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I Used To Play Basketball Against Aaron Hernandez And His Brother DJ, And They Scared The Shit Out Of Me

New ENgland Patriots Hernandez MurderNormally we don’t invoke stories from our own pasts here on Sportsgrid. When are bloggers ever directly involved in anything not Twitter related? Most of us haven’t touched a ball/stick/gloves/bat/field since we were 12… Well, when I was 12, I played basketball against Aaron Hernandez. A lot. And I’m here to say that those memories were the scariest moments of my relatively short playing career.

Why? Because he was a fucking scary kid. And there were two of him.

His brother DJ, who played QB at UCONN, was my age (I also saw him when I went to UCONN for a year, where he became the most suspiciously muscular human being I have ever seen in my life since). DJ played behind Dan Orlofsky, who went to the Detroit Lions, and ended up out of football without much fanfare. Needless to say, DJ was a scary-ass dude, and his brother Aaron followed right in his footsteps.

Despite being a child, Aaron naturally played with the big kids. Big, scared kids, whom I was one of.

Background: If you’re unfamiliar with Bristol, CT, you may scoff at the idea of such a cliché New England river valley settlement being a football factory. But it is. Bristol is a tough, post-industrial city, with an incredible sports pedigree. Aaron was the nation’s number one TE recruit coming out of Bristol Central High School. In fact, it’s where ESPN is based out of. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something up there that screams competition. And those Hernandez boys had it constantly coursing through their veins.

Now, before I jump into some judgement about them as people based on playing against them a few times in intra-town basketball, I must say that I’ve known a lot of complete dicks on the court who were super nice dudes off it. It’s actually kind of weird how often you’re surprised that it turns out this way. That being said: I remember trying to draw a charge from Aaron Hernandez and being sent onto the adjacent court, interrupting play of another game.

I think I remember him finishing with a soft finger roll.

Also, I’m not equating “playing hard” with “being a murderer”. It was something more than that. Just, I don’t know, a seriousness that felt like the court got freezing cold when he was on it. It felt like he’d do anything to win, and not smile when he did. It was as if he was playing just to elbow the wind out of your solar-plexus. Winning was just a symptom of destroying other kids during a “game”.

I’ve never played sports against anyone like this since, and it really is frightening.

And it’s not like I’ve never met hard dudes. I’m not from the insanely rich, homogenous Fairfield County (though, athletes emerge from there as well, like, oh, Steve freakin’ Young). I’m from Hamden, CT. In high school, we played some grown ass men at Wilbur Cross (New Haven), Hillhouse (New Haven), and Trinity Catholic (Bridgeport). Come to think of it, two of my high school teammates have been killed or paralyzed by gang-related incidents since graduating. So I’ve definitely been around some hard dudes. And none compared to the Hernandez brothers.

No one.

As my Dad tells me, their Dad was hard, too. In a good way, though. “If he had been around, none of this stuff would be happening,” my Dad told me when I asked him about the murder investigation swirling around the Connecticut product. “He was a strict, really good guy,” he said. “Definitely no nonsense.”

Dennis Hernandez died in 2006.

As all this craziness develops regarding the Patriots TE — a dead body found near his MA mansion (not in CT), suspicious destruction of his cell phone, professional cleaning of his home, constantly testing positive for weed in college — I just keep thinking back to when I would face the Bristol Boys and Girls Club in the late nineties, and how scared for my life I was on the damn basketball court. I remember seeing the younger Aaron, who at 9 would occasionally play up with his brother, and wondered how a child could make such a terrifying face. Eyebrows furrowed, no smile. Put it this way: if my child ever made that face, I’d never ground him.

Is this any indication of his guilt? No, though the other evidence, however circumstantial, is going to get him a arrested for obstruction of justice any day now. However, his on court demeanor was, for what it’s worth, not something generally attributed to Dalai Lamas.

I’m not condoning judging a book by it’s cover. It’s just that some books look and feel like they want to kill you.

