Hoops enthusiasts know that they can catch the best summer basketball action in the Bronx at Orchard Beach. Since it first started in 2000, the Hoops in the Sun (HITS) summer league has grown to 10 men’s teams and 26 youth teams and has become one of the premier summer leagues in the city. Randy Cruz, the man behind the league who hosts a weekly online radio show discussing the local and national hoops scene, discussed his hopes and vision for the future this week with Bronx Ink’s Shlomo Sprung.
Could you tell us about the Hoops In the Sun summer league and your specific involvement?
The Hoops in the Sun summer league was created by my father, my brother and I back in June of 2000. My father was a regional salesman for the Jennifer Convertibles and he had a trip to Venice Beach, California in the summer of 1999. He loved the atmosphere of people playing basketball on the beach right next to the water. Since Orchard Beach in the Bronx was his favorite summer venue, he came back to New York and told us his idea of starting a basketball league the following summer.
What does HITS mean to Orchard Beach and the Bronx community at large?
It means plenty to the Orchard Beach and the Bronx community. It’s always been known as the summer hotspot of the Bronx and annually draws over 100,000 people throughout the season. But now it has also become one of the greatest summer basketball venues since we’re the only summer-long league to operate on a beach venue. The people and fans of the Bronx and Orchard Beach continually show us love and support even on those really hot days. They dedicate their time for HITS during the summer when they can be vacationing somewhere else but they choose HITS for the simple fact that they know they’re in a safe, family oriented basketball environment and one day they can see their favorite NBA or street-ball player playing live and for free.
What does the Bronx mean to you and how does running HITS every year make you feel?
The Bronx is like our second home. Sometimes we go to the beach even when it’s not summer time. People think we’re from the Bronx but we’re actually from Manhattan! Running HITS every year is great. My brother and I are always adding something new, improving the league, improving the beautification of the venue, implementing things that aren’t anywhere else. We’re very big on being different and unique in the things we do. We look at every year and find out how we can be better than the previous summer. Whether it‘s sponsors or teams or how the court looks or adding something digital and always including the fans. It’s the grind that we look forward to. Every year is a challenge.
Have there been HITS alumni that have gone on to successful college and pro careers?
We’ve had former NBA players like Smush Parker, Kenny Satterfield, Ron Artest, Marcus Williams, Andre Barrett, Joakim Noah and Tracy McGrady. Current college stars include BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker along with a lot of other current high-level college players.
The HITS season is only played during the summer so you wanted to keep your brand visible in the offseason. Tell us about HITS Radio and how that accomplishes your brand extension?
The HITS Radio initiative came about last year around February. A couple of our friends were doing this thing called BlogTalk Radio and my brother and I thought it’d be a cool idea to keep fans and players engaged during the off-season by doing this online radio show since we felt we knew enough people that could come on as guests and guest hosts. It helps our brand extension because it gives fans an opportunity to talk to their favorite NBA and streetball players on the air and discuss topics that they wouldn’t normally discuss. It also helps because it shows HITS is keeping up with the times in a social network dominated world where everything is Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Most importantly, it extends the brand and our outreach to not only to people in NY or the U.S. but also to people across the world. Whether people have attended our league, seen our videos on YouTube or have heard us on HITS Radio, HITS is being more notarized outside the United States and in the world of basketball and business If people know your product or know of your product in more than one country, then you’re obviously doing something right.
I know you have a large Twitter presence, but what other methods are you using to promote the HITS brand?
Well the main one is our website, which is currently down due to renovation to update it. Hoopsinthesun.net has been our engine since 2002. Facebook, Twitter, HITS Radio, Vimeo, Tumblr, word of mouth of course and promoting through magazine and newspaper outlets.
What’s next for you and your company and can you give us your best pitch on why we should all head to Orchard Beach to watch basketball in just a few short months?
We’re looking at different things as it comes to expansion—a women’s league, expanding the Men’s league, continue marketing ourselves within the country and out the country and looking to have HITS become more of a household brand than just a summer basketball league in NY. People should head to Orchard Beach and HITS this summer because we’re celebrating our 12th season at the “Bronx Riviera” and it’s the best competitive summer basketball you’ll see and like the US Tennis Open, it’s one of the city’s majors. Ever see Roger Federer skip or not want to play in Wimbledon? Streetballers yearn to play for a championship in the city’s Wimbledon- Hoops in the Sun.