High school basketball stars rise and grind - The Buffalo News

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High school basketball stars rise and grind

It’s early.

6 a.m. on a summer morning early.

La’Trice Hall is going through her active-stretch warm-up routine.

Lunges. Lots of lunges. Stretches. While lunging. Sprints. Jumps, too.

The warm-up would be a challenging workout in itself.

T.I. breathes his 2003 hit “Rubber Band Man” through the speakers. He raps smoothly. Hall sweats exponentially.

Hall glances over at the wall of Cutting Edge Sports Training in Amherst, where a quote is painted in red above a mirror above racks of dumbbells:

“I will not be denied. I will not fail. I will not allow myself to succumb to the pressure or the demons that are trying to get me to quit right now.”

It’s another early-morning summertime workout for Hall, the recently graduated Sacred Heart basketball star who is preparing to play at the University of Hartford in the fall, one of four Western New York athletes who will be freshmen playing Division I basketball this year. Hall joins standouts Jermaine Crumpton (Niagara Falls), Adam Weir (Canisius) and Cassie Oursler (Grand Island).

Hall, who left for Hartford this month, trained with Cutting Edge’s Frank Colavecchia, who has been working with her for two years.

In that time, she has lost 18 pounds. Check out one of her workouts and you’ll understand just how.

Medicine-ball chest passes. Explosive, high-intensity weight lifting interspersed with defensive slides. One-leg hops over 18-inch hurdles while running.

Hall takes a break between labored breaths.

“The hardest part is just waking up,” she says. “Once you get here, it’s easy. Well, not easy, but not as bad as you’d think.”

Colavecchia, a V-shaped former bodybuilder, is calm but passionate, urging Hall to “explode up” but never yelling.

“My philosophy is just work hard, come in and give 110 percent, and listen to what we’re telling you to do,” he says. “She listens and goes out and performs. La’Trice, I love her passion. She wants to get better and I want to make her better.

“She actually motivates me.”

The 5-foot-10 guard was an All-WNY first-teamer after averaging a double-double last year. Hall is at midseason intensity right now, and her conditioning is at the same level. Her work ethic should come as no surprise to Buffalo hoops fans who have seen her dominate on the court in helping Sacred Heart win four straight Monsignor Martin Association championships, the final two as a starter.

The Cutting Edge philosophy is emphatic, followed by three exclamation points in its logo: “Revolutionize Your Game!!!” That’s exactly what Hall is trying to do.

She most looks forward to playing for Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti, a former Team USA head coach and UConn star under legendary coach Geno Auriemma. Rizzotti was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June and recently agreed to a contract extension through 2017-18.

“Being able to play for her and be around girls who love the game of basketball just as much as you do, it’s just tremendous,” Hall said. “I’m very excited to play for her. I want to bring a lot of intensity to the team.”

Hall wore No. 6 on her jersey during her morning workout, emblematic of her LeBron-esque approach to high school basketball. She did it all at Sacred Heart, from taking the ball up the floor to banging in the post. Hall could play the 1 or 5 position, and anything in between, comfortably. She expects to play small forward at Hartford.

During a school visit in September 2011, she learned the team often has 5 a.m. workouts. That’s when she decided to start early-morning training to prepare her body for the challenge. When her alarm clock goes off at 5:20 a.m., she reminds herself: If this were Hartford and you didn’t get up, you wouldn’t get to play.

“They’re paying for my education,” Hall said. “I’m on a full ride. I can give them what they want and benefit myself, so why not get up?”

Colavecchia said he is working on improving Hall’s speed, acceleration and power, and he’s also focused on keeping her injury-free – which is one reason he doesn’t recommend young athletes do push-it-to-the-limit workout regimens. Colavecchia has been training for 24 years.

Hall scribbles down every move Colavecchia teaches so she can do the workouts when she’s away at school.

Motivational quotes are included in the workout log.

At the bottom of her workout sheet, Hall has written, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.”

Crumpton’s turn

Jermaine Crumpton remembers watching in awe as a 12-year-old. His older brother, Michael, was a sophomore on Jonny Flynn’s final Niagara Falls team.

