Every year, boys basketball Championship Week is one of the very best events in Western New York sports.
And sometimes the reasons go beyond the basketball.
One of the best moments of this year’s 11-day run (Championship Week is longer than most weeks) came before one of the most highly anticipated and well-attended semifinals, when the crowd rose from its orange seats of the Buffalo State Sports Arena for the National Anthem before Amherst took on league rival Cheektowaga in the Section VI A-2 semifinals.
The teams and cheerleaders were lined up on the court, the recording began to play for a few lines … and then it stopped. Silence.
Most realized there must have been a technical glitch, including some of the Cheektowaga cheerleaders, who kept right on singing. Others kept singing too, and then most of the crowd joined in.
Once the crowd, which, as it does every year, represents every geographical corner of Western New York, got through the “home, of the, brave,” the crowd gave itself a deserved good hand, and it was enough to give you chills.
Another emotional moment was one that the entire building most certainly didn’t notice.
It came at the end of the overall Class C final on Tuesday, when it was time for Middle Early College to receive its plaque. The coaches and captains were called up, but junior captain Joseph Staton motioned to classmate Dion Watkins, who didn’t play, to accept the large award from the Section VI representative.
Watkins’ teammates have dedicated the season to him in honor of his late mother, Diane Demps, who was murdered last week.
As Watkins held the plaque and faced a cheering, supportive Middle Early College crowd which was attuned to the significance of the moment, a tear or two ran down his face, as it did for more than a few fans. Plenty of hugs were exchanged between school personnel, fans and players as the celebration continued for a few minutes, before the next game of Championship Week took the floor.
Here are a few of the more traditional memorable moments, as we present our version of One Shining Moment, the 14th annual Championship Week Awards:
Canisius’ 55-53 win over Nichols for the Manhattan Cup championship. Two of the best teams, a handful of best players, and a thrilling finish as LaTerrance Reed found Justin Jones for a reverse layup with 2.4 seconds left. Runner-up: Cheektowaga and Amherst, as they seemingly have done for the last three years, went right down to the end in an A-2 semifinal won by Amherst, 54-53.
With that A-2 semifinal tied, junior TC Brown of Amherst wouldn’t be stopped on his game-winning drive in the final minute.
Fred Foster of Middle Early College with one of the best we’ve ever seen in the C final. Having gathered some momentum off the dribble on the right side, a player stood between the 6-5 junior and the basket. Foster simply kept elevating over the player, and his arm was high above the rim as he came down with a crowd-stunning one-handed poster-izer.
Best dunk (non-posterization division):
Later in the C final, Foster was dribbling on the left side when the lane opened up a bit, and he did something of a curl route to the basket, ending with a two-handed, leg-kicking slam on the right side of the rim.
Best dunk (non-Foster division): Canisius’ Stafford Trueheart with a reverse jam off a break in the fourth quarter of the Manhattan Cup final.
Best dunk (non-Championship Week division): Portville’s Isaac Hilliard threw it down after Colin Clock made a steal and a pass off the backboard during the Panthers’ quarterfinal loss to Randolph. Full disclosure: We saw this one on Time Warner Cable’s highlights, but it was good enough to include despite it coming in a game prior to Championship Week.
Best dunk (game-clinching division): Williamsville South’s Matt Foster completed a great transition for a press-breaker back-breaker in the Class A final.
Best alley-oop: Trueheart from Josh Huffman in Canisius’ state Catholic semifinal win.
Albion had about 15 nominees for this award, all in the first half of the B-1 final – we’re going with senior Austin Loyd’s blind, backwards scoop halfcourt outlet to Desmond Blackmon for a layup.
Best pass that didn’t look like a pass: It appeared that we might be headed for overtime in the Manhattan Cup final when Reed looked to be hung up near the foul line as the clock ticked down, before he sent the ball towards the basket and Jones.
Jones. Remember that sometimes, there’s no great pass unless there’s a great cut. “I knew if I cut to the basket, he’d see me, Jones said.”
Cam & Jonathon Lewis MVP Award
Named for last year’s co-winners, current Nichols senior Cam Lewis and former East standout Jonathon Lewis.
Xavier Maye, I-Prep/Grover. In a week that saw more balanced team ball than individual wow-performances, here was one of the latter: The 6-2 senior had 27 points, 15 rebounds and played tremendous defense in the Class D title win over the state’s No. 2 D team, previously undefeated Sherman.
All-Championship Week Team
East senior Percy Bryant, Middle Early College junior Fred Foster, Nichols seniors Cam Lewis and Chris Miner, St. Mary’s junior Takal Molson, Williamsville South senior Sam Castronova.
Amherst junior TC Brown, Canisius senior Josh Huffman and junior Stafford Trueheart, Jamestown seniors Zack Panebianco and Stephen Carlson, Williamsville South freshman Greg Dolan.
