15 years after arriving at Syracuse, Gerry McNamara still beloved in hometown

first_imgUPDATED: Dec. 5, 2017 at 12:16 a.m.SCRANTON, Pa. — Tucked inside the home in which Gerry McNamara grew up, on West Market Street in North Scranton, the former Syracuse star’s parents stood up from their kitchen table and looked at each other.“Do you know where they could be?” McNamara’s mother, Joyce, asked.“Probably dusty up in the attic,” said his father, Gerard. “If I don’t find it in 30 seconds, I won’t find it at all.”Gerard sighed. Neither he nor his wife knew exactly where any artifact from their son’s magical career at Syracuse could be. There was not a single photograph, jersey or trophy of Gerry in the living or dining rooms of his childhood home. Not a magnet on the refrigerator, poster on the wall or lanyard on their keys. There are no items connected to McNamara’s playing days, no reminder of how McNamara grew into a basketball star from Northeast Pennsylvania.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textA couple of minutes passed and Gerard came up with a framed photograph of Gerry at SU. In the photo, McNamara clenches his fists, blood streaks from his forehead, down the side of his nose and into his right eye. It was during the Orange’s 68-56 comeback victory over Oklahoma State in the second round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. Syracuse went on to win the national title that year, when McNamara started as a freshman.Other than that, there is little mark of McNamara’s status in his childhood home. His former bedroom is now a playroom of sorts for his children, nieces and nephews. His high school, Bishop Hannan, graduated its last class in 2007 and has closed down. The gymnasium where he would take hundreds of shots after high school basketball practices, at the Holy Rosary Center, is just down the street from his childhood home and hasn’t changed. Cracks remain in the pavement out front.But most everywhere else in Scranton, the legend lives on for one of the area’s most recognizable figures. McNamara has transformed little since he arrived at Syracuse and neither has the landscape around him. An assistant coach at his alma mater since 2011, he still owns a firm place in the heart of his hometown, by current high school players, business owners and longtime residents alike.McNamara gained fame in Scranton. Fifteen years after he arrived on the Syracuse campus, his legend has not faded.“His legacy will live forever here,” said Bob Timlin, who worked as a referee during McNamara’s high school games and visited the Carrier Dome to see him play. “He’s still well talked about. He raised the bar for all of these high-school players here, who say they want to be like G-Mac. Everybody is trying to be the next Gerry McNamara, because at 6-foot-1, he put his head down, went to the gym every day and became a star.” After he led Bishop Hannan to a state title as a high school senior, McNamara arrived at SU alongside fellow freshman Carmelo Anthony. McNamara had already etched his name in Scranton history by winning the Catholic Youth Organization title as an eighth grader. He started on varsity as a freshman in high school, before earning a starting spot at SU in his first year. Scranton rallied around McNamara when he arrived to Syracuse.For most Syracuse home games during McNamara’s career, about 3,000 fans packed more than 60 buses, received a police escort out of town and rode two hours north on Interstate 81 to the Carrier Dome. McNamara came to represent the blue-collar City of Scranton, a population of roughly 75,000 in 2003. Approximately one of every 25 Scranton residents left for the games. Locals joked that during Syracuse games the banks in Scranton were vulnerable for robbery because many residents were in the Carrier Dome.Stirna’s Restaurant, which sits only a few blocks down West Market Street from McNamara’s home, transformed from family dining restaurant to sports bar during his playing years, said owner Cathy Gavin. And even now, a pair of McNamara jerseys hang on display. A picture of a newspaper cover featuring McNamara lies on the menu.“People come in with G-Mac jerseys, even now, to watch the games,” Gavin said. “It’s little Syracuse here. Our hometown young man is still there and playing a key role.”Last year, a Tully’s Good Times opened up in Clarks Summit, just outside of Scranton on I-81. The establishment devoted a photo display to McNamara, featuring his No. 3 jersey along with game photos.There’s a cutout of McNamara playing at the entrance of Freddy Battaglia’s Goods, a sporting goods store on Wyoming Avenue. The store sold hundreds of McNamara shirts during his years at SU, and head coach Jim Boeheim’s wife, Juli, made frequent visits to pick up shirts for friends, family and her children.