“My brother, he’s the reason I really started playing,” Crumpton said.

“I’d go watch him play. He got a chance to play his sophomore year with Jonny Flynn when he was a senior. I got a chance to go to his games and see how much fun he was having, and I just wanted to have fun, too.”

Crumpton started playing basketball that year, and Wolverines fans are thankful he did. The 6-foot-5 forward, a dominant force in the paint, made an All-Western New York team each of the past three years.

Now, after a distinguished high school career, the 2012-13 First-Team All-WNY forward has taken a quick drive down 190 South and is preparing to enter his freshman year with Canisius College.

While fellow freshman Weir had already been with the Griffs for five weeks, Crumpton, who had a later high school graduation date, was in his first week with the program when he sat down for an interview inside the Koessler Center. He was getting a hasty introduction to the required conditioning.

“Crumpton has the body size; he just needs to grow into it,” said Keith Vinci, Canisius’ head coach of athletic performance. “He’s still a baby in maturity level, still has the baby fat on him. He’s kind of like Josiah Heath was … Crumpton has the frame so he can become a big, strong boy. He just needs to continue to work on it.”

Vinci said in his first workouts with Crumpton, the freshman had “given everything.”

The trainer’s goal for his newest project is getting Crumpton toned.

Crumpton’s goal for his game? Turning into more of a swingman rather than the low-post-bruiser role he occupied in high school en route to averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game in his senior season.

Crumpton played the 4 or 5 spot in high school, but he’s undersized to play power forward in the college game, even at the mid-major level.

“Right now, I’m still working on getting a good handle, still working on my jump shot more,” he said. “I want to be able to step out and knock down shots. I want to get stronger, too.”

The whole basketball team works out together, and they lift four days a week – an upper-body focus day, lower-body focus day, basic strength day and full-body day. Vinci said Crumpton worked out with senior forward Chris Manhertz, one of the team’s leaders, during one of his first workouts. It’s customary for the basketball players to partner up.

Vinci takes suggestions from head coach Jim Baron “every week or two” on focal points for each athlete in his training.

“Everything is circuit-based,” Vinci said. “Because of the way Coach Baron plays, these guys are constantly moving. So in the weight room, we’re trying to replicate that while we’re building some strength.”

Crumpton enjoys the team’s run-and-gun, fast-paced style – even if it means extreme conditioning.

“They’re really up and down,” he said. “They like to run, kind of similar to my high school.”

While Crumpton is brand new to the weight-lifting side of training, he focused on his cardiovascular fitness before arriving at Canisius.

Crumpton said he would either go play pick-up ball and train at gyms by his house – “just keep my body right,” he said – or slide in his headphones and go for a jog. Tunes by rap artist J. Cole is Crumpton’s music of choice when he runs.

Crumpton exudes a quiet confidence unusual for an 18-year-old. When it comes to playing time, he is not getting ahead of himself. He knows becoming a chief contributor will be a process.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so I’m just looking to compete and do whatever coach asks me to do,” he said. “I’ll be another body out there trying to help the guys make the NCAA Tournament.”

Whether his team will reach that level remains to be seen, but six years later, Jermaine Crumpton is in the position he dreamed of as a 12-year-old – playing basketball and having fun just like his brother.

Weir moves up

Adam Weir has wanted to play Division I basketball since he took up the sport in second grade. At long last, he’s reached his goal.

His road to Canisius College was not easy.

“You see other kids going out and having fun every day and you’re going to work at the gym every day,” Weir said. “You know if you want to play Division I, you’ve got to give up the other stuff.”

His black, flowing hair is just as long, he’s as soft-spoken as ever and he still sports “Canisius” on his chest in navy and gold. Based on appearances, not much has changed with The News’ 2012-13 Allen Wilson Player of the Year.

In reality, a lot has changed with Weir. He now plays for Canisius College instead of Canisius High School; he has gone from being the Big Man On Campus and possibly the finest Buffalo high school player to a college freshman having to prove himself all over again.

And for Weir and Canisius coach Baron, that scenario couldn’t work out any better.

