The Re-Education of Jimmy Hall

Rob Senderoff was busting Kimani Young’s balls.

Jimmy Hall and his family. (Photo courtesy Noreen XX)
Jimmy Hall and his family. (Photo courtesy Noreen Stallings)

It was the spring of 2013, and as the two coaches – Senderoff the head coach at Kent State, and Young, who would soon be named an assistant at Minnesota – sat on the sidelines of the annual Boo Williams EYBL tournament, Senderoff ribbed Young: why couldn’t he land any recruits from New Heights, one of the top AAU programs in New York City that had previously been run by Young?

“I’ve known Rob a long time,” Young recalled, “and he was giving me a hard time for not helping him with Branden Frazier, so I told him, ‘I have a kid for you.’”

The kid in question was Jimmy Hall, a freshman who played the first seven games of the 2012-13 season at Hofstra and averaged 12.3 ppg while converting 50.7% of his twos. But on November 30, 2012, he, along with three teammates, was arrested and charged with numerous counts of burglary.

The quartet were dismissed from the school, and those actions, coupled with a depleted roster, ultimately led to the firing of coach Mo Cassara and his staff.

“A lot of people had written Jimmy off because of the arrests,” Senderoff said, “but if we didn’t give second chances, I wouldn’t be coach at Kent State.”

Senderoff knows from experience: he was hit with a 30-month show cause penalty for his actions as an assistant at Indiana, but was hired an an associate head at KSU, and then ultimately the team’s head coach in 2011, in spite of the findings.

Hall transferred to Kent State during the summer of 2013, and after sitting out the mandatory redshirt season, has become the conference’s top newcomer. A 6’7” forward with an old man’s skill set and a penchant for scoring within the arc — he’s made 52% of his twos — and per, he is by far the most effective Golden Flash converting at the rim.

Even though a bout of mononucleosis sidelined Hall for two weeks in mid-February, Kent State’s success — both in the 2015 MAC tournament (and potentially the NCAAs) but also the next two years — largely depends on the Brooklyn native. “Jimmy is our best player,” Senderoff said, “and I believe he has the opportunity to be one of the best players to ever play at Kent State.”

Rewind two years ago to that AAU event, and as it’s difficult to picture Hall playing for another Division I program. Hall’s mother, Noreen Stallings, never thought her only son would ever be in this situation, having to rebound from what she called “one big mistake that turned into a nightmare.”

A guidance counselor within the NYC’s public school system, Noreen knew her son was special from a young age. The family lived in Crown Heights, a Brooklyn neighborhood slowly gentrifying. “I don’t trust Brooklyn because of the elements,” Noreen confided. “I made sure to keep him out of the environment.”

For the first nine years of his education, Hall was enrolled at the Little Red School House in Greenwich Village, but by the time he reached eighth grade, Hall had begun to showcase his other precocious talent. Following the advice of Noreen’s brother, a basketball coach in Mississippi, Hall registered at the legendary St. Anthony High School, in Jersey City, NJ.

Hall was a freshman at St. Anthony’s when he first met Young. “Jimmy wasn’t like a normal kid,” he said. “Most kids, when they first come to St. Ant’s, have been through AAU ball already and are a bit coddled. Jimmy was none of that, but everyone was excited about his potential and what he could become.”

The commute from Brooklyn to Jersey City was some 90 minutes – “I kept him busy traveling back and forth, so he wouldn’t have time for anything other than basketball and school work,” Noreen said – and Hall was a key role player on the St. Anthony’s team that was undefeated in 2011 (and national high school champions) before he committed to Hofstra that fall.

Hall had spurned offers from Temple and Penn State, among others. “I thought he could play at a high- major,” Young said, “but I knew at a mid-major, he would provide an immediate impact.” There was also a family dinner of fried chicken, yellow rice, and pound cake, held at the house of Noreen’s other brother, that swayed the family to the CAA school. “The entire coaching staff, from Coach Mo to Coach [Patrick] Sellers, had dinner with us, and it made Jimmy have this family feeling,” Noreen said.

