendous job of keeping this thing going for the last 20 years,” said Lumpkin, referring to Stentz and Evan Moorhead.

“I’m not surprised because of the people involved. When you have the commitment, the dedication and the hard work, that always brings good results.”

The best thing that has resulted from that commitment is the deep bond that has formed between the town and the league.

“I love what this league has done for the community,” said Lumpkin.

“You see the fans who are very supportive and from all walks of life. That’s important. We need diversity. I’m all about spreading love, we all bleed the same color.”

Simkus, for his part, smiled as he surveyed the colorful scene in the park. “You look around the park and you see all kinds of people here,” added Simkus.

“Some are into basketball, some are not. You have all ethnicities and the young and the old. It’s a great melting pot.”

And a dose of summer heat wasn’t going to melt away the turnout as the league celebrated 20 years of great basketball.

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