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The Gauchos and Riverside Connection: How Two Programs Changed the New York Basketball Landscape

New York City is known as "The Mecca" in most basketball circles. Hall of Famers like Chris Mullin, and Bob Cousy all crafted their games in the playgrounds and gyms of the Big Apple before taking their considerable talents to the collegiate and professional ranks. For many in the city, basketball represents more than just a game; it represents a way of life that borders on a religious experience. Players approach the game less like a sport and more like a trade; routines get passed down from generation to generation helping to cultivate the NYC next great crop of talent.

In New York City, you will be hard-pressed to find two institutions with more vibrant histories or traditions than Gauchos and Riverside Hawks. NBA All-Stars, McDonald's All-Americans, and NCAA Champions have all honed their skills on the hallowed grounds of these two AAU powerhouses. Let's take a look at how Gauchos and Riverside rose to prominence to become pillars of New York City's amateur basketball community.

Established in 1967, Gauchos gym has been at the epicenter for the Bronx hoops scene for almost 50 years. Located in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx just blocks away from Yankee Stadium, the Gauchos gym is considered a historical landmark for NYC's basketball aficionados. Gauchos has a track record of cultivating physical, defensive-oriented distributors.

The Gaucho's alumni list reads as "who's who" of NYC basketball over the past 25 years, Chris Mullin, Rod Strickland, Mark Jackson, God Shamgod, Jamal Mashburn, Kemba Walker, and Kenny Anderson have all made a name for themselves playing under the Gauchos banner. Former WNBA players Kahleah Cooper and Shannon Bobbitt also rose to prominence in the Gauchos AAU program. 

The Riverside Hawks were founded in 1961. The program is nationally recognized not only for its basketball exploits but for its 90% college acceptance rate. Located on the west side of Harlem, the Riverside program has earned a reputation amongst the city's basketball constituents for their no-nonsense approach to player development and conditioning. Riverside players display a level of tenacity that distinguishes their youth groups from the rest of the pack. Riverside's impressive list of alumni includes Kenny Smith, Lamar Odom, Metta World Peace, Donovan Mitchell, Eric Paschall, Ed Pickney, and Ty Jerome. 

Players from across the five boroughs and NJ continue to trek to these two hoop institutions in hopes of honing their skills and becoming the program's next top prospect. For those in the city, these two programs represent more than just opportunity and exposure. These two programs have become pillars in their respective communities, each using basketball as a platform to inform young people on the value of teamwork, failure, practice, and accountability. For every Chris Mullin or Lamar Odom who made it to the professional ranks, there are hundreds of other nameless players who've applied the lessons they learned on the hardwood to their everyday lives. 

In recent years both clubs have come under intense public scrutiny, administrators on both sides were accused or convicted of sexual misconduct with minors. These unfortunate instances of abuse have forced both clubs to reevaluate their positions and implement systems of checks and balances to ensure the safety of their children. It's a shame that the abhorrent actions of a few individuals have tainted the legacy of the players, coaches, and families that have become the lifeblood of these programs. 

These programs provide a series of "first" for many of their youngsters; first trip outside of their borough, first trip out of state, first experience playing with and against people from different cultural backgrounds. Basketball has always served as a social bridge of sorts connecting people of shapes, shades, and sizes through a shared love of competition. Gauchos and Riverside are exposing their players to more than basketball, they're introducing them to a world filled with opportunity and promise. 

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