Former St. John’s forward Kyle Cuffe Sr. talks about his time at St. John’s, the new culture of the program, and about being a father
By Tom Ballato
Kyle Cuffe Sr. played basketball from 1996-2000 at Rice High School in Harlem, New York. He played for one of the greatest high school programs in New York City built by his coach Maurice Hicks.
While at Rice H.S., Cuffe Sr. won two city and two state championships. He was teammates with Anthony Glover, who was a year ahead of him and ended up going to St. John’s to play college basketball. Cuffe Sr. became a consensus Top 100 player out of high school and had a list of suitors that wanted him to play at their college.
Cuffe Sr. decided to stay local and play college basketball at St. John’s. When he spoke about his decision to attended St. John’s, Cuffe Sr., said, “To be honest with you, it was my relationship with Anthony Glover. We played at Rice together and also having family and friends close by. That made my choice a bit easier.”
Cuffe Sr. was a reliable and smart big man who had a very nice four-year career at St. John’s. His fondest memory at St. John’s was beating Duke at Madison Square Garden in 2003. St. John’s scored the last twelve points of the game to beat Duke. “You watch Duke play, and they are coached by Coach K and not too many teams beat them. Being one of the select few to get an opportunity to beat them was a big thing for us.”
While talking about St. John’s, Cuffe Sr. claimed, “It’s home. It’s college, and it was a new experience. I found my future wife there, so that was a fond moment, but besides that, it was home.” He remains in contact with his former teammates Andre Stanley, Omar Cook, Marcus Hatten, Anthony Glover, Willie Shaw, Sharif Fordham, and Donald Emanuel.
After St. John’s, Cuffe Sr. went on to play basketball professionally from 2004-2012. He played in Mexico, Venezuela, Czech Republic, Italy, Indonesia, and NBA Developmental League. “I loved playing in Indonesia and Venezuela, primarily because of the weather. The food was amazing. Also playing gave me an opportunity to continue doing something that I love to do.”
St. John’s Culture Change
St. John’s recent hirings of athletic director Mike Cragg and head coach Mike Anderson has brought about a culture change among St. John’s alumni. When Cuffe Sr., spoke about the shift in culture, he claimed, “It has been about family. They are trying to get the guys (former players) back together more than the staff did in the past. I believe former staff wanted to make it happen, but for some reason, it didn’t happen as much. Coach Anderson, he’s making it a priority. He’s getting guys from the past mixed with guys in the present to make it more homey. It’s also part of Mike Cragg bringing that Duke like atmosphere with the past and present. Bringing everyone together is something that coach Jarvis started to do while he was there, but it fell off a bit once he was gone.”
Cuffe Sr. claimed while talking among former alumni that he played with the culture was something that was missing. St. John’s is home to them, and they’ve had so many coaching changes over the years that they haven’t had the connection between alumni and current players as other teams do like Duke and North Carolina. They have had a coach for multiple years and built a culture, according to Cuffe Sr.
Mike Anderson’s family values and toughness is something that Cuffe Sr. believes St. John’s has been missing. He believes Anderson will be the coach of St. John’s for a long time.
Life as a Proud Father
Cuffe Sr. is now in the process of completing his master’s degree in sports management at St. John’s. He is also a big family man, his son Kyle Cuffe Jr. is a rising player in the high school ranks.
Kyle Jr. is only a sophomore but is already receiving Division 1 offers. He has offers from St. John’s, University of Connecticut, Seton Hall, Iona, Stony Brook, Holy Cross, and Hofstra. While he hasn’t received an offer, Creighton has shown interest in him.
When asked what kind of advice he gives his son, Cuffe Sr. responded, “To enjoy the moment. It is an exciting time for him. He wasn’t on the map, and for him, this year to be on the map, my wife and I try to keep him grounded and let him know when you are resting others are working.”
Cuffe Sr. wants what is best for his son and knows that he will receive more offers, but wants him to see that he needs to pick the “right fit” for himself.
“It comes down to multiple layers. Who is coaching? What players are there? How does the university value the coach? Does that school allow players to come back after they graduate? These are different scenarios that we are trying to let our son know about that are important.”
While Kyle Sr. was a forward/center, Kyle Jr. is a guard. When asked what qualities he sees in his son that he had, Cuffe Sr. replied, “Toughness and competitiveness. Kyle is not someone that is going to back down from things. I have to give credit to his mom because that is something he got from her. He’s got that drive and heart that a coach is going to love.”
Kyle Cuffe Jr. has an advantage in terms of the media and all the hype that surrounds him, his father. While his father was a professional athlete that has played on the big stage, he can give guidance to his son and teach him lessons because he’s been there.
Kyle Jr. still has time to decide where he will attend college, but his father fully supports him wherever he chooses to go. “It is different deciding where to go now than twenty years ago—just having access to the internet. He’s a home kid, but he’s been at boarding school for some time now, so he’s open to experiences anywhere.”
This season, Cuffe Sr. was at a few St. John’s games and was impressed with this year’s team. “They are gritty and don’t have a lot of big names, but they fight hard.” He even took Kyle Jr. to a game this season.
For St. John’s, it is great to see alumni in the stands and a renewed culture that includes Cuffe Sr. who wants to be there for the program he gave everything too. While his son is two years away from making a college decision, Cuffe Sr. will continue to be his biggest fan and proud father.