Little did John Giraldo know that an athletic career in Jersey City, Guttenberg, West New York, and Bayonne would one day lead to Springfield, Mass. and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
From those Hudson County roots would grow not only a successful high school, collegiate, and professional basketball player, but a responsible man, husband, father, and teacher.
Giraldo, 40, says his upbringing and schooling in the county wound up fulfilling his dual pursuits.
His local journey started in Christ Hospital in Jersey City in 1974, and then later on to the Anna L. Klein School in Guttenberg for kindergarten through eighth grade. After a stint at St. Joseph of the Palisades High School in West New York for his freshman year, he went on to three years at Marist High School in Bayonne, a school he credits with helping develop who he is today.
Giraldo said he enjoyed his time at St. Joseph’s, now closed. It was comforting to his parents that he could walk to and from his Guttenberg home. He left after his first year because he wanted to challenge himself at the stronger basketball program at Marist.
Though it was an effort to get to Bayonne from North Hudson, Giraldo decided to give the new school a try, a decision he has never regretted, and one that helped him mature.
“I was a very local kid; I didn’t really know what it was to be outside of my comfort zone,” he said. “Marist opened my eyes to the world and made me become more independent and able to take care of myself. I learned to budget my time, as well as become more social. It gave me the chance to be a part of a group of different people. Going to Marist was a big leap for me.”
Giraldo was confident in his switch because his grammar school coach Joe Forenza had become an assistant coach at Marist. Though he was worked hard by Marist head coach Mike Leonardo, Giraldo immediately took to him and says he was the best coach he ever played for.
At Marist, Giraldo’s hardwood game flowered. He made the varsity team as a sophomore, and though not a starter, he prepared for the time he would be on court. That opportunity came only a couple of weeks into the season, when the team’s starting point guard broke his wrist, and Giraldo was thrust into the staring lineup.
He did well over the next three years, improving each season. Giraldo averaged 8 points a game as a sophomore, 12 as a junior, and 17 a game as a senior. He was an all-county selection all three years.
Giraldo really came of age as a senior, when he was named an all-state player, a McDonald’s All-American honorable mention, and a top 50 player in the country.
Early in his senior year he committed to Monmouth University in West Long Branch, a small private school. Though he thought he would stay for one year and then transfer to the stronger St. John’s University basketball program, that never happened because his freshman year at Monmouth was better than he ever imagined.
“I fell in love with the staff, the school, the environment, and with the future I had at Monmouth,” Giraldo said. “I was just very comfortable and happy where I was.”
He still has friends from his Monmouth days, and he returns to his alma mater regularly.
After his successful college basketball career at Monmouth, Giraldo went on to play professional basketball in five countries: Argentina, Colombia, Germany, Portugal, and Venezuela.
“They were all great,” he said. “They all had their perks, their positives. They all had something to offer. But in Colombia, I met my wife, so I’d pick Colombia.”
Led to great honor
Where did all this lead? To a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame, where he will be inducted into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) section. (Giraldo played in the Northeast Conference while at Monmouth, but the school has since moved to the MAAC conference.)
Giraldo will be inducted on Oct. 17 in Springfield.
“Marist opened my eyes to the world and made me become more independent and able to take care of myself.” – John Giraldo
Giraldo is now a physical education teacher at Anna L. Klein, his alma mater.
Giraldo worked as a substitute teacher in May and June, after the basketball season ended. When his hoops career was finished in 2005, he already felt comfortable in education.
“I was adjusted to the classroom,” he said. “When I completely stopped playing basketball, it was an easy transition to go right into teaching. This afforded me the opportunity to stay in sports and stay in basketball.”
Though Giraldo now lives in Marlboro in Monmouth County, he will always be a Hudson County favorite son.
He was inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame last year.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.