Local Basketball Champs Honored

Corey Albano was honored at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)

OCEAN COUNTY – Corey Albano and Randy Holmes have achieved fame.

Albano, the former Toms River High School South boys basketball standout and Monmouth University scoring machine, and Holmes, who starred at Lakewood and St. Peter’s College, were named to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Honor Roll.

Albano, Holmes and others were enshrined in The MAAC Experience exhibit at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Each member institution of the MAAC honors one male and one female from its basketball “family” as part of the induction class. The honorees were feted at a dinner at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Court of Dreams.

Former Toms River basketball player Corey Albano playing at Monmouth University. (Photo courtesy Monmouth University)

Each honoree was profiled in the game program for the 2017 MAAC Basketball Championships and featured in a video display at The MAAC Experience.

“Obviously,” Albano said, “It is a great honor and the ceremonies were really well done. The people who are in it are the big names I played against. Some of the great coaches whose teams are in it I played against. It’s a great honor to be placed in that kind of a class.”

Albano, who played for Monmouth’s Hawks from 1994-97, was a two-time first-team All-Northeast Conference selection. He scored 1,599 career points for the Hawks and graduated as their career rebounds leader with 779. He finished his career as their fourth leading scorer.

The forward led Monmouth to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 1996. During the 1996-97 season, the former Indian scored 559 points. He twice scored 33 points against Long Island University in 1997. He averaged 19.3 points per game in 1996-97, a top-five season average in program history.

Albano said teammates Mustafa Barksdale, John Giraldo, Jeff Franklin, Jack Gordon, Josh Peters, Steve Barnes and Glenn Stokes played large roles in his success.

“I had a good group of teammates and I feel we jelled together,” he said. “We worked hard as a group and it was a group I grew with.”

Former Lakewood basketball player Randy Holmes was honored at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)

Now an account executive with Princeton IMG in sports marketing at Princeton University, Albano fell upon hard times as a freshman with the Hawks.

“It was definitely a little struggle,” said Albano, who graduated on time from Monmouth with a degree in business management. “I went in at 190 pounds and 6-7. I left at 6-9 and 235. I needed to put on some weight and become stronger. I had to learn the pace and physicality of the college game.

“I had to find my identity, my position and where I was going to fit in at the college level. The main things were to become bigger and stronger. I knew I had to put on some muscle to be able to bang with the big boys.”

Albano chose Monmouth over Rider, Vermont and Maine. He also was recruited by Patriot League teams.

“The level of play was pretty much the same across the board,” he said. “I had a great time on my visit to Monmouth and loved the guys on the team. I felt comfortable with them right away and said, ‘I can see myself playing with these guys.’ They made me fit in with them right away. Being close to home was a great advantage as my family and friends could see me play. I felt Monmouth was a local school where I could grow and take it to the next level.

“I felt it would be a fun place to go as it would give me the chance to maximize my college experience. I also wanted to take the school to the next level.”

Randy Holmes playing for St. Peter’s University. (Photo courtesy St. Peter’s University)

Now 42 years of age, Albano played professionally overseas from ages 21-34. He competed in Italy for eight years, two years in Greece, one year in France, one season in Portugal and one year in Colombia. While in Portugal, he made the league’s all-star team, averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds per game in his second season overseas and first campaign in Europe.

“We had a good team and a run and gun coach,” he said. “I had the green light to shoot. It was a fun year to grow into the European game. The defenders were very physical. The referees were fair. They let you use your hands on defense.

“The coaches teach defense a lot. They want guys to help their teammates on defense. You will get pushed and you will be picked off and pushed. When you are in the lane, people will go over your back in their bid for the ball. You just have to be ready for everything.”

Fans were enthusiastic.

“They were crazy, absolutely crazy, but not to the level of soccer,” Albano said. “In Greece, they threw fireworks and firecrackers at us and threw rocks at our buses. When we played for Verona against Milan, it was a city pride thing. It was real cool for a whole town to get behind you. If you lost, they were not too happy with you. If you won, it was great. My South-(Toms River) North experience prepared me for that.”

Albano said he enjoyed competing abroad.

