With another milestone rapidly coming into view, one that will put him in esteemed company, Jeff Jasper remains true to what’s put the Pascack Valley treasure on the threshold of a number hard to truly fathom.
His players swear their unwavering allegiance to a man who more than reciprocates and goes the extra mile in return. Head coach of the girls basketball team may be his title, but doesn’t begin to broach the extension of his role. His unique style, replete with boots and jeans, reaches beyond grooming players into his system and stretches into everyday life. He offers lessons that, like the messenger, stand the test of time. Nuggets carried out by the legions who’ve donned the green and gold as Indians before entering the real world empowered by an eternal ambassador who got his sense of instilling confidence in young ladies from the woman who gave him the blueprint to model.
Gussie Jasper was one of a kind according to her son, working the pumps at the family’s Midland Park gas station in heels, hoop earrings and a tank full of sass. She took nothing off no one and expected the same of her son, who, in turn, has implored his players to follow suit. He dispenses tough love in a fashion all his own, dressing down a mistake with an in-your-face response perhaps shocking to those unfamiliar with Pascack Valley, but recognized by the recipients as a rite of passage.
To say it’s nothing personal would be to miss the point. It’s deeply personal, from an overseer with vision focused on the long term impressed upon the subject to share what he sees, both in the moment and, more importantly, the future. Teaching moments if you will, bestowed by a mild-mannered, highly-regard history teacher by day and basketball savant when school lets out, compelled to address an on-court issue for an instant that transcends the hardwood for a lifetime.
“He’s a very respectful guy,” said senior guard Toriana Tabasco. “We know everything he says and does is for a reason. Even at the time, if you don’t, eventually you will.”
Insight, wisdom and a stickler for proper execution have put Jasper just eight wins away from the 1,000th of his illustrious 45-year career after the latest, a 63-35 victory over Lakeland on Sunday as part of the Autism Games hosted by Pascack Valley.
Once he attains the magical number, Jasper will join legendary boys basketball icon Bob Hurley, who oversaw St. Anthony of Jersey City for 45 years and compiled 1,187 wins before the school sadly closed its doors in April, as the only other mentor in New Jersey to achieve such a prestigious windfall.
The accomplishment will be something to relish, most likely celebrated in the same order as when he claimed his 900th, shared with the wealth of family, friends, colleagues and former players who graciously want to soak in the feat and pay their regards to the coach who’s touched far more lives than any win total could ever begin to express.
The testimonials from his current cast reveal the many sides to a distinct and distinguished human being who’s magically stopped the hands of time to maintain a youthful exuberance by absorbing that of what his players bring to the gym every day.
“I had to go up by the field one day and I see him out there jogging,” said senior guard Kelly Smith. “The guys is unbelievable.”
“He was telling me the other day about his spin class and working with a personal trainer,” added senior swing Kelly Petro. “He never stops.”
Perhaps, because if you have to ask those you’re entrusted to guide to abide to a certain work ethic, it’s best to live by such a code. The motion offense and gritty man-to-man are staples annually attached to Jasper teams but so too is an emphasis on preparation and sheer hustle.
Those elements were evident on Sunday. While the offense searched to find its groove, one eventually found through the scorching touch of junior Brianna Smith, who canned five 3-pointers en route to a team-high 21 points, the Indians’ defense more than compensated by inducing 20 first-half turnovers.
“He motivates us,” said senior guard Brianna Wong, who finished with nine points. “If he calls you over and yells at you, you listen because he’s knows everything and is always right. It means he cares.”
From his perspective, Jasper is the lucky one, they guy who once upon a time, when bunkered in a foxhole in Vietnam pledged to himself if he emerged alive and returned home, to find a calling that would give him the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives. Thus, a thousand wins stands no match when weighed against the countless souls Jasper has influenced while becoming a Pascack Valley institution.
“I love the basketball and the kids I’ve coached,” Jasper said. “But, the truth is, if I hadn’t been winning, I wouldn’t have met this whole myriad of people from the eccentrics to way over on the other scale and everybody in between. They’ll say it’s the coaches and the kids I coached and that’s all true, but it really is all the peripheral people who would never have been a part of my life if I had just been .500 or only coached for a couple of years.”
If you haven’t figured out by now, Jasper is a people person, a warm, jovial intellect devoted to everyone in his wide-ranging circle. It’s that embrace that annually attracts so many coaches to bring their teams back year after year to Autism Games or Joe Poli Christmas Tournament. The loyalty goes both ways.
But, nowhere does it runner deeper than within the Indian family. Jasper will advocate for his girls at every turn, an homage to a mother who lived in manner her son deems one to emulate.
How proud she would be.