Local hoops hero Gerry McNamara stood in a crowd at Coatsville High School in Pennsylvania surrounded by fans who had caught wind of his legend.
In every direction he looked, pens and papers clamored for attention. Everyone wanted his autograph.
Overwhelmed, McNamara paused to reflect on what this meant. He had stepped into a realm generally reserved for superstar athletes.
And while McNamara isn’t quite there yet, averaging 24 points his senior season certainly warrants notice.
“We were down in Lehigh Valley for a tournament,” McNamara recalled. “I was playing against John Allen, who now plays with Seton Hall, and before the game we were signing autographs for kids. There isn’t a greater feeling than it.”
Maybe not. But, when the 6-foot-1, 170-pound high school senior plays for Syracuse next year, it will be a close second.
McNamara, a point guard, is one of three recruits for coach Jim Boeheim’s class, which CNN/SI ranked No. 8 in the country in November. McNamara is already used to performing under pressure. His devoted following in both his high school (Bishop Hannan) and his hometown (Scranton, Pa.) led one fan to create www.GerryMcNamara.com, a website that describes McNamara as a “hometown hero making himself a national name.”
“He’s got an obligation to the community, and he’s a mature kid,” Bishop Hannan head coach John Bucci said. “He and his family have handled the publicity well. I think after four years, he’s earned the recognition he’s received after working hard.”
Most of Bishop Hannan’s home games this season have sold out. McNamara hasn’t disappointed those who have see him play -except for maybe his opponents.
“He always played well against us but never played too long because his team usually killed us,” said Jim Belcher, point guard of crosstown rival Mountain View High School. “He is an excellent passer and has great court vision. Most of the time he tossed up a shot the first chance he got, and like any great shooter, when he was hot everything went in.”
Camp Hill Trinity would agree with Belcher. In the Pennsylvania Class-A semifinal game between Trinity and Bishop Hannan, McNamara scored 41 points -in the first half. He finished with 55 to lead the Golden Lancers to the state championship game.
“I called him the night we played Richmond because that was the night they were playing Trinity in the state semis,” Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins said. “I asked him, ‘How did you do?’ He said, ‘I had 55.’ I said, ‘No way did you have 55 points.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, and I had 41 in the first half. And something like nine threes.’ Imagine that.”
It’s just as tough to envision how Syracuse signed McNamara, who was heavily recruited by programs like Duke, North Carolina, Seton Hall and Florida.
“He’s the most low-maintenance kid,” Hopkins said. “No one was going to be able to sell him their program. He wasn’t going to be wowed by Duke.”
McNamara knew where he wanted to go since the beginning of his recruiting process. With the prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, a successful basketball program and a manageable distance from home, Syracuse won the McNamara sweepstakes.
“I think that when I decided on Syracuse there was a little relief throughout the family,” McNamara said. “They knew it was the best school for me.”
His parents plan to attend all SU home games because Scranton is only two hours south of Syracuse. Being at Syracuse also puts McNamara two hours closer to Canada, his favorite fishing ground.
McNamara took his first trip to Canada when he was 5 and has been hooked ever since.
“I joke with him sometimes,” his father, Gerry McNamara Sr., said. “If he had a choice between being a professional basketball player and a professional fisher, he’d rather fish.”
McNamara plans to travel across the border within the next few weeks to fish with friends and family in what has become tradition.
“He’s had the same friends for years,” his mother, Joyce McNamara, said. “He’s never been completely away from his original friendships in school and the neighborhood.”
Those same friends watched Gerry pick up a basketball for the first time at age 7. He played for church and school leagues and had a “natural knack for the game,” his mother said.
Eventually, that propelled McNamara into the spotlight. He’s even drawn comparisons to former Duke great Bobby Hurley.
“He’s a lot like Hurley, just quicker,” Hopkins said. “He’s a great kid and a big-time player.”
Still, McNamara needs to work on many things at the next level. His diminutive frame is a disadvantage versus bigger college point guards.
“I definitely need to improve my strength,” McNamara said. “Every aspect of my game needs to get a little better to compete at the college level. There are some pretty big boys up there, but I believe I can compete with them.”
So do the people who know him best.
“Over the past four years, he’s gotten stronger, smarter and he’ll keep on improving,” Bishop Hannan athletic director Terry McNulty said. “He’s outstanding now, but he’s not the best yet. He’s still going to improve, and he’s going to get better at Syracuse.”
He’ll need to. At Syracuse, McNamara will likely compete with Billy Edelin, James Thues and DeShaun Williams for playing time.
“His main strength is his ability to pass and shoot,” Boeheim said. “He’s going to play at the one and two.”
With only two guard positions and four capable players, McNamara might find himself coming off the bench for the first time in his career. But that possibility has not fazed him.
“I’m going to distribute the ball and help my team,” McNamara said. “I’m just going to play my game and do what I’ve done my entire career.”
So far, it seems to have worked.
This story was originally published in the Daily Orange on April 20, 2002.