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Lanier's lofty career took root at Bennett

This is the final of a five-part series selecting all-decade All-WNY teams as the News counts down to its all-time All-WNY basketball team.

All-Western New York at Bennett High, first team All-America at St. Bonaventure, first pick in perhaps the most talent-laden NBA draft in history, several times an NBA All-Star -- Bob Lanier is the most accomplished basketball player in local history.

Believe it or not, a small minority of observers question whether he belongs on our All-Western New York team of the 1960s. The thinking goes that Lanier was a raw talent who dominated an inferior league that was out of the mainstream of the region's high school ball in the '60s. The Yale Cup league was considered below the Monsignor Martin Association and the Buffalo public schools did not participate in Section VI playoffs, so Lanier did not compete against the best talent in the area.

Lanier played only 26 games in two varsity seasons at Bennett because of the limited schedules played by Yale Cup teams -- 11 regular-season games and two additional games for the Board of Education Cup for the four playoff teams.

"Bob Lanier was the first true all-star from Buffalo," said Tony Masiello, the former mayor and star at Cardinal Dougherty and Canisius College.

Masiello did not compete against Lanier in high school, but he did in several club, playground and postseason all-star games.

"Bob Lanier was a rare talent and a dominant player," Masiello said. "Even then he had that soft shot and the little left-handed baby hook coming across the lane.

"The bigger the game, the more he rose to the occasion."

The All-WNY team of the '60s actually encompasses 12 seasons, from 1958-59 (the first year an All-WNY team was chosen) through 1969-70. So, there were 60 players -- not 50 -- to choose from.

Factors such as the achievements of each player's team, how they performed in championship or playoff games, the opinions of coaches and players from that era and, to a minor degree, statistics were taken into consideration. An attempt was made to balance the team with a center, two forwards and two guards. Generally this was accomplished.

Some observations in looking over the 12 years of All-WNY teams: In a decade that featured Texas Western, coach John McClendon and his Tennessee State team dominating college division basketball, of the Boston Celtics' dynasty with the NBA's first all-African-American lineup and the first black head coach in the league, Bill Russell, most of the Western New York selections were white players.

It was an era of breakthroughs, but only 15 of the 60 All-WNY slots went to African-American players. That sounds amazing now. Only 12 went to Yale Cup players. There were more players from rural areas such as Silver Creek, Franklinville and Angelica.

Now, for the team.

Lanier was an obvious choice. He led Bennett to two Yale Cup co-championships and two Board of Education Trophy championships. He led the Yale Cup in scoring with 329 points in 13 games in 1966. His Tigers lost only two games in two seasons, a regular season loss to Hutch Tech in 1965 and a 1966 game to Emerson, on a pair of free throws by George "Butch" Holt at the buzzer. In the 1966 playoffs, he scored 26 in the semifinal victory over McKinley and 25 in the championship win over Emerson, despite missing a quarter of the game with foul trouble.

George Carter of Silver Creek was a terrific all-around player who led the Black Knights to three straight Section VI Class B championships before moving on to St. Bonaventure, where he had a 19.4 career average. A terrific athlete, Carter was a sectional sprint champion in track and had a tryout with the Buffalo Bills as a defensive back even though he played no college football.

Masiello was named MVP of the 1965 Manhattan Cup playoffs as a senior even though his Cardinal Dougherty team lost a double overtime struggle to Bishop Ryan in the championship game. In his junior season, he led Dougherty to a playoff upset over one of Mel Palano's best Timon teams (Mike Kull, Roger Kremblas, Paul Fitzpatrick, Paul Mitri, Paul Grys). He set Dougherty records for career (908), season (472 in 21 games) and single game points (39) and he led the Monsignor Martin with a 21.6-point average in 1965. He was a hard-working, hard-nosed player who worked the baseline and lane effectively in addition to hitting mid-range shots.

Marty Cott of Hutch-Tech dominated the Yale Cup for two seasons after Lanier left the scene. His Engineers swept the Yale Cup regular season and playoff titles in 1967 and '68 under coach Dick Schaper. In three seasons as a starter, his teams lost only one game (Lanier and Bennett, 1966). He was the first Yale Cup player to average 30 points a game for a season. He scored 44 points in a postseason all-star tournament championship game in Pennsylvania against Division I-bound competition. As the fourth pick in 1968, he was the highest baseball draft pick ever from Western New York. He played one season of basketball at Buffalo State in 1975 and averaged 9.1 points in 20 games before he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA.

The selection of Dale Tepas of St. Joe's was a close call over the second-team guards, but he was highly recommended by those who coached against him. The two-time All-Western New York selection and four-sport star led the Marauders to a Manhattan Cup championship in 1967, outdueling future Bona teammate Paul Grys for a 52-51 victory in the championship game. He was the MVP of the Catholic playoffs that year. He led the Msgr. Martin Association in scoring as a junior with a 22.7 average then averaged 23.9 points as a senior. He scored 33 points in a 63-53 regular season loss to Timon in 1966. Tepas scored 1,233 points in 63 career games.

Two Niagara Falls stars, forward John Hayes of NFHS and left-handed shooting guard Frank Starks of Trott Vocational, are on the second team.

"Those two names come to mind when I think of players from that era," said Dan Bazzani, former coach at the University at Buffalo and Niagara Falls High. "Hayes could do it all. He would have had a great career at St. Bonaventure if he hadn't blown out his knee. Starks was a great scorer and ballhandler for championship Trott teams."

Center Donn Johnson, who led Jamestown to the Section VI Class AAA championships in 1969, went on to play at North Carolina with Bob McAdoo, George Karl and Mitch Kupchak.

Grys once averaged 29.4 points in the Monsignor Martin Association. He had a league record 530 points in 18 games in 1967.

George Hicker was the leader of a Franklinville dynasty (two Class B titles) in the early '60s. He may be the best outside shooter in Western New York history. Too bad he missed the three-point shot era. As a sophomore at Syracuse, he was the No. 2 scorer behind the great Dave Bing with a 15.9 average. He scored at a 18.6 pace as a junior and 13.1 as a senior.

The competition was extremely close among guards; third-teamers Tom Chester (North Tonawanda) and Andy Anderson (Maryvale) drew first-team consideration.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com.

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