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Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Reporter Nate Beutel composed an outstanding three-part series on Flynn for the Niagara Gazette in December 2006, just before the start of Flynn's senior season of high school ball. We caught up with Beutel this week and asked him to introduce the series.
Beutel generously obliged:
Jonny Flynn: "He's that damn good."
Niagara Falls likes to consider itself the "Honeymoon Capital of the World." For this Cataract City scribe, the years spent watching Jonny Flynn craft his game on the hardwood of Niagara Falls High School's Wolvearena was like a honeymoon in my own backyard.
The Falls has always been a hotbed for basketball, but Flynn took it to new heights. He helped NFHS to a state title and national prominence, earned all-American status, signed a full scholarship to Syracuse and even laced 'em up for Team USA's under-19 World Championship squad. He also had an all-American home, something rare in today's society.
Prior to Flynn's senior season at NFHS, I sat down with the area icon to discuss everything from diapers to Jordans. After two successful seasons at SU, Flynn will begin to write the next chapter of his life Thursday when he's selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Part One of the series highlights Flynn's biography, which included growing up in a rough neighborhood in Niagara Falls:
With crime, violence, drugs, and gangs, Garden Avenue is a difficult place to raise a family, and an even more difficult place to be a little kid.
But for budding Niagara Falls High School basketball star Jonny Flynn, it's been home for the past 18 years.
And he's proud of it. That's where the memories, experiences and process began for the Syracuse-bound star.
"You see Highland Avenue, right up there,” Flynn said from the living room. "You could ride down there at night and just see a lot of people that didn't make the best out of their lives.”
You'll never catch Flynn anywhere near those demons, because of the strong messages his family instilled in him.
"My parents and my family have always said you don't want to grow up like them,” he said. "You want to make it out of Niagara Falls and give back to the community. My parents steered me in the right direction and told me things to watch for.”
Flynn's father, William, happens to also be a minister at Higher Ground Christian Center in the city. And Flynn's mother, Deidre, has been the one that he's reached out to when in need of advice - or simply some baby love.
That being said, it was the lessons the Flynns taught their son throughout the years that have helped keep him grounded when success came calling, and with potential.
... Flynn, who carries a 90-plus average in school, is rarely in a down mood. And even if he is, you usually can't even tell.
"That why I always have a smile on my face, because even if you aren't really having fun, you have to make people think you're having fun,” he said.
His mother noted that the fun they've shared over the years as a family has probably rubbed of.
"We like to have fun and enjoy ourselves,” she said. "You should only be sad or angry for a moment in your life. Life is too short, so you should always try to smile.”
And Flynn, who is described as being kind, fun loving and gentleman-like by students and staff at Niagara Falls High School says he won't forget the lessons he's learned from family, friends, teachers and coaches throughout the years.
"Basketball is going to be there for a while, but after basketball what are people going to remember you as?,” he said. "I want to be known as Jonny Flynn, the good basketball player, and great person, who was courteous and generous to everyone.”
And in his father's eyes that's a perfectly clear vision that he shares as well.
"I see Jonny as a man that will believe in community and will help his fellow man no matter what,” he said.
Part Two of the 2006 series focuses on Flynn's prolific career at Niagara Falls High School, where he earned an unprecedented level of trust from his coaches and teammates:
Legendary hoops coach Al "Doc” Massotti always had a philosophy that freshmen shouldn't be on the varsity, let alone play on the varsity.... As a sixth grader at Gaskill Middle School, Flynn longed to have the chance to play modified ball with his cousins Eric Flynn and James Starks. But that wasn't going to happen because only seventh and eighth graders were allowed on the modified teams.
But after watching a short, scrawny ninth-grader named a few years back, the late Niagara Falls High School assistant, could do nothing but shake his head and say: "He's that damn good.”
So what did Flynn do?
He bypassed modified a year later as a seventh grader and moved right up to the junior varsity.
Observers weren't overly bullish on Niagara Falls' chances to win a state championship, something that gnawed at Flynn's competitive instincts:
With all that talent, Flynn is baffled at some prognosticators and their thoughts that the Falls may not make it past Buffalo State this season. To that extent, he believes this team has a great chance at not only making the state tournament, but winning it, just as they did in 2005.
"I don't see how people can say we aren't going to make it out Section VI,” he said. "I see that as a slap in our face. To be honest, I think we should make it to states very easily this year.”
And while Flynn still plans on scoring nearly 30 points per game, he's even more focused on helping his teammates develop into better players.
"This is my full role (to be the team leader) this year," he said. "I'm the only one from this team that won a state championship and I know what it takes to get back.
"I want to teach the young guys, get them better, get them scholarships to college. We want to win states and when you win, that's when you get recognized. We have to keep winning so everyone can get noticed and we can all be successful.”
Niagara Falls didn't win the title in 2007, but Flynn had a standout senior season. He had already committed to Syracuse, and part three of Beutel's series offers a glimpse of how Flynn's future looked from a 2006 vantage point:
Flynn has always dreamed of lacing his high tops up and slipping on a New York Knicks jersey at Madison Square Garden.
But could that dream actually come to fruition some day?
"We think so,&r
dquo; Meyer said. "We have him rated as a five-star recruit because we think he could play at that level.”
... And while it's undoubted that Flynn has the skills to play professional basketball, his size (6-foot) is always a question mark for pro scouts.
But if you listen to Meyer, he's not buying it.
"Combine his great athleticism and his shot and he can definitely overcome his height disadvantage,” he said. "I'm not saying it'll be easy to overcome his height, but he has the attributes that a needs to do so.
"And plus Jonny has a lot of heart and thrives in those kind of circumstances.”
... Admittedly when it comes time to hang 'em up, whenever that may be, Flynn is still unsure of what he'll be doing.
He's leaning toward studying communications at Syracuse, which has produced the likes of MSG's Marv Albert, ESPN's Mike Tirico and NBC's Bob Costas.
"I've never really thought about it,” he said. "I like talking, so broadcasting or analyzing, maybe. I'll probably stay around basketball, though.”
That being said, typical of Flynn, he ended his thoughts with his ultimate goal in life.
"I just want to be known as a great person,” he said. "Being a good person outside of basketball is more important than anything in the world to me.”