“I had a fine career,” he said. “It’s your job so that takes it to a new level. Now, you are a pro and there is a little more pressure. It was a great experience for me as I got to see cities and countries that I had never seen before. I met some great teammates and coaches. The foreign game really fit my style. Friends and family came to visit me and we got to see as many cool things as we could. You have a job to do, but you also want to take advantage of where you are.”

Playing overseas was financially rewarding for Albano.

Randy Holmes playing for St. Peter’s University. (Photo courtesy St. Peter’s University)

“Each team paid its own level of money,” he said. “There was more money in Italy than there was in Portugal. There was more money in France than there was in Colombia. You can definitely make a living as the teams pay for your car and all of your expenses. The teams pay the fees for your agent to a certain point. It is like anything else. You just have to work your way up.”

Two knee injuries suffered abroad derailed Albano’s career.

“That is kind of why I stopped,” he said. “When I look back, I feel it was sad to get hurt, but I also feel very lucky when I look back. They were the lone major injuries I had. For the most part, I had a nice, healthy career until the end. I guess it was just time.”

Albano played for his dad, Greg, at South where he scored a school career record 1,726 points and graduated as the top rebounder in Indians history, picking off 854 career misfires. He erupted for a school single-game scoring record of 52 points.

“Looking back, I loved it,” young Albano said. “It was great. Dad was there to help coach me and we had great guys – Chris Pagano, D.J. Unger, Anthony Kapp, Randy Laing, Mike Mueller, Graig Fantuzzi, Jeff Devlin and Sean Williamson – on our team.

“It could have been difficult. The guys could have said, ‘He’s only playing because of his dad. He’s not getting yelled at because of his dad.’ The guys realized my dad was going to be fair and that I was going to get yelled at like everyone else.

“We had a good group with good athletes and I appreciated the guys who played with me. I don’t want to say it was easy, but when I was in the games, my dad was my coach. When the games and practices were over and we were driving home, he was my dad.  The guys on the team could have made it difficult, but it was a good experience for me. I could not imagine playing for (Toms River) East when my dad was at South.”

Former Toms River basketball player Corey Albano playing in Italy. (Photo courtesy the Albano family)

Albano wound up playing more than one style of ball.

“It’s funny, as when I was in high school I began my career shooting threes as a guard,” he said. “At Monmouth, I turned into a big guy in the low post. In Europe, there was a stretch where I played pick and pop and set the pick. I wound up shooting threes again so it was back and forth. I always tell kids, ‘Practice everything as you never know what you will need.’ ”

Like Holmes, Albano belongs in more than one hall of fame. He’s also a member of the Toms River Regional Schools Athletic Hall of Fame and the Monmouth University Athletics Hall of Fame.

“Monmouth’s Hall of Fame means a lot to me,” he said. “Monmouth has become a bigger presence in basketball and it’s kind of cool to be attached to the school and its hall of fame as the school gets better and better. It’s kind of cool to be associated with Monmouth at that level.”

Holmes scored 1,022 career points for the Peacocks in three seasons. He netted a school career record 35 straight free throws and tied the season record with an .853 free throw percentage in 1994-95.

He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1995 MAAC Tournament after scoring 24 points in a win over Manhattan in the championship game, leading the Peacocks to their second NCAA Tournament berth in program history. In that same season, he was a second-team All-MAAC selection after averaging 15 points per game.

The next year, he averaged 14 points per outing, spicing his season with 27 in a win over the University of Alabama in the Cessna Classic at Wichita State. Holmes led the Peacocks to the Classic title and won MVP honors.

Holmes is a hall of famer’s hall of famer as he is in four halls.

Randy Holmes playing for St. Peter’s University. (Photo courtesy St. Peter’s University)

He is a member of the Lakewood High School Athletics Hall of Fame. He’s in the St. Peter’s College Athletic Hall of Fame. Holmes and his buddies are in the St. Peter’s Athletic Hall of Fame. And, Holmes and his 1995 teammates have been enshrined in the MAAC Hall of Fame.

“They all have special meaning for me and they all have a special place in my heart,” Holmes said. “Lakewood’s Hall is home for me. It is very dear for me. My time at Lakewood helped me get to where I am. St. Peter’s is also in my heart as I played at a higher level to succeed. I had success at the collegiate level and there is something to be said for that. We won the MAAC title together. Some special players and schools go many years without making the NCAA tournament along with winning the conference title. We still talk to each other on a frequent basis.

