This is the second of a five-part series selecting all-decade ALL-WNY teams as The News counts down to its all-time All-WNY basketball team.
Picking the All-Western New York team of the 1990s was an enjoyable experience because it's an opportunity to fondly look back on all the decade's great players.
It was challenging trying to narrow it down to four five-player teams since the talent was so deep. But we managed to select 20 players who were exceptional.
My first-team All-Decade selections consist of five former Buffalo News Players of the Year and four guys who were first-team All-WNY at least twice. The group won nine state titles between them. Niagara Falls, Buffalo, the Southern Tier and Catholic schools are represented.
Of all the players in '90s, there were two that stood out from the others: guards Tim Winn of LaSalle and Jason Rowe of Traditional. Both were three-time first-team All-WNYers and co-Players of the Year in 1995 and 1996. Rowe probably should have been a first-teamer as a freshman, but ended up a second-team pick in 1992-93.
If I had to nominate one '90s player for our All-time All-WNY team, which will be released later this season, my vote would go to Winn, who was part of four consecutive Section VI Class A champions and led a LaSalle team with no player over 6-foot-2 to two straight state Class A public school titles. Those Pat Monti-coached teams thrived on defense, and Winn was the finest defensive player I have ever seen at the high school level. Monti would put the 5-10 Winn on much taller guys and Winn would shut them down.
After being held to 12 points in a state Federation game against LaSalle, Stephon Marbury, then a high school All-America, said Winn was the best defender he faced at the prep level.
Winn could break you down on offense as well as he locked people up defensively. His 1,898 points (18th in WNY history), including 52 in one game, are school records that obviously won't be broken. St. Bonaventure was lucky to get Winn because word was then-Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, who already had Marbury, wanted to sign Winn as well. Winn helped the Bonnies reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1970.
Rowe's wizardry as a scorer, ballhandler and passer manifested itself into him becoming the first player in state history to finish a career with 2,000 points (2,286, third all-time) and 1,000 assists. Extraordinary leaping ability allowed the 5-10 Rowe to score and rebound against bigger people, and he had a knack for delivering in big games.
As a freshman, he had 33 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to lead Traditional to the first of four straight sectional titles. As a junior, he helped lead Traditional to the state Class C Final Four, where he averaged 26 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and seven steals in two games. His 26-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance in an overtime loss to Elton Brand-led Peekskill was only the second triple-double in the history of the public school state tournament.
Traditional went all the way in Rowe's senior year, winning the state Class C public school and Federation championships. He was the Fed tourney's MVP. A suspension ended his college career prematurely at Loyola (Md.), but Rowe rebounded with a productive pro career overseas.
Mike Heary of Fredonia didn't win a state title, but no one can dispute that he deserves to be on the All-Decade team. A two-time first-team All-WNY pick, he earned News Player of the Year honors in 1994 after taking a team of limited talent to the state public school tournament. He ended his career as the area's sixth all-time leading scorer (2,235 points), and he managed to do all of this while losing his father and his maternal grandparents during a six-week span during the 1992-93 season.
Heary was an amazing shooter with unlimited range. When he got hot, there was no stopping him. Just ask Traditional, which got torched for 62 points by Heary in one of the great performances in WNY history. Traditional won in overtime, 110-106, but afterward Traditional fans poured from the stands and lined up to meet Heary in an amazing show of appreciation. He went on to become one of the best players ever at the Naval Academy.
Leonard Stokes was a first-team All-WNY selection just once, but he's worthy of being on the All-Decade team by virtue of helping Turner-Carroll become the first school to win back-to-back state Federation titles in different classes (C in 1998 and B in 1999). In addition to being the News Player of the Year in 1999, Stokes was named New York's Mr. Basketball, one of only three local players to receive the state's top honor. He would enjoy a solid college career at Cincinnati and spent time in the NBA's Developmental League.
The final spot on the first team, which was harder than the first four, came down to Eric Eberz of St. Joe's and Modie Cox of LaSalle.
Eberz was a two-time All-WNY pick, the Monsignor Martin Association's first News Player of the year in '92 and scored 1,927 career points. Cox was All-WNY twice and the News Player of the Year in '91. He defined what a point guard should be as dominant playmaker/defender for LaSalle's championship teams.
But the slight edge goes to Eberz, who guided St. Joe's to a 77-4 record over three years. He averaged 26.7 points per game as a senior, including 45 points in the Manhattan Cup final against Turner-Carroll and 42 in a state Federation semifinal loss to Long Island Lutheran. He signed with Villanova, becoming the first Player of the Year to attend a Big East school since Bennett's Curtis Aiken went to Pittsburgh in 1983.
There were other great players in our top 20 such as Turner-Carroll's Malik Campbell, Traditional's Damien Foster (WNY's second-leading scorer), Niagara Falls' Willie Cauley, Seneca's Damone Brown and Jamestown's Maceo Wofford, to name a few. But as far as their impact on the game, Winn, Rowe, Heary, Stokes and Eberz stood above the rest in the 1990s.