Gerard Avenue's Jumping Gymnasium

IT isn't the worst neighborhood in the South Bronx. But it's also not a place you'd probably go at night - unless you were a college basketball coach prowling for talent. In that case, you'd probably make your way past the check-cashing parlors and stripped-down cars to an old warehouse on Gerard Avenue. Inside is a dazzling new gymnasium, with glass backboards, wood paneling, and white stucco walls.

No weight room or frills, just pure basketball. ``Very Japanese,'' is how Mr. Page, a Gaucho coach, describes it.

Dave Jones, who manages the gym, was the first to see it. At 1 a.m., the night before the Gauchos' awards dinner, he got a call from Lou d'Almeida, the Gauchos' founder.

They drove over to this old warehouse in the dead of night. ``He's smiling and grinning and I'm thinking, `What does he want me to do, beat up somebody?''' Jones recalls.

``He told me to close my eyes, and he turned on the light. I went crazy. He gave me the keys and said, `This is your gym.'''

The next night, they brought the kids and their parents over. ``The kids were just running up and down and jumping,'' Mr. Jones says. ``The parents were crying.''

Mr. d'Almeida is extremely generous in covering expenses, Mr. Page says. But he can't resist a good-natured dig at the boss.

After three years, the padding under the baskets still isn't complete. ``Lou says things take time,'' Page deadpans. ``Everything takes time.''

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