College basketball's "One Shining Moment" swan song will be played in 22 days, but Western New York again had plenty of moments during its own March Madness of the Section VI boys basketball tournament. Here's our fifth annual awards show:
Best dunk: Tyrell Lynch's one-handed fast-break slam off Jonathan Flynn's dropped-off dribble for Niagara Falls against Jamestown.
Best shots: Take your pick from any number of fadeaway NBA three-pointers by Flynn.
Best non-Flynn shot: Russell Holt's somehow-just-over-the-reach of Burgard's 6-foot-9 Leon Nelson to save Lackawanna's season and force overtime in the overall B final.
Best pass: Sweet Home junior Eric Schnirel's one-handed, wrapped-around-a-defender, fast-break bounce pass for a Glenroy Carr layup in the A-1 semifinals.
Best block: Pick any of 12 by Nelson against Lackawanna.
Nick Kney MVP Award (named for last year's winner from Canisius): Flynn.
All-championship week team: Devon Dawson, St. Joe's; Quentin Hudson, Sweet Home; Santo Lamar, Maryvale; Mike Williams, Riverside; Marquis Ware, Burgard.
A'aron Mungro Hustle Team (named for the 2003 City Honors grad who packed 7 feet of heart into his 5-10 frame): Pat Brady, Canisius; Schnirel, Sweet Home; Thomas Ruffino and Javon Slaughter, Nichols; Dominique Kendrick, Jamestown; Matt Ewings, Olean.
Big little men: Jamestown 5-3 sophomore Marcus MacAffee ran the Red Raiders' offense well and hit huge threes. Sweet Home 5-2 junior Steven Roberts, whose jersey is so big you can't read the "Home" of "Sweet Home" because it's tucked into his shorts, came off the bench and made great decisions just about every time he touched the ball.
Best fans: Jamestown had a bleacher full of fans clad in red and green for its AA semifinal win over Riverside at Niagara University, a mere 100-mile drive (through a snowstorm) for the Red Raiders.
Best chant: It was great to see several schools' student bodies have so much spirit that entire rows spelled out their school names on their chests. But the rowdies at St. Joe's had a nice cross-court retort to Canisius' bare-chested effort: "Put a shirt on!"
Not the best fans: There was an outstanding turnout from Maryvale every game. There were even little kids with junior guard Matt Mohr's last name written on their chests. But in the semifinals against Cheektowaga, there were two homemade signs directly under the hoop that made fun of a Cheektowaga player. In high school sports, it's all about ridiculing the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back.
Best mascot: The Viking from Nichols for somehow managing to keep its huge-headed costume on while somersaulting its way down the court.
Best improvement: In 2002, Willie "Hutch" Jones lost his jobs coaching Burgard's basketball and football teams when his football team lost its cool in the waning moments of a Harvard Cup semifinal. Jones got the basketball job back the following season, and this championship week, the Bulldogs played some of the most unselfish, disciplined basketball of the entire tournament. They also came up classiest in the face of the toughest loss of the week, the 51-50 overtime loss in the B final to Lackawanna.
Faces in the crowd: Tom Donahoe watched Nichols, Syracuse-bound Paul Harris watched Niagara Falls, and former Sweet Home and current University at Buffalo coaches Reggie Witherspoon and Jim Kwitchoff saw the Panthers.
Best league: This usually goes to the Yale Cup for having the most representatives (four) in the finals, but Sweet Home and Jamestown earned bragging rights for ECIC I after the pair combined to knock off the city's top three: Riverside, McKinley and Grover Cleveland.
Sick plays: Despite a 103-degree fever, Randolph coach Kevin Hind was on his feet for the entire Class C final. "Winning is great," he said as he sat down right after the final buzzer, "but I've got to get outta here." . . . Rob Hicks gritted through a knee injury that slowed the McKinley point guard down significantly; the Macks might still be playing if the ultra-quick Hicks was at full speed. . . . Riverside's Mike Williams played a fourth quarter with the middle finger on his left (nonshooting) hand bleeding due to a severe cut. . . . A sinus infection caused Canisius' Pat Brady to start the fourth quarter by vomiting next to his bench; he came back later to throw up eight points and lead his team into the Manhattan Cup.
Highlights: Mike Maloney of Cheektowaga standing and applauding fellow seniors Mike Lewis and Jamar Nevins as they came to the bench during the waning moments of a great performance in the A-2 semifinal loss to Maryvale. The trio was part of a 1-20 season two years ago. . . . There was tremendous sportsmanship all week, typified by Lackawanna's Blackburn and Burgard's Terrell Henry, who hit the floor fighting for the ball with 23 seconds left in the B final, then got up and slapped each other on the butt. . . . Clymer's zany front-row fans included two girls who barked when Sherman players were shooting free throws. . . . After a Burgard fast break against JFK was negated by a referee getting in the way of a player, coach Jones joked, "We need some younger referees!" . . . About an hour after Niagara Falls' Class AA final win in an almost-empty arena, Harris, Flynn and Lynch had fun playing with a group of five elementary-school aged kids.