Chuck Swierski knows it is winding down. He knows the end is coming. But he’s trying not to think about it too much.
And you can’t really blame him.
Swierski is the 10th-year coach of the Williamsville North boys basketball team, and for the last five seasons he’s had Sterling Taplin on his team – and almost part of his family.
“I don’t want to think about him leaving yet,” said the coach. “Honestly I almost look at him like he’s my fourth child … because he’s spent so much time with me. I’ve had him as a babysitter for me at the house, he messes around with my son at practice … as good as a basketball player as he is, I know you hear it all the time, but he’s a better person.
“I’ve never been closer to another player since I’ve been coaching and when this is all done we’ll be lifelong friends.”
Taplin, a 6-foot-1 multi-talented guard, is a two-time first-team All-Western New York selection and a standout for North since the eighth grade. He’s in the top 25 on the career scoring list for Western New York and he’s broken the career assist mark at North.
His senior season will be on the line tonight when he and his Spartan teammates play Clarence in the Section VI Class AA semifinals at 6 p.m. at Buffalo State.
North is the second seed while the Red Devils are the third seed. The teams split during the regular season, with each winning on the other’s floor, Clarence winning at North in early December and North winning at Clarence in late January.
The North-Clarence winner will face the winner of the 7:45 p.m. game between top-seeded Jamestown and fourth-seeded Kenmore West in the Class AA championship at 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
“Getting to Buffalo State, now all we want to do is keep winning, keep going, keep focused, and keep the pressure on other teams,” said Taplin, who is 23rd on the all-time Western New York scoring list with 1,858 career points, including a school-record 45 against Frontier earlier this season.
“It’s fun playing with him – you get to see him do his work, and you get the sweet passes from him,” said senior teammate Kolbe Hughes. “He’s a great player. I can’t wait to see what college he chooses because I think he’s going to be great at the next level.”
Taplin’s future beyond high school is headed toward Division I basketball.
The senior has yet to make a decision, but the interest is there. Siena offered him a scholarship last week and he said he has spoken with Vermont and Niagara recently.
“Kentucky has called my dad, Alabama has called my dad,” said Taplin, who also said that prep school is a possibility for next year.
Taplin’s family is close to Reggie Witherspoon, who had offered Taplin a scholarship when he was the coach at the University at Buffalo; Witherspoon was fired last spring. Taplin said UB “was an option … and after that happened, that option wasn’t there anymore.”
Swierski said he has received calls from other Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schools like Monmouth and Quinnipiac, talking with former college standouts-turned-assistants like Derrick Phelps of North Carolina (now at Monmouth) and Scotty Burrell of UConn (now at Quinnipiac).
“It’s kind of neat,” Swierski said, “when you see them come up on your phone.”
“He’ll get to choose what’s the best fit, not just basketball, but a social standout and an educational standpoint,” added Swierski, who also said George Mason coach Paul Hewitt has been to North to scout Taplin.
“Whoever gets him,” said Swierski, “will get a special player and a special person.”