Two weeks ago, Niagara Falls Athletic Director and boys basketball coach Dan Bazzani was viewing part of a highlight video that is being put together to document the Wolverines' state championship season.
"Before I went on vacation I saw the first part of it, and when I got back two weeks ago they came in with the second part of it, and it shows the interviews with the kids done in April," said Bazzani.
"There's a part where Miguel is talking about how proud he was of the team, and how he said he was going to show his kids and grandkids the state championship banner that his name is on . . .
"It tears you up, it really does. It's tough to watch."
Miguel Respress died unexpectedly July 28 in Los Angeles shortly after playing in a game with his AAU team, the G.C. Ballers, at the Best of the Summer Classic at Loyola Marymount University. He would have been a senior right now. Bazzani said the Respress family has not yet received an autopsy from the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.
For the first part of the summer, the 62-year-old Bazzani was contemplating ending his coaching career at the top of a profession he'd practiced at Niagara County Community College, the University at Buffalo and both the "old" and six-year-old "new" Niagara Falls High Schools. And you couldn't have blamed him. The Wolverines' state Class AA Federation championship accounted for the best season in Western New York boys basketball history.
Now he says he'll probably be back.
"I've been rethinking it and going back and forth," he said. "In one way, I wonder if it's fair to walk out on these kids now, with what happened to Miguel. I'm leaning toward coming back one more year."
Bazzani's status was something his players had joked about, including Respress.
"He makes a reference about me coming back in one of the interviews (in the video), something about if I didn't come back he'd miss me hollering at him," said Bazzani. "Just a terrific kid he was. He'd come to practice and go right where he was supposed to be. He was nothing but a positive all year long."
Bazzani said he will make up his mind in the next two weeks, and that the job opening has been posted. All Falls coaching positions are posted every season.
It appears that Bazzani will be back, which would be the best for the team, and maybe even the coach.
This is just one observer's opinion, but it didn't appear that Bazzani fully enjoyed last year's title run as much as one should have. He wore the expectations of his hometown city on his face throughout a season in which the team lost only one game. After the Wolverines became the first WNY team to win the Federation tournament in the state's largest class, players and fans partied on the court. Asked to describe his emotions amid the joyous scene, Bazzani said "relief."
From a program standpoint, Niagara Falls is now considered one of the top basketball schools in the country. While in his role as athletic director Bazzani would certainly still have a major role in continuing the program's growth through scheduling and focusing on all youth levels, turning the team over at this point would likely not make for the smoothest transition. Rather than a hurried coaching search, there would be a year to prepare the program for the next step, perhaps a torch-passing to an assistant.
It would be one last, special season for the coach, the team, and the school: to prepare for the future, to enjoy another journey, and to honor the memory of a fallen teammate.
> Around the halls
* Former Buffalo Blizzard player Bob DiNunzio is in his first season as head coach of Amherst boys soccer, but he would rather not see his players during the school day. DiNunzio is the supervisor of the in-school suspension room. "If I see them," he said, "they can't play."
* Nardin girls soccer coach Carlos Obiano came away impressed after the Gators' 3-1 loss to Grand Island at the first Niagara Catholic Tournament. "The key for Grand Island is Alicia Barnaby, she has a future in college soccer," he said. "And the tournament gave what it promoted: great girls soccer."
* One of the most memorable plays in Sweet Home football team's rout of Williamsville East Saturday was 6-foot, 205-pound junior Emanuel Williams-Walton shaking off one tackler's apparent bear-hug before pounding his way to a 40-yard TD run. "I kept my legs going, and they can't stop me when I get my legs going," he said. "I'm a strong man. When I get going, I get going. You're going to have to wrap me up and tackle me hard or else I'm going to run you over. It just comes from conditioning and good, hard work."