Canisius junior LaTerrance Reed, Fredonia senior John Piper, Middle Early College junior Joseph Staton, Park juniors Kyle Harris and Jordan Nwora, Tapestry junior JaQuoine Fogan, Sherman sophomore Chris Robson.
A’aron Mungro Hustle Team
Named for the 2003 City Honors state champion who packed 7 feet of heart into his 5-10 frame:
Albion senior Clayton Stanton, East senior Daquan Williams, Jamestown senior Ben Larson, Maryvale senior Mike Kelleher and freshman Ray Blackwell.
The Yale Cup owns three of the five overall Section VI champions: East High (Class B), Middle Early College (C ) and International Prep at Grover Cleveland (D). The only thing that kept McKinley from Championship Saturday in Class A-1 was an unfortunate draw that saw the year-long top five large school Macks ousted by fellow top fiver Williamsville South in the week’s highest-quality semifinal.
With the starting lineup of its three-time overall Class B championship team having graduated, and its move up to Class A, this was the year Olean wasn’t supposed to win a sectional title. And there was Jeff Anastasia, accepting his eighth championship plaque in nine years to cap off a season in which he won his 500th career game.
All fans benefitted by Niagara Falls’ return to Buffalo State after a year’s absence because the bonus was that we got to bask in the presence of Falls’ Pep Band, which contributes so much to the atmosphere, from the Falls fight song to its Lady Gaga tributes.
There were great efforts throughout the week. Canisius and Nichols went back-and-forth before and throughout the Manhattan Cup. Maryvale’s throng went beach-mode with sunglasses, hats, towels and flip flop. But we’ll give the nod to Amherst, which had whiteout T-shirt coordination with their team, a fake TV studio, witty chants to opposing players at the free throw line and more to rebound from last year’s “worst fans” designation (remember the game-delaying LeBron powder stunt?).
We’ve heard the McKinley version of this for years (Mack-Mack-Mack-Mack High), but Tapestry fans filled Jamestown Community College with “TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP HIGHHHH!!!” during and after the C-1 final as the school won its first boys basketball sectional crown.
Thomas calls … timeout
Former Buffalo Public Schools athletic director Dave Thomas was rightly honored Tuesday night prior to the last game he would be behind the Buffalo State microphone for, after 17 years being – as the plaque given to him was inscribed – “The Voice of Buffalo State.”
Thomas’ voice, as much as the sneaker squeaking or oohs-and-aahs, has been an unmistakable and high-quality part of the soundtrack of Championship Week. His vintage call of “two throws” when a player stepped to the line, or introductions that had the gravity of major-league arenas, or his trademark hesitation in announcing when a team “calls … … … timeout” will certainly be missed.
We don’t do this every year, and we don’t do this unless we feel we have to. However, a few calls in the Fredonia-East B-2 final make it necessary, as couple of charges were called after some clear flops. It seems that some officials didn’t get last year’s memo that, when in doubt, it’s a block or a no-call, especially when there’s an obvious flop involved. This certainly isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, but until this reprehensible act of trickery is eradicated from this wonderful game, we’ll keep an eye on the scourge that has inspired our use of the Twitter hashtag of #stoptheflop.
Overall, as usual, the officials had a great week.
• During the Class D final, an official rightly got his finger right into the face of a overly yappy assistant, telling him he didn’t want to hear anymore. Behind flopping, the worst thing about basketball are the whiny, angry yappy assistants who insist on arguing every call.
• In the C-2 final, Middle Early College’s Foster helped 5-10 junior Amir Jemes off the floor after a failed break as they scrambled to get back on defense — he did so by completely picking him up and almost throwing him the other way.
• With tensions high and precious time left in what would be a three-point Tapestry win in the C-1 final, the clock went from 4.0 seconds to 2.1 as Silver Creek inbounded the ball and called timeout. As the officials blew their whistles and came to the scorer’s table, Tapestry coach Darren Kresge let the officials know that the clock was accurate, shouting, “They did a great job! Great job!” as he pointed to the table.
• Cordial check-ins. “How y’all doin?” asked a smiling Keith Littlejohn of Tapestry, who shook hands with some scorer’s table workers before checking into the C-1 final at JCC. … Albion’s Loyd, seeing the traditinoal pile of candy that scorer’s table folks enjoy during the game, said with a grin, “Are these for me?”
• Great quote: “I get to brag to my brother now — he never won in Class A,” Olean sophomore Ben Eckstrom, whose older brother, Sam, was part of Olean’s three straight titles … which all came in Class B.
The Buffalo State Sports Arena and its staff was outstanding again, providing not just the best gathering place for high school sports, but one of the top sporting events overall in Western New York.
More memories to come
Seven teams are still playing, and all are in action today: Section VI champions Jamestown (AA), Williamsville South (A), East (B), Middle Early College (C ) and I-Prep/Grover (D) in the Far West Regionals at Section V (Rochester area) as well as Monsignor Martin Association champions Canisius (A) and Park (B) in the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championships at Fordham.
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