NORTH ANDOVER — His thick New Jersey accent quickly gives away that he isn’t from the Merrimack Valley, but UMass Lowell men’s basketball coach Greg Herenda has been around these parts for over 30 years.
It didn’t take him long to discover the passion the locals have for their high school basketball. Few events underscore that fact like the 38th annual Greater Lawrence Boys Christmas Tourney and the 27th annual Greater Lawrence Girls Christmas Tourney.
The North Andover resident was the guest speaker at the boys and girls banquet last night at North Andover High.
Herenda spoke to the gathering of coaches and team captains.
He gave three points for the players to remember.
He said, “1. Play as hard as you can. 2. Try your best. 3. Remember this whole ordeal. Just being with your friends.”
Herenda added he was 51 and remembered his games at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City like they were yesterday.
Unfortunately, the Marauders played day games in front of sparse crowds.
“I’m jealous of you boys and girls playing in this tourney in front of 2,000 people,” he said. “I’d give anything to go back. I’m jealous of everyone sitting here. I can’t tell you how lucky you are. It’s a great time to be a high school basketball player. Cherish the moment.”
The former Merrimack College point guard and later assistant coach looked around the room and felt at home.
There was North Andover coach Mike McVeigh, who gave the coach some of his first work at camps and clinics in the early ‘80s. And, as Herenda humorously pointed out, Andover High AD Don Doucette may not have bought the famished young wannabe coach a meal at the 99 Restaurant, but he did give him a job at UMass Lowell.
Herenda paid him back by helping recruit the talent that delivered a national title in 1988.