Hall was an integral part of Cassara’s rebuilding efforts at Hofstra. That first year would be tough, for sure, but there were plenty of minutes to spare, and the squad was full of underclassmen. Then came those November 2012 arrests, which were followed by campus outrage and a press conference where Cassara said he was “heartbroken” over the events: “There’s nobody that feels worse, that has slept less, that is more devastated about this than me.”

Big Apple Buckets reached out to Cassara, but he declined to comment.

The charges were eventually reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, and a rumor alleging Hall had also stolen from Cassara was unequivocally dispelled. Noreen, though, was even more devastated than the Hofstra coach. “I couldn’t understand why he would do it,” she said. “I did my job as a parent. I dropped him off at the college campus, and what he got himself involved with was outside my supervision.”

Hall didn’t know why he did it either, telling his family that although he knew right from wrong, there were others at Hofstra that could have been involved and they said no. “I have no one to blame but myself,” he said.

More than two years removed from the incident – a youthful offender, Hall’s record will be expunged and sealed once he completes 100 hours of community service – Hall realized he wasn’t a child anymore. “Every action comes with repercussions,” he said. “And that wasn’t me. I understand now that every action comes with repercussions.”

Hall’s rock bottom was that Christmas. His maternal grandmother always holds Christmas dinner, and Hall, who has 12 aunts and uncles, faced his extended family for the first time. “I have all these little cousins, and they look up to me,” he said. “Everyone was trying to encourage me, telling me they knew I would redeem myself, but I could tell they were disappointed.”

Hall had moved back in with his mother and two sisters, and was commuting to a local junior college, waiting for someone to take a chance. He built himself back up during those first few months, surrounded by a support system that knew his character and would help him as he waded through the legal process. The initial plan was to play one year at a junior college and “reinvent himself,” according to Young, until Senderoff heard he was available.

“I had also begun to have doubts whether staying in NYC was best for Jimmy,” Noreen said. When Hall was home for those several months in early 2013, “my mom was worried for me,” Hall said. “She thought I needed to get away from the busyness of the city.”

Senderoff needed another big to fill his recruiting class, and rather than waste a year of Hall’s eligibility, he pitched Hall and his mother the idea of transferring to the MAC school, sitting out a year in residency, and then playing as sophomore in 2014-15. Before the plan was cemented, though, Senderoff made sure to double-check Hall’s background and his fit at Kent State.

  • Could Kent State provide a highly structured environment? Check: “Kimani thought that was important for Jimmy. His academic advisor talks to Jimmy every day, and our staff makes a point to daily check in with him.”
  • Was he worth the risk? Check: “I talked to the entire Hofstra staff, because I wanted to get their opinion if Jimmy was worth bringing in here. They all signed off.”
  • Did he understand the seriousness of his issues? Check: “He still lives with that stigma, and when I brought Jimmy and his mom for a visit, we talked about making smart decision from this point on.”

“It’s not like we take reclamation project after reclamation project at Kent State,” Senderoff said. “Kids are going to make mistakes when they are 18 or 19 years old. Some of those mistakes are more serious than others, and what Jimmy was a part of at Hofstra isn’t to be taken lightly, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get a chance to go to college.”

Since taking the floor for Kent State, Hall has demonstrated a skill level that portends an all-conference, and potential player of the year, selection in the near future. No other Golden Flash takes as many shots as Hall, and his soft touch around the basket and ability to vacuum missed shots means the 6’7” big is nearly always attempting a high percentage look.

Since returning to the lineup in late February, he has scored 23.8 points and grabbed more than 8 rebounds per 40 minutes, and will be the key cog in the school’s quest to garner the MAC’s automatic bid — a three-seed in the conference tournament, Kent State has a bye until the quarterfinals on Thursday, and will play either Akron or Western Michigan.

“I never have been the ‘It’ guy for a team, so I am still learning,” Hall said. “That experience at Hofstra helped me grow, and my best is still yet to come.”

Matt Giles covers the Big East and other conferences for Big Apple Buckets. Follow him @HudsonGiles.

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