The show must go on, and the star of this show — perhaps even more than the team that won the 12th annual Riverhead Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament — put on quite a show himself.
Noel Epps isn’t your typical public address announcer. No sir. Far from it.
He’s unlike any PA announcer most people have ever heard before. Funny, as in laugh out loud funny, and also blunt, unflinchingly blunt.
Sitting in the front row of bleachers, just off to the side of the scorer’s table at Riverhead High School, with a microphone in hand, Epps, 47, is in his glory. While a traditional PA announcer lets fans know who scored, who committed a foul and who entered and exited the game, that’s not Epps’ style. Being a comedian himself, not to mention a former athlete for Amityville High School, Epps mixes basketball and comedy in a unique, entertaining way. While providing continuous commentary of what’s happening on the court, he speaks his open mind into the mic, praising players for good plays, taking them to task for bad ones. The Bay Shore man doesn’t shy away from publicly questioning and criticizing coaches and referees, either.
All of it, though, is in the name of good fun, he said.
“Everything you think is what I’m saying,” he said in an interview during a break between games Sunday. “That’s all that’s going on.”
But, boy, listen to some of the things he said over the PA system Sunday. Here are some examples:
• “Oh, this is about to get ugly. This is about to be a blowout.”
• “Oh, that’s a terrible pass!”
• After a player launched an ill-advised three-point attempt from just inside the half-court line, Epps couldn’t help himself. “He lost his mind, Coach,” Epps said. “Coach, go get him.”
• After a player missed consecutive free throws, Epps said, “The first one was as ugly as the second one was.”
• “The gold team have officially packed it in,” he said while one game still had nearly 12 minutes remaining. “It’s over. It’s a wrap.” Then, to one of the gold players, he said: “Don’t roll your eyes at me. That’s misplaced anger.”
• When a player misses a layup, Epps is likely to exclaim, “Lord have mercy!”
In the hot, sticky, smelly gym, Epps told the spectators: “I lost six pounds just sitting here. I’ll gain it back tonight. It’s just water weight.”
The 10-team double-elimination tournament, which saw 18 games played over Saturday and Sunday, has teams identified by the color of their shirts. Once again, burgundy was the tournament’s color of choice. For the fourth year in a row, the burgundy team triumphed in the final, scoring a 57-50 victory over the red team for the $5,000 first prize. The tournament MVP, Dayquan Jackson, led the way with 18 points, 15 of them coming in the second half. The burgundy team also received 15 points from George Holmes and 13 from Gerrel Irving, who also had six rebounds, three assists and two steals. D.J. Diallo added nine points, six assists and three boards.
The burgundy team took the direct path to the championship, winning all five of its games. Former Greenport High School star Ryan Creighton was a member of the burgundy team. (Another ex-Greenport player, Dantré Langhorn, played for the gold team, which lost in the tournament’s penultimate game).
“Our mission was to come out and play tough,” Jackson said. “That’s exactly what we did.”
Last year’s tournament MVP, J.J. Moore, put up 19 points for the red team.
The tournament, which had always been played at Horton Avenue Park in Riverhead, was moved indoors to the high school gym because of heavy rain in recent days.
“It saved us,” said Dwayne Eleazer, a co-founder of the tournament along with Larry Williams.
Rain or no rain, Epps was clearly having fun. “I’m in my world there,” he said.
Epps said he provides this sort of commentary at basketball games throughout Long Island.
“He always gets on me,” Jackson said. “That’s my guy. You either laugh to it or get annoyed, let it get to you. He makes the game a lot more fun.”
Epps can get close to edgy by doing things such as continually reminding one team that it had lost by 75 points, or keeping a running tally of a particular player’s turnovers. He tells players not to direct their “misplaced anger” his way.
“You get guys who get angry,” he said in the interview. “You get the guys who get motivated. You get the guys who can’t play after I talk to them. The guys who can’t play are the funniest because if you’re out there playing, you should ignore me, right? You would think. You should ignore me. They don’t ignore me.”
Regardless of how some may feel, Epps has no intention of changing his frank commenting style to the more traditional — some might say boring — way of doing things.
“We’re not doing, ‘Now to the court, Joe Jones,’ ” he said. “We’re not doing that. Oh no. We’re going to make it funny. We’re going to have fun — and don’t get mad at the announcer because you missed a layup. It doesn’t make sense.”
At one point Sunday, Epps sensed that some players were not entirely thrilled by his criticisms. “Boss lady,” he intoned into the mic, addressing one of the tournament staffers, “I’m going to need an escort out of here.”
Photo caption: Noel Epps’ unusual brand of public address announcing mixes basketball with comedy. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)