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dwight hardy bronxDwight Hardy (pictured) spent this year playing professional basketball in Italy, a long way from his home in the Bronx. But that distance couldn’t keep this former St. John’s University standout from giving back to his neighborhood when he came to visit this month.

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The New York Daily News spent some time with Hardy as he reconnected with old friends in the Andrew Jackson Houses where he grew up. Several weekends ago, he hosted a basketball tournament to help revive the “Birdcage,” a “fenced-in basketball court that for more than a decade was a vibrant social hub.”

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Participants in the event said it was a great success. The Daily News has more:

“It was the best three days we’ve had out here for a long time,” said Jeffrye Medina, 23. “My mom’s never out here. She be out here. The support was crazy.”

“It was a peaceful day,” said Jackson Houses’ resident association president, Dan Barber.

That was until shots rang out at about 7 p.m. from the Melrose Houses, across the street.

“All of a sudden we hear pop, pop, pop, pop,” Barber recalled.

Police said a youth in an orange t-shirt and shorts had opened fire on a crowded basketball court in Melrose, wounding a 21-year-old man in the knee.

Hardy said he knew nothing about the violence that erupted just yards from his goodwill effort. His best friend, Nalevi Bradshaw, said things were different when the Drug Elimination Program sponsored basketball tournaments from 1990 to 2002.

“If we still had tournaments like we had, there would be less crime,” Bradshaw said. “As everything is getting closed, it leaves nothing for people to do.”

Hardy was able to avoid the pitfalls that many of his peers fell into because of a mother who kept him focused. He said that they were always by his side and kept him moving in the right direction. Their affection helped him to attend St. John’s University where he helped to lead the Red Storm the 2012 NCAA Tournament, its first in since 2002. This past season, he played with the franchise Pistoia Basket, which plays in the Tuscany region.

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Hardy says he hopes young people will look at his success as an example of what they can do if they do not give up and stay focused.

“I tell them just work hard every day and believe in yourself,” Hardy said. “Stay in school, too. That’s first before anything. I hope they follow what I’m saying.”

For more on the success story, go to the Daily News.

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