[Photo via Getty]

Follow Jake on Twitter @SportsyDad

  • Emmet

    This is a disgraceful piece of sports journalism. A professional athlete is linked to a murder investigation…do you think it’s in good taste or anyway appropriate to reflect on how tough he played against you in basketball when you were 12?

    I get it. Cool story, you have some connection to the news. However, this article was a poor decision on your part. What’s your point?

  • Jake O’Donnell

    I guess it was a personal story. If you don’t want to read it, don’t.

  • maxxine

    I really enjoyed reading your take on things. And I do think that the way you comport yourself on the court or field as a child, like cheating as opposed to throwing your racket, does translate into adulthood. For what it’s worth I think you are onto something. Thank you.

  • Tardis

    Cool story, bro.


    a 9-year-old oj used to give me those kinds of looks on the putt-putt course…

  • jim

    With absolutely no judgement here on my part, that’s up to the evidence, Hernandez is involved to some degree or the obstruction of justice charges would not have been considered. Keep in mind, all of professional sports (maybe not golf!…lol), has a large number of thugs, who play at all levels; guns, spousal abuse, drugs, PED’s, battery, head-butting your wife, or smacking your lawyer on the ass in court!!??

  • Wyatt

    Now that I think about it, when 6-year-old Jeffrey Dahmer and I would trade school lunches he would never deal the gingerbread men.

  • CTgirl85

    Wow, did you get your degree in New Haven? Bristol, which by the way is not tough, has things that we can be proud of unlike where you are from. I went to Central with both of them, not scary guys at all. And before you write an article get your facts straight, his house was in MA not CT.

  • Jake O’Donnell

    Ya, at Yale.

  • Abu

    this is disgusting. shame on you

  • Anonymous

    What’s your point? The man’s talking about some personal experience. I don’t see any reason for you to get your panties all in a bunch. And where did you get your journalism degree, anyhow?

  • Anonymous

    Cops and DAs come up with imaginary evidence all the time. Believe it. Real court is not TV

  • Jake O’Donnell

    that’s a bit much, no?

  • Jake O’Donnell

    No, thank you for reading. Much appreciated.

  • Mallory

    I must say, I too have accidentally broken cell phones, had my house professionally cleaned, smoked pot, and lived in areas where bodies are found. I have never killed anyone. I also do not have visible tattoos or a LOT of money that the whole world knows about, which would make me a good target for a framing. You say you’re not condoning judging a book by it’s cover, but that’s exactly what you did. None of us know ANYTHING about what Aaron and DJ have been through in their lives, not even when they were nine, you have no right to imply he is guilty simply because YOU were afraid of him. I have had interactions with both Hernandez brothers and never ONCE felt unsafe or like they were bad people. So please save your judgment, because I am sure you have not lived a perfect life either. I am not at all trying to be rude, I just think this is highly inappropriate when nothing has been proven either way yet.

  • Jake O’Donnell

    Pretty sure I explicitly avoided correlating the two. He’s been connected to gangs. Have you been connected to gangs? He destroyed his home surveillance system. Done that before? I’m sure they’re both great guys. Its looking like Aaron is connected to a murder. Have you been investigated because the police found the body of a guy you hung out with near your house? I didn’t make the connection. I just told a story.

  • abiyoyo

    Ok – We got it – You were scared, real scared of the Hernandez bros. back when you were 7? I guess that says a lot more about you than them. You forgot to say that their mom had gas when pregnant with them and thought for sure that she was giving birth to Satan himself – and that she feared for her life after they were born – because they were some scary badass kids!!! Or maybe you were just smokin’ a little weed yourself to stimulate your imagination when you couldn’t come up with something real to tell us. What trash!!!

