Kyle Husband hasn’t really thought about it because Canisius High School still has some unfinished business to tend to this weekend in Albany.
But there will be a moment this weekend, win or lose at Times Union Center, when it hits him that he has coached the senior class of Stafford Trueheart, Justin Jones, Madut Ayiy, Will Atkinson, Charles Hart, Andrew Schake and Jerimiah Wagstaff for the final time.
It might be a difficult one to handle.
“It’s not something I think about often,” said Husband, who has won 252 games in his career with Canisius. “It’s a special group, a fun group. It’ll be tough to think about just because how much these guys mean to me, how much I care about them and how much fun we’ve had together the last couple of years.”
As if Canisius didn’t have enough motivation for wanting to defend its state Federation Tournament of Champions Class A title, but going out as kings for the second year in a row not only would be a rather unprecedented achievement but also wound be one heck of a final memory for the blue and gold.
Since the tournament started during 1978-79 season, only eight schools have ever won back-to-back Federation crowns, including two from Buffalo – Nichols (1985-86) and Turner/Carroll (1998-99).
Canisius (26-2) will begin its quest to join that exclusive club at 11 a.m. Friday when it faces Albany Academy (16-4) in a rematch of last year’s Federation final that the Crusaders won 48-44. The winner will advance to the Federation final at 5 p.m. Saturday against either state public schools champion Elmont or New York City/PSAL champion Telecommunication A&T.
While Turner/Carroll was the last Buffalo school to repeat, it did so by winning in Class C in 1998 and winning in Class B the following season. Nichols’ back-to-back titles during the 80s came in Class C.
“Ever since the first practice, this has been on everybody’s mind,” said Trueheart, the returning All-Western New York first team pick who is averaging around 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. “To finally get here and see all the hard work is very rewarding, but we know we’re not done yet.”
The work is just starting, but that’s OK with a Crusaders’ team that considers itself blue collar, especially on the defensive end. Canisius has won its state Catholic and Federation titles the last two years by showing the ability to bring it defensively. The Crusaders yield 51.4 points per game as their man-to-man has caused even the best of opponents problems because of their length and athleticism.
Remember, Canisius is the only team from New York State to beat New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class AA champion Aquinas and the Crusaders did it twice this season.
One of the wins against Aquinas came during the Tom Keenan Memorial back in December when the Little Irish defeated Albany Academy in the first round. It had been anticipated that Albany would win that game and face the Crusaders for the Keenan title.
It took some time but the Cadets finally earned that rematch with the Crusaders, winning the Alliance of Independent Schools state tournament.
What will it take for Canisius to beat Albany again? It’ll start with defending the Cadets’ 6-foot-7 junior Hameir Wright, who averages 18.6 ppg and 9.1 rpg. In last year’s final, he scored 18 points but the Crusaders limited Albany to under 24 percent shooting.
Canisius has three 6-7 players to throw in his direction – Stafford, Ayiy and Hart and 6-4 Jayce Johnson and 6-3 Wagstaff are other potential inside options.
Husband usually tries to have two of the 6-7 players on the court at the same time. Friday, he believes the Crusaders depth in the post will be one of the keys to victory.
“I don’t think Albany Academy has a lot of depth at that position,” Husband said. “... We’re going to have to score the ball in the paint and we’re going to have to do that consistently if we’re going to be successful.
“We just need to continue to play our game. We’re going to have to play great defense. Finish and not settle on offense. ... When we’re attacking on offense is when we’re at our best.”