“He’s loved much more at home in Scranton,” said Gerry’s older brother, Tim. “He’s not as impressed with himself as other people. He’s pretty low-key, humble guy. But his name still resonates with a lot of people, especially in Scranton. For that four years, for so many people, their social calendar revolved around Syracuse basketball.”Matthew Gutierrez | Senior Staff WriterTim recalled a late-night trip to a local Walmart, where he and Gerry went to buy fishing gear for a trip early the next morning. They both loved to fish, and Gerry still does. When they walked into the store, Tim said, an excited employee called Gerry’s name over the store loudspeaker.“Man, we can’t take you anywhere,” joked his teammate at Bishop Hannan, Brian Coyle.Coyle, currently the head men’s basketball coach at Lackawanna College in Scranton, played one season with McNamara at Bishop Hannan. They are still close friends. Coyle said that during his Lackawanna practices, he “always brings up stories about how the city supports Gerry.” He was among the thousands that made the bus trips up north, Coyle has told his players, and he reminds them of Gerry, the “guy who was relentless in the gym.” Coyle said he still spots young kids wearing “G-Mac” jerseys at local games.“People went to the games that hadn’t gone to basketball games in 35 years,” said Patrick Connors, one of Gerry’s uncles. “Driving around (Scranton), I’d always see all of these kids playing in their backyard with No. 3 on their back for Gerry. Even on occasion today.”After high school games, McNamara signed autographs for nearly an hour. His coach, John Bucci, made him a four-year starter and quickly learned that he was the best player in the program — as a freshman. During a summer camp Bucci ran, when Gerry was still in high school, a young boy asked if Gerry could visit his birthday party. Gerry attended, which made him a hero among those young players, Bucci said.“He was fiercely loyal to his community and his community was fiercely loyal to him,” Bucci said. “He was 17 going on 30. He realized how fortunate he was. He embraced their love of him and he gave it back. That’s what made Gerry special. Forget that he put that ball in the basket. Forget the fact that he played at Syracuse. He was loyal to Scranton and to this day he still is. That’s what drew people to him.”Kevin Camelo | Contributing Digital Design EditorOn a recent afternoon, Gerry’s father, Gerard, sat back and chronicled his son’s trail to Syracuse stardom, which began on a 10 by 20-foot pavement in the family backyard. Gerard intended for it to be a patio with a roof on top, but he “decided to get the boys a basket.” They played out here forever,” he said, smiling at the place where Gerry honed the shot that instilled fear in opposing defenses.About two months ago, Gerard tossed the original rim and backboard in the garbage because it had worn over the decades. The frame still stands though, offering a reminder of Gerry’s roots, said Gerard, a former Marine and manager at the local post office. He would work out with his son for hours in local gyms.From the kitchen window, which overlooks the backyard, Gerard watched Gerry shoot. To develop his left hand, Gerard recalled that Gerry would put his right arm behind his back. He’d slap the ball with his left hand only. Every bunch of dribbles, the ball hit his foot and trickled down the side of the house. Gerry would run back up with his hand behind his back and start doing it all over again. A drop off from the pavement acted as the backyard’s 3-point shot.“That’s all it is,” Gerard said, gesturing to the pavement. “He was out here all day shooting hoops. It served its purpose.”Matthew Gutierrez | Senior Staff WriterFor many in the community, he was a hero. For many, he still is. While he now lives in central New York with his wife, Katie, his high school sweetheart, along with their four children, McNamara is still rooted in his hometown.“He’ll always be Mr. Scranton,” Bucci said.CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Bob Timlin was misnamed. The Daily Orange regrets this error. Comments Published on December 4, 2017 at 9:48 pm Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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