Even college basketball recruiters and pro basketball scouts, whose thankless job it is to attend basketball games as often as possible, have nothing on Manny Fernandez. In fact, the 73-year-old New Jersey man just might be the greatest fan in the history of prep basketball.
Fernandez has seen almost every major high school basketball game played in the Garden State since 1959, including all 129 Tournament of Champions games played since the state's all-class tourney began 26 years ago, according to a Newark Star-Ledger feature. Of course, Fernandez would know Kentucky-bound 7-footer Karl Towns Jr. led Metuchen (N.J.) St. Joseph High to its first ever title at this year's edition.
“I would say since 1959, I have seen 85 percent of all the state group finals played," Fernandez told The Star-Ledger. “I just can't get enough high school basketball. I go to games six days a week, sometimes seven. I went to the PrimeTime Shootout in Trenton years ago and was there for the first game which started at 9 a.m. and stayed until after the last game, which started at 9 p.m. I got a hotel.
“I go to all the all the showcase games on the weekends and watch as many as 10 games. The only time I leave early is if the last game is a blowout."
According to the feature, Fernandez, who never played past the junior varsity level, first caught the prep basketball bug upon watching a five-overtime thriller between former Elizabeth, N.J., rivals St. Patrick and Thomas Jefferson some 60 years ago. Since then, he's forged lifelong relationships with area coaches, including legendary Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, who he's known for four decades.
Fernandez met the perfect companion in 1983 -- his wife Mary of 31 years -- who has reportedly attended every game with her husband since her retirement a decade ago. They attend prep football and baseball games, too. The pair received a lifetime pass to any sporting event held in Union County, and their love for high school sports has reportedly earned them invitations on road trips to Florida, Hawaii and California.