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Tony Paris can be seen coaching and training athletes in South Jersey

Tony Paris' acclaimed documentary on Philly's Baker League

07/22/2017, 9:15am EDT
By Kevin Callahan, SJSD

South Jersey resident has been coaching and training pro athletes in area for last 20 years

Tony Paris is used to being seen as a ubiquitous basketball guru, but perhaps his best work is when he is not seen.

Paris, who lives in Cherry Hill, has blessed South Jersey as a basketball coach and trainer as well as league director for over 20 years now. He can be seen front and center from all angles at events, games and workouts in the area.

However, he is probably best known for when he is not seen, when he is behind the camera making movies.

“I've been around a long time,” Paris said earlier this week with a laugh.

Paris, 54, has been a South Jersey guy for the last two decades, but his roots are in New York City, and his talented reach has once again extended into Philadelphia with the recent premier of his film documentary, The Baker League.

Last month, over 300 people, many Philadelphia basketball legends, attended the premiere of The Baker League, which documents and captures the former famed hoops summer league.

“The Baker league is a big story in Philadelphia because all of its history,” Paris said. “It’s just so phenomenal, there are so many things I didn't know with it being the first pro summer basketball league in America. That says a lot.”

Another showing of the documentary is scheduled for July 29 at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia.

The Baker League was started in 1960 by Sonny Hill as a four-team league for professional players to work on their game in the summer. The games were played on outdoor courts in North Philadelphia before eventually moving into the air-conditioned McGonigle Hall on the campus of Temple University.

“That is where the NBA got the idea of doing a pro summer league, from the Baker league,” said Paris, who played in the famed Rucker League while growing up in New York. “It all started in the Baker league.”

The early league boasted Philly basketball legends Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Monroe, Hal Lear and Guy Rodgers.

Over the years, other Philadelphia greats like Gene Banks, Lewis Lloyd, Jerome “Pooh” Richardson, Rasheed Wallace, Lionel Simmons, Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers and even Kobe Bryant played in the Baker League.

And many 76ers played in the Baker League, including Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Luke Jackson, Chet Walker, Wali Jones, Jim Washington, Billy Melchionni, Joe Bryant, Mike Bantom, World B. Free, Charles Barkley, Tim Perry and Darryl Dawkins.

Paris has also done documentary films on Chamberlain, Gathers and "Chocolate Thunder” on Dawkins.

In The Baker League, Kevin Baggett’s father, Bill, was spotlighted. Kevin was a star at Burlington Township High School and Saint Joseph’s University and is now the head coach of Rider.

 The connections are unbelievable,” Paris said. “Bill Baggett was a big-time player in the Baker League. He played in the NBA for two years.”

Paris’ connections are a who’s who of South Jersey basketball.

“I still do the personal training with the kids and the professional athletes,” Paris said. “I still train Jason Thompson and I still train Ryan Thompson and I train a bunch of guys who play overseas.

“I also train some college guys. I train Malik Ellison, who is Pervis’ son and I also train Tim Perry’s son, Timmy, he is at Drexel.”

Paris, who played at Hunter College in New York, also has trained South Jersey star players Dajuan Wagner, Charles Stanfield, Chris Duckery, Danny Miller, Clayton Brown and Tamal Forchion.

“I run a school basketball league in the spring and the fall at Virtua, but I've been doing all that for the past 20 years now,” said Paris, who was a former assistant basketball coach at Rutgers-Camden as well as a varsity assistant at Medford Tech and Pemberton. “I did it in Pemberton and Mount Holly for a lot of years.”

Paris knows what he teaches and films as he became a high-scoring guard in the New York summer leagues after college and before moving to South Jersey in 1995.

“I had a little bit of game, just a little bit,” Paris said modestly.

But, these days, Paris would rather make documentaries on the game, like The Baker League. He has a degree in computer science and studied film at Scribe Film School in Philadelphia.

“There were a lot of stories in the building that day,” Paris said about the premier.

Paris would like to see the documentary shown in a theater or maybe “another major network.”

“Right now, Comcast is airing it,” Paris said. “If we could get it on ESPN or MSG or Showtime, that would be great.”

Timber Creek boys' basketball coach Rich Bolds grew up in Philadelphia and played in the Baker League as well as its off-shoot, the Sonny Hill League.

“Just the overall talent,” Bolds said is what made the Baker so special “and the fact that over the summer everybody wanted to come home and work on their game in a professional setting and to compete.

“Sonny Hill started it and it was an awesome concept.

“You had Clarence Tillman, Nate Blackwell, Howie Evans, Gene Banks, Chubby Cox and I would go and watch those guys. And then you find yourself playing in the Baker League doing what you used to watch those guys do.”

Bolds, who played at Ben Franklin High School in Philly and then was a walk-on at Temple University under coach John Chaney, saw the documentary and said, ”It was great, it was awesome, it brought back a lot of memories.”

“I told a lot of people they need to check it out, that it was really cool. A lot of kids don't know about the history of it … it was great.”

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