BRENTWOOD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A big honor is coming this week for a local basketball coach. The New York Knicks are about to name a junior coach of the year.

One of the five in the running is a janitor from a community on Long Island that’s been in the national spotlight for the wrong reasons.

By day, John Rueb works to clean up Brentwood schools, but after hours the head custodian focuses on making the kids shine on the hardwood.

From tiny dribblers to high school hoops stars, he’s changing young lives. Rueb coaches boys and girls, volunteering his down time to raise up at-risk kids and teach life lessons.

“Acceptance, looking out for each other, especially in this community with all of the gang violence that’s going on,” he said.

It’s not all bout wins for Rueb. Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas were among his star players. They lost their lives to gang violence.

“It was very emotional because it sort of gives you a dose of reality that you can’t save everybody,” he said.

Even more reason now to try and change the game for others.

Rueb coaches travel teams and his very own Brentwood Development League which includes children with disabilities, to give them a shot at the lessons of sport.

Now, the 51-year-old is in the running for Junior Knicks Coach of The Year. The winner will be announced at Wednesday’s Knicks game.

Rueb said more important than winning on the court, is winning in life.

“I want to be the person I needed when I was younger,” he said, “If you’re in the gym two hours a night, you’re going to school doing homework, eating dinner, you don’t have time to be doing bad things.”

Having gotten mixed up in drugs and alcohol himself as a teen, Rueb rebounded and now teaches his kids to play it straight. It’s not whether you win or lose, he said, but whether you win or learn.

The other contenders are from Queens, Westchester, Staten Island, and New Jersey.

The winner will go on to the Junior NBA Coach competition and become eligible for a grant for their basketball organization.

 

Watch & Listen LIVE