Tourney memorializes Kevin Driscoll Jr.
How do you celebrate and give meaning to a promising life that was cut short? The family and friends of Kevin Driscoll Jr. have found ways.
The Manhasset teen was taken from this world by an accidental drug overdose just months before he was to graduate from Manhasset High School in 2020. It was a devastating loss to those who knew the young man and had been touched by his personality. The large crowd at last summer’s unveiling of his memorial bench/plaque in Memorial Field, adjacent to the high school, attested to his popularity.
His parents, Kevin Sr. and Victoria, set up a scholarship at the high school to benefit college-bound scholars.
And in testament to Kevin’s love of sports, Kevin Sr. began a Christmas break tradition—the Kevin Driscoll Memorial Basketball Tournament—at his alma mater, St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset (he graduated in 1982). Players he had coached who had gone on to college asked him to organize it.
Kevin Sr., who coaches school-sponsored CYO teams, credited Anne Voelker, St. Mary’s CYO coordinator, for helping him establish the annual tourney. Its timing coincides with when Kevin Jr.’s friends and former teammates are home from college. He came up with the idea of supplying uniforms to memorialize the contests.
In appreciation, the players put some funds together and bought him basketball sneakers, a gesture which he appreciated and was moved by.
Days before the holiday, more than two dozen of Kevin Sr.’s current and former CYO players, as well as friends of Kevin Jr., came together at the parochial school’s Immaculata Hall to play what the coach called “[two] non-sanctioned CYO games. [The aim is] to have a lot of laughs, a lot of fun. It’s like a feel good evening.”
True to his word, it turned out to be several hours of entertainment and camaraderie, remembrance and yes, even friendly competition.
Players showed off their hoop chops and several highlights were provided by 2021 Manhasset HS grad Ahmad Crowell, a basketball and football standout who played on the gridiron for Hobart College this fall. The member of the 2020 Indians county football champions casually dropped three consecutive three-pointers, converted an alley-oop pass from Carmine Falco and wowed with a couple of thunderous dunks.
Marc Psylos, now on the Cornell lacrosse roster, and former Indian basketball player Connor Dunphy—both 2020 Manhasset HS grads—also stood out.
Kevin Sr. related that one player told him that he could not participate because he lacked sneakers, a rare size 14. The coach drove him to a store and bought the shoes.
At their request, he took Crowell and Steve Cummings to visit Kevin Jr.’s grave at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury before the game.
“It was very emotional,” he said. “I have empathy for these kids. We were crying, and then we had laughter at the game.”
“The tournament is about getting together and having fun and meeting people and laughter—and that’s something healthy,” he added, going on to describe his coaching as more than drills and skills. Aside from his son, he’s known others who have been victims of drug overdoses and other bad lifestyle choices.
“[I want the players] to understand that this peer pressure is out there and I’m teaching the kids to be able to recognize what peer pressure is and how [to make good] decisions for yourself. And that’s what this tournament is about. And that’s how I teach kids basketball,” he added.
To entertain between games, Driscoll had secured the presence of his friend Jack “Blackjack” Ryan, a NYC playground legend affiliated with the Harlem Wizards.
“We used to play years ago at the New York Athletic Club when I was in shape,” he said, noting his friend’s achievements were recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records and there was even a biopic about him. “His whole life has been totally dedicated to basketball. He’s changed his life around—he was suicidal at one time, using drugs and alcohol. And he found God, you know, entertaining people through basketball.”
Unfortunately, Ryan was felled by illness and had to miss the game, so attendees did not get to watch his prowess with the basketball.
A humorous moment came when Richard Montague, a close friend of Kevin Jr.’s who does not play basketball, scored a bucket and in his excitement subsequently slammed the ball. He got hit with a technical foul, leading his teammates to express mock shock consternation at the call.
Before the second game, there was a moment of silence in his son’s memory, and as Driscoll noted, “You could hear a pin drop it was so quiet.”
Peter Petrakis sang the National Anthem. Manhasset sports “superfan” Bobby Anastasia introduced the players and put his inimitable spin on calling the play by play—with occasional color commentary. The referees were Jerry Paolillo and Bob Wotruba.
Opposing coaches were longtime friends of Kevin Sr.’s, Jim Hilker of Garden City and Paul Erickson of Manhasset.
Hilker showed off a photo on his phone of a group of basketball players he once played with. It included former Knick and future coaching legend Phil Jackson. At Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville, he played for future Davidson coach Bob McKillop, a member of the Nassau County Athletic Hall of Fame and Chaminade HS grad. McKillop coached NBA great Steph Curry. Hilker went on to play at St. Michael’s College on a basketball scholarship.
Driscoll noted that he had been friends with Erickson since first grade and had known Anastasia for nearly 50 years.
Other friends showed up to support Driscoll. One was Michael Daly, who graduated St. Mary’s the year after Driscoll. Afterward, he texted his thanks and praised the turnout and how the young men conducted themselves.
Kevin Sr. added, “Ed McEntee of Port Washington helped out with the coaching. Ed was a senior when I was a junior at St. Mary’s, where we played varsity basketball together.”
“It gives the players something to look forward to over Christmas. It gives them a reason to get together and check in with one another and see how everyone’s doing. It gives everyone a reason to reconnect,” Driscoll said of the tournament.
The CYO Connection
Driscoll Sr. coached his son for four years on one of St. Mary’s CYO high school-level squads. After Kevin Jr.’s death, related CYO Coordinator Anne Voelker, the parent told her, “If you need a coach, I’m your man.”
The mentor wound up coaching two high school teams in the 2021-22 CYO season and took another two more for the current one. The season runs roughly parallel to scholastic sports campaigns. St. Mary’s CYO sponsors dozens of boys and girls teams from grades 3 through 12.
“We have 17 high school boys teams, so it’s a lot of boys participating,” Voelker said, adding that school varsity teams are very select, and many more athletes want the opportunity to play. “This is great, something for them to do in the wintertime. They get to play a game a week. They get to practice once a week. They have a great time. It brings them back to St. Mary’s and I’m really hoping that they take these memories with them and connects them to the church.”
Voelker has the task of registering hundreds of participants and arranging gym time and securing practice facilities from the Manhasset district at its two elementary schools.
Regarding the Driscolls she said, “Kevin and his friends got together formed a team. They had a great season. Kevin Sr. really loves basketball, obviously. And he loves being able to connect with the kids and put in a lesson or two about the dangers of what’s out there.”