Stu Kerzner: Cortelyou Road’s ‘Mr. Basketball’
Believe it or not – it’s true.
Behind every successful man is a strong woman.
Just ask Stu Kerzner, the kid from Erasmus Hall High School.
“Yup, it was Gloria Kaplan who discovered me,” he told the Eagle, just the other day. “She saw me when I was playing basketball in summer camp and told her husband.”
Well let’s not give Mrs. Kaplan all the credit. She told her husband – Shelly – who just happened to be a college roommate of Providence College coach Joe Mullaney.
But there was a bigger story for the kid who attended Walt Whitman Junior High 246, before he donned the Friars uniform.
“I had a couple of (scholarship) offers in my senior year at Erasmus,” said Kerzner who turns 75 in July. “I chose Utah State in Logan, Utah.”
Interesting selection for a Jewish kid from Brooklyn.
In fact, when he arrived at the Utah school, he was greeted with several recruits claiming to hold Mr. Basketball titles from their respective states.
“There was a Mr. Basketball from California, Indiana and Arizona,” he remembered, “and all of a sudden I thought I might be out of my league.
“When they asked my credentials, I said I was Honorable Mention All-City, we don’t have Mr. Basketball in New York City.”
Kerzner more than held his own as a freshman for the Aggies. He led that freshman team in scoring, assists, field goal percentage and just about every offensive category.
So much for credentials.
“I found out later,” he said, “that Mr. Indiana basketball recruit played for a real small school. So small,” he said, “I was told they needed some girls to fill their roster.”
Back to Mrs. Kaplan.
That summer, he met her again at Camp Wayne.
“Somehow she knew I wasn’t too happy at Utah State,” Kerzner said. “Not only did I never hear of Providence College, I didn’t know where it was.”
Kerzner became the starting guard at Providence alongside Jimmy Walker, who was a first-round draft selection of the then-Baltimore Bullets.
“Providence College,” Kerzner said, “was the best of the best for me, socially, academically and athletically.”
A Brooklyn kid at an all-Catholic school in the Northeast – how so?
“Well, I was a bit concerned about the High Holy Days during my first week on campus,” he said, “I mean how could I explain missing several days of classes if I went to synagogue?”
“My English professor, that first week, asked me to remain after class,” he said, “and my first thought, what did I do wrong?”
“I expect you to observe the Jewish holiday,” the professor said.
“I knew I found a real home there,” Kerzner said.
Two years later he was invited to try out for the Pan American Maccabiah Games in Brazil.
That was the easy part.
The hard part? Each kid needed to pony up $1,500 for the pleasure.
“I went to Father Begley for help,” he said. “He gave me $750, and the Jewish alumni ran a cocktail party for the rest of the money.”
Kerzner and 449 other Jewish-American athletes made the trip to Brazil, with a team coached by then LIU mentor, Roy Rubin.
“Mark Spitz, the American Olympic swimming hero, led our contingent while holding the flag for our group,” Kerner said.
By the way, that team defeated Brazil in double-overtime for the gold.
Meanwhile, Kerzner, along with Walker, was in the process of putting Providence College basketball on the college basketball map.
The Friars won the last Holiday Festival tournament held in the old Madison Square Garden in 1966. They beat St. Joseph’s in the final.
Providence played in the Beanpot Tournament – the first college basketball tournament at Boston College.
“That was a thrill,” he said, “I was always a Celtics fan. I just loved that parquet floor and to play on it was just like a dream come true.”
The Friars lost to Boston College in the finals – but Kerzner walked off with the MVP trophy.
At 6-1, 180 the lefty from 18th Street and Cortelyou Road could shoot and had tremendous jumping ability.
After basketball, he took over his dad’s business – selling office machines – in Manhattan.
“We opened four more stores,” he said “We caught the wave of the electronic calculator. It weighed about 35 pounds and sold for $1,400. Today it goes for about $1.99.”
Later he became a distributor for Sony and was successful selling TVs, VCRs and video cameras to the foreign markets.
“Our business came from other countries,” he said, “and tourists, because we were cheaper.”
He also was in jail – twice.
“We played the inmates at Sing Sing Prison twice,” he joked.
That’s something he probably never told Mrs. Kaplan.
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at [email protected].
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