Basketball bonanza gives Johnston a shot

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Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena took on a new and exciting role Saturday, as did chief of staff Doug Jeffrey. Both Polisena and Jeffrey served as a two-person public relations band while greeting people from all over the Northeast.

“Welcome to Johnston,” Polisena said while extending his hand to Peter Lipka, an assistant basketball coach at Long Island University Post in New York, who serves as a director for the highly-acclaimed Hoop Group, a nationwide amateur basketball organization. “Please enjoy your stay and our facility.”

Jeffrey offered the same message – and his hand – to Richard Sima and Sam Moni who came to Johnston from Avon, Connecticut. And, with each greeting, Polisena and Jeffrey were showered with praise by those who entered the town’s new 26,000-square foot indoor recreation center on Atwood Avenue.

“This is a fantastic facility,” Lipka and dozens of parents of participating players, repeated time and again Saturday. “What an atmosphere; three regulation basketball courts … the (two) wall-to-wall dividers really make this kind of event extra special.”

Although Hoop Group, which has been around since 1963 and prides itself for having produced a record 128 NBA players and always-increasing list of 54 Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers, held last weekend’s Jam Fest all over Rhode Island, the talk of the 16-U and 17-U tourney was the Johnston Indoor Recreation Center.

“This is without question a special day for Johnston and Mayor Polisena,” Richard Bartlett, a Warwick resident and member of the RI Basketball Officials Hall of Fame who took in the morning’s competition, said. “It’s true; if you build it, they will come.”

Although the JIRC was only officially one week old, star-studded basketball teams from as far away as Pittsburgh, New Jersey, New York and New England, made up the talented field that played games from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and into Sunday.

“Last week this place was like a Who’s Who in Rhode Island politics,” Polisena told several visitors from the Crown Basketball Club of Long Island. “Today, we are honored to have it known as a Who’s Who in Northeast amateur basketball.”

Throughout his stay Saturday, Polisena walked from court to court watching the high-powered, cat-quick play of all teams and smiling.

After having his picture taken with the Crown, which officially played the first-ever game inside the JIRC versus an incredibly talented team from Harlem, N.Y., Polisena congratulated Recreation Director Dan Mazzulla for making the facility part of last weekend’s Jam Fest.

Jeffrey also offered well-wishes to Mazzulla saying: “It’s been encouraging to watch the facility utilized by our residents. We also enjoyed watching national basketball talent at our facility and families utilizing Johnston businesses during their stay. This is a real cornerstone and a centerpiece to the Mayor’s commitment to recreation.”

WARM WELCOME: Mayor Joseph Polisena is surrounded by the Crown Basketball Team, one of dozens of AAU clubs from all over the Northeast that played in last weekend’s Jam Fest inside the Johnston Indoor Recreation Center. (Sun Rise photo by Pete Fontaine)

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