Harold “Hal” Cervini
St. Aloysius High School/Tulane University
When 12-year-old Harold Cervini was invited to join a group of his young peers at St. Roch Playground in a game of basketball, he told them he wasn’t interested because he knew nothing about how the game was played. A four-man team desperately needed a “body” to fill a spot.
The son of Italian immigrants, young Harold’s aspirations hardly included dribbling and shooting a basketball, but, “I finally told the others I’d be their fifth man,” Cervini recalled.
Thus began an unusual odyssey that led him to a career that took him around the globe. Cervini’s unique skills earned him all-state honors in high school and All-SEC accolades twice at Tulane followed by being inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982.
He learned a little more about the fundamentals of basketball from Catholic Schools Athletic League coach Warren Lawrence, but he wasn’t aware of the challenge before him.
“I played one minute of three games; that’s all. I was embarrassed, so I went home and learned over the next several months how to use my left hand to dribble and shoot. I went back the next year and had a great season,” Cervini said. So great that he was named the CSAL’s Most Valuable Player for Louisiana.
Johnny Altobello‘s 1946-47 St. Aloysius squad, which featured superstar Nick Revon, won the state championship with a 20-1 record. With Revon’s prep career nearing an end, Altobello needed a capable guard to replace him. Cervini exhibited the skills and perseverance to fill that spot.
As an eighth grader, Cervini learned defensive skills quickly. Altobello matched him against four-time all-state guard Revon, who became Cervini’s idol. It didn’t take long for Cervini to adequately fill Revon’s spot.
Earning the nickname “Cat,” Cervini and St. Aloysius had three outstanding seasons. The 1948-49 Crusaders posted a perfect 18-0 record and a state Class AA championship. The following year, St. Aloysius lost one Prep League game, to Fortier, which ended a league winning streak of 39 games. The Crusaders were AA runner-up to Baton Rouge High that season, but in Cervini’s final year of 1950-51, the Crusaders regained the state title. He was named to all-state twice.
Cervini’s success continued at Tulane where he became a four year letterman and captain of the basketball team. He was named to All-SEC teams in 1954 and 1955. Considered one of the best point guards and ball-handlers in the nation, the young guard broke numerous records at Tulane and still holds eight records. He led the team in scoring all four years and was selected one of the top 10 players in the South.
Cervini was drafted by NBA teams in both his junior and senior seasons, but he was also drafted by the U.S. Army, for which he continued to play and win championships for the next four years.
After a brief coaching stint under Altobello at De La Salle and later Chalmette and South Terrebonne, Cervini was given the position of supervisor of Algiers playgrounds in 1970 by his childhood friend and then mayor, Maurice “Moon” Landrieu. After 26 years of serving the New Orleans Recreation in that capacity, Cervini retired at age 62 and now lives in Terrytown.
Story submitted by Ron Brocato of the Greater New Orleans Sports Selection Committee.