  • Jon Doe

    Im 100% sure Hernandez is guilty just give it time. For all we know LLoyd was shot in his house and dumped off at the park….but all that aside I dont get this article in the least bit…your making this guy and his brother ‘MONSTERS’ while they were kids….almost giving the vibe like this was bound to happen and basically blasting his brother of using PED’s to get huge. Maybe your just hating on where this guy got and where your at now and this article is your way of pointing the finger and saying ‘HA HA’ Hell maybe you just got embarrassed so bad by this guy and his brother playing sports growing up…this is your way of getting even? I mean I cant even cant count how many times that you emphasized in this article that you were literally about to sh!t a brick when you played with this guy and his brother. Either way I got a kick out of reading this.

  • Jake O’Donnell

    What can I say. Scary dudes. May not be news, but if you played ball against Tom Brady when you were a kid and he had an epic mean mug, you’d tell people…

  • Anonymous

    It’s early yet, but this whole sordid situation is definitely trending in a very ruinous direction for the immature and unpredictable (nutty?) Hernandez. (Patriots are already quietly distancing themselves from the whole thing in case you haven’t noticed.) With that said I happen to agree with the sentiment that feels your story about the scary nature of a very young Hernandez perhaps says just as much about you as it says about him either now or way back then.

  • Steady

    I just lmao, Connecticut has gangs? That’s funny. I grew up white in a notoriously crime ridden, minority based, gang ruled, city in Cali, and was never scared of anyone, even the killers. Grow a pair already, what’s the worst that happen running into a “bad” guy, you get whacked? Big deal. You’re probably the type of rich kid that my boys and I extorted for your daddy’s $. Just pathetic. I mean really, a scary 9 year old. You probably get scared walking alone at night in a big city. You’re parents must be so proud of their daughter.

  • connecticut lawyer

    I am from Fairfield County, Connecticut….went to UConn, graduated with a degree in journalism and then went to law school.

    One this article is garbage. Facts are all wrong (ie. Trinity Catholic is in Stamford not Bridgeport).

    Two, try not to slander DJ Hernandez when from all public accounts he was nothing but a role model during his time at UConn. Unless you have some other personal knowledge to share that makes him a bad person then you can’t publish things like this.

    shame on you

  • Alswear Evony

    wow, you really don’t get it. This wasn’t a journalism piece. This was an article re-telling a feeling the writer had that concerned a sports figure. Disgraceful is the way you react to this pretty insightful article. this is Mr. Hernandez’s third accusation of being involved in a shooting. He may be a football player, but in anyone’s book, 3 strikes and you need to sit down , cause like baseball, you are out.

  • Alswear Evony

    Excuse me, but this is what the author wrote, “As all this craziness develops regarding the Patriots TE — a dead body found near his MA mansion (not in CT).” Which part of that sentence confused you? Geez, bro, you look like an idiot slamming someone when you are the one wrong. Looks like you needed a few more semesters in Central or a new reading teacher.

  • Alswear Evony

    did u break your phone, sanitize your house and destroyed the security cameras the day your buddy gets a bullet in the back of his head and dropped 1 mile down the road. Aaron Hernandez will be found to have actively participated in this killing when the facts come out.and “Framing”, are ya kidding me? You must be either the most naive, gullible person on the East Coast or a butt buddy of Hernandez. Maybe Aaron is your special Tight End, LOL. This the third time his name has popped up with a shooting. This isn’t coincidence. This is what they call a pattern of behavior.

  • Alswear Evony

    well, an attorney would understand that this was absence of malice and no slander could be proven. Not to mention, there is no damage sustained by Hernandez which is the second threshold needed to sue slander. It was written describing the authors own feeling when interacting with the brothers. There was no accusation at all, except accusing himself of being a scared kid. I know you try to make what you say have credibility by chest thumping, “hey i’m an attorney”, but we both know thats not true. So, my opinion of you is you are a liar. See, if you can make a slander case out of that Counselor. If i was to bet, I would say, You never even took the LSAT. But again thats my opinion, so batter up Counselor.

  • connecticut lawyer

    stop defending this garbage as journalism.

