The CBS program 60 Minutes reported Sunday on the resurrection of St. Benedict’s Prep, an all-boys Catholic school in Newark, New Jersey that empowers its students to run the school.
The students at St. Benedict’s call each other “brother,” and the school motto is “Whatever hurts my brother, hurts me.” The school year runs 11 months, and students are organized into groups that compete for top grades.
One of St. Benedict’s prized alumni is J.R. Smith, who was known as a model student at St. Benedict’s, as revealed in a 2012 Grantland piece
“[St. Benedict’s coach] Dan Hurley remembers his father—a Hall of Fame coach at Saint Anthony High School in Jersey City, known for his disciplined, demanding style—dropping in on St. Benedict’s games and rolling his eyes at Smith’s shot selection. Dan Hurley loved Smith’s work ethic, though. In two years, he never had to kick him out of a single practice, saying now that Smith wanted to get coached and that Smith would have run through a wall for him. The St. Benedict’s teachers also liked Smith; he quickly became one of the school’s most popular kids. He lived on campus and was in bed by the 11 p.m. curfew every night. “He was a guy that never expected anything,” said Father Edwin Leahy, St. Benedict’s headmaster. “A lot of these guys can be prima donnas. There wasn’t any of that in him.”
Smith was involved in only one incident at St. Benedict. He and a teammate were caught leaving campus to get haircuts before a big game.
The St. Benedict’s basketball team is a nationally ranked program. It produced Smith, New York Knicks small forward Lance Thomas and Milwaukee Bucks point guard Tyler Ennis. Smith’s Cavalier teammate Tristan Thompson was dismissed from St. Benedict’s in 2009 after a heated exchange with coach Hurley. In an interview with the Cavs team site, Smith said that Hurley was the best coach he played for before going pro. “He’s a tough person to play for, but he made you want to be better. I mean, he demanded that you got better and did the right things,” Smith said.
Those close to Smith say he responds best to structure and leadership and that he gravitates toward groups that give him a sense of belonging. The 12-year veteran’s confounding NBA career had been marked by late nights and a loose lifestyle before he landed in Cleveland, where he’s been been championed by LeBron James and welcomed into the Cavaliers brotherhood.
In an ESPN story during the 2015 NBA Finals, Smith said: “Since I first walked through that door, everybody was so excited for me to be on the team. I haven’t felt that since high school, where somebody actually looks forward to having you on the team and wants you to do well. That’s pretty important for a person’s psyche.”
In a way, St. Benedict’s and the Cavs have been the only programs with the systems in place to empower Smith.