The Golden Griffins finished 20-14 (11-7 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) last season, a 15-win improvement compared to the 2011-12 season. The Griffs are expected to compete for a MAAC title.

“When a freshman comes into a program that comes off a successful season like we had last year, it eases the learning curve a bit because they don’t have to play a lot of minutes right away,” Baron said. “They have time to learn and mature, which is key when you’re looking to build a program.”

Weir has been making a few adjustments to his game; he was a small forward and power forward in high school and will handle the two-guard position in college. He said he is focusing primarily on improving his ball-handling and defense this summer, which are the areas in which he has struggled most to keep up in summer practice.

The meek swingman sat down for an interview after running five-on-five at Canisius’ KAC; the school’s summer workouts and practices are closed to the media.

“I’m willing to do whatever we need,” said the lanky 6-foot-4 Weir said. “If they need me to play this year, I’ll be more than ready, and if not, I’ll do whatever we need.”

Vinci, the trainer, is focused on getting some more meat on Weir’s bones.

“Adam has a weight-lifting background,” Vinci said. “Adam just needs to get bigger and stronger.”

While Weir is as focused on the physical improvements as Vinci, he has also honed in on developing an edge in the mental aspect of the game.

“In high school, I felt like I was more athletic than the rest of the competition,” Weir said. “Now I’m the same or worse, so it’s more of thinking about the game instead of just playing.”

Oursler in learning mode

Cassie Oursler was sick of it.

She was playing basketball for the first time in seventh grade and “did not want to be there.” Though she was one of the tallest girls on the court, she kept getting pushed around in the post. That just didn’t sit well with the fiery competitor.

“I wasn’t strong enough,” Oursler said. “I don’t want to be worse than someone, so I’ll work and work and work to get better. I practiced. I’d work on all the things I needed to work on. I knew I could play a really high level.”

How high? “Division I, that was my goal,” she said. “I knew what it would take to get here. I knew it would be a lot of work.”

Indeed, she knew what it would take.

Oursler saw first hand what is required to become a D-I player. During her first three years on the Grand Island girls squad, she played alongside Rhode Island guard Kallie Banker.

“She’s a Division I player, and she had that intensity,” Oursler said. “I learned a lot from her, how hard of a worker she was.”

Now Oursler has reached the same level as Banker, as she prepares for her freshman season with Robert Morris University. Oursler, the 2012-13 Buffalo News Player of the Year, spent the final week of June at the suburban Pittsburgh school.

Oursler considered more than 20 schools, but she knew Robert Morris was the right one the first time she visited.

“When I visited the team, everyone was very welcoming and the campus is beautiful,” said Oursler, who is back home in Grand Island and will move into her dorm at RMU at the end of August. “It’s the perfect size. The coaches are awesome. The trainers are the coolest people ever.”

As for Oursler’s training?

“A bunch of crazy stuff, but I enjoy it,” she said.

She has been lifting weights for an hour every day in addition to doing agility work and running stadium stairs. She watched some of the team’s skill-specific workouts when she was on campus and has been emulating them back at home.

Oursler had a chance to get acquainted with her new teammates the week she visited, and she wasn’t disappointed.

“They’re so motivational,” she said. “We all push each other. Everyone is happy and there’s no negativity. I have teammates from different countries, so I’ve learned a lot about where they’re from. They’re all just really great people.”

Oursler averaged 22.5 points, 13.8 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game last season. Her Vikings fell in the Far West Regionals. The first-team All-WNY performer is far from complacent with her overall game.

“I have to get a lot stronger,” she said. “High school basketball is going to be completely different from college basketball, so I’m definitely working on my strength, and then getting better at shooting – not far out, but having a better shot for my inside game. I’m working on speed and agility, too. Everything can always get better.”

Oursler, who is 6-foot-4, plans on continuing to play center in college, though she expects to get some looks at power forward, too. The Colonials return eight of their 11 players from last year’s 7-22 squad, but their starting center graduated.

Their coach is a familiar name in Western New York. Sal Buscaglia was the UB women’s coach from 1990-98.

email: amansfield@buffnews.com

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