    Do I need to give you my bar license number to prove that I am attorney…i would if i cared…..

    Do i need to scroll up to realize that you are a troll with nothing better to do but comment on everyone’s post.

  • BigErn

    Look at the internet tough guy.

  • Alswear Evony

    I’ll stop believing idiots who come on the net and chest pump. Thats what you did, trying to feign credibility like, you are in the know being a supposed attorney. You are a liar. That I’m sure of. Again, Counselor, You show why I’m right, You said i commented on EVERYONEs posts. See that is actually a falsehood and an attorney would know, to present falsehoods in a debate is the first no-no, because they destroy your entire argument. So sit down, stfu and listen to your betters. Son, go back to your little fantasy island. You argue like a child.

  • Dave Andrzejewski

    just a rambling bag of nonsense. ok, you know a famous murderer and played against him as a kid. your so fwckin cool. do you want a button? lame and pathetic

  • nicotinequeen63

    interesting little story, but I think you accepting your dad’s impression of the Hernandez dad as fact, might be a little misguided? No, I never met the man, but these boys didn’t get the way they are by happenstance. Remember this, and I know this from life experience…behind almost every great athlete, there’s a psycho parent pushing as hard as he can. They push their kids, treat them like a commodity, live through them, beat them into submission, micro manage their lives, dominate them and completely control their athletic careers, from the day they throw their 1st ball. This doesn’t leave much room for love or fun times. You can say I’m wrong, but I’ve witnessed it with my own 2 eyes. Usually though, football, (except for quarterbacking), is the exception to the rule. A good player can get by on athleticism, but when you see a kid who was pushed in some other sport, (baseball, basketball), switch to football as a ‘substitute’, you have a problem. They bring in the already set mentality and apply it to football. Did the Hernandez brothers play other sports? and I mean seriously not city league. Did they travel with teams, take private lessons, that sort of thing? Another thing, I appreciated your insight on the older brother. I haven’t read much about him, but the few things I saw, gave me the creeps. I got the impression that there was a lot of rivalry there and not much brotherly love.

  • nicotinequeen63

    sorry, but I feel the need to clarify something. Maybe the parents pushed them too hard, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they pitted the boys against each other, maybe they didn’t. But I’ve seen parents go psycho over sports. When they see Jr show a little talent, they lose all objectivity as parents and their whole world is consumed with their kids/family careers. My daughter dated a now NFL player, and he’s the perfect example. They moved him around, transferred schools, uprooted their own jobs and family lives, to get their kid the ‘perfect’ fit. He had a ridiculous curfew, was always ‘in training’, wasn’t allowed to have much of a social life, graduated early so he could get on to college, where they all packed up and moved with him, and then he transferred and they all packed up and moved again, and when he got drafted, they all packed up and moved again. These kids grow up stunted, so can you imagine how they act when somebody hands them millions of dollars? money that mom and dad feel entitled to, because afterall, they sacrificed their whole lives for this dream.

  • truth

    i grew up playing sports with them and i’m from bristol. you don’t know them, you just suck at basketball. you were scared of them because you’re a pussy.

  • Mallory

    …Internet bullying? REALLY? You must have been there and witnessed everything since you seem to know so much about the crime and are clearly incapable of having a civil, respectful debate. You are entitled to your opinion as I am entitled to mine. You don’t have to be rude about it.

  • cpezzy


  • vern

    I actually liked this article. I felt like I was 12 playing ball. Funny… and it does make someone vividly imagine what they are like…..like being there, and I ran into a couple of those kids in my day…..soooooooooooooo intense at such a young age….

  • TK87

    The median household income in Bristol CT is $57k. Its the suburbs. In Connecticut. Its about as tough as north attleboro.

    Although his new future home actually is in a pretty tough neighborhood, and he is actually going to experience the “gangsta” lifestyle first hand for the next 60 years or so. lol.

  • rocco

    what a waste of a read..

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