“The MAAC Hall of Fame is the next one on my list and that is pretty big. The MAAC has had a lot of great players and to be recognized in it is pretty special. I was fortunate enough to put the work in. A lot of people got overlooked for it. The MAAC Hall of Fame is the most memorable. There is a little section in it and my name is etched in stone among the greatest players to ever play the game. When I take my grandkids there…the biggest accomplishment is getting into the MAAC Hall of Fame.”

Holmes, a 6-foot-2 190-pound guard, chose St. Peter’s over St. John’s, Virginia, George Mason, Villanova, Coppin State, Fairfield and Manhattan.

He signed with Manhattan to play for then-coach Steve Lappas. However, Lappas three days later wound up coaching Villanova. Influenced by the success of former Lakewood players Marvin Andrews and Tony Walker enjoyed at St. Peter’s, Holmes ended up in the Peacocks’ uniform.

“Coach Lappas wanted to take me to Villanova with him,” Holmes said. “I felt Manhattan would be a better fit. I was 175 pounds soaking wet. In my first year, I probably could have put on a couple of pounds, but I wanted to play right away and I felt I could have done that at Manhattan and St. Peter’s.”

Holmes was recruited to St. Peter’s by then-coach Ted Fiore.

“He was at all of my games and practices when I was at Lakewood,” Holmes said. “I became very familiar and comfortable with him. Tony and Marvin were already there and that kind of tipped the scales for me as they were successful not only on the court but also in academics.”

Holmes graduated Lakewood in second place on its career scoring list with 1,936 points and won numerous individual honors. He led the Piners of then-coach John Richardson (for whom their gym was named) to two Shore Conference Tournament titles and two Holiday Jubilee crowns.

Randy Holmes was honored at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy Randy Holmes family)

Holmes is the head boys coach at Lakewood where his 11-year record is 229-65. He has coached the Piners to three NJSIAA sectional titles, one SCT crown and nine divisional championships.

He has produced 20 college athletes (NCAA Division I, II and III). He has twice been named the Division Coach of the Year. He was honored as the Shore Conference Coach of the Year in 2012-13.

He teaches algebra and geometry and works with a disciplinary program, In School Intervention, at Lakewood.

For several seasons, Holmes has run the Coach Randy Holmes Basketball Camp for youths during the summer at Lakewood.

He coaches a Jackson Township-based traveling team of fifth graders in the Mid-Monmouth League. He also coaches Team Swish, a boys Amateur Athletic Union 15-under team which attracts players from around the state. Also involved with Team Swish is former Lakewood and St. Benedict’s Prep of Newark star J.R. Smith, now a key member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I am a coach by nature so I am happy coaching at any level,” Holmes said. “It is the most rewarding to coach the younger guys as they are not jaded by anything. They want to learn. Nobody as of yet has told them how good they are. Nobody thinks they are LeBron James (of Cleveland) or Kevin Durant (of the Golden State Warriors). We can make them into what we want them to be and that is very refreshing.

“They look you in the eye. They say, ‘Yes coach,’ and ‘No coach,’ and they don’t complain about playing time. The parents know the abilities of their kids and for a lot of the kids the expectations are not very high. Once a parent sees their son dribble, shoot and pass better, their self-esteem rises. That is what is the most rewarding for me. They are more like sponges. They soak up the knowledge and the information that you give them.”

Holmes took a leave of absence from teaching and coaching in 2004 to mentor Smith after he was drafted on the first round out of St. Benedict’s by the New Orleans Hornets.

“J.R.’s parents trusted me to be his mentor for his whole rookie season,” Holmes said. “It was a great experience. I had never had an experience like that before. I saw the inner circles of the daily operations of professional basketball. I was in every league arena and met (former NBA players and coaches) Willis Reed and Byron Scott. I went to the ESPYs with J.R. I tip my hat to the NBA players. They are on the road in three different time zones in five days.

“J.R. handled it well. He could not go to any clubs at the age of 18 so we sat in hotels playing XBox and Play Station.”

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.