What does hard work smell like?
All one has to do is walk into 'The Dungeon' to discover that answer.
'The Dungeon' is the nickname of the tiny gym with a sweat-socks scent at Health Sciences where boys basketball coach Ty Parker has put the Falcons through their paces ever since taking over the program in 2015.
The players have done lots of running and shooting on the court so small that the two walls on each side serve as out of bounds out of necessity. While hitting a wall is usually bad in competition, that helps build toughness at Health Sciences when a player runs into it.
"No matter what it is, we're going to go hard because you're not going to win if you're going through the motions," Parker said.
The fifth-year Falcons haven't gone through the motions at all this season. They now have a chance to do something no charter school from Western New York has ever done in basketball – win a New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship.
Section VI Class B champion Health Sciences (21-4) looks to continue having shining moments in big surroundings when it hits the grand stage of the final four for the first time at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Floyd L. Maines Memorial Arena in Binghamton. The Falcons face Section X champion Canton (21-5) with the winner advancing to Saturday's 9 p.m. final against either perennial state championship contender III-Westhill or XI-Center Moriches.
"It means everything," said Parker of reaching the final four. "I think this is the highest platform you can be on being a high school athlete going to the state final four.
"I don't think it's really hit them how big this is and the accomplishment they've made but when they get down there and they see the festivities and how everything is set up then I think they'll have more of an understanding of what they've accomplished."
Health Sciences isn't the only Section VI champion making the trip to Binghamton, the first-time host of one of the signature events on the NYSPHSAA calendar. Franklinville (20-4) takes on last year's state runner-up Moriah (23-1) of Section VII in a Class D semifinal to open the three-day event at 10 a.m. Friday.
Health Sciences' path to Binghamton began in 'The Dungeon."
It may not be pretty, but it's been an effective training area for the team in its rise toward becoming a contender. While the Falcons do practice some at Enterprise Charter School, where they played their home games, so that they can work on the proper spacing needed for them to successfully execute their offense and defense, the little gym is where they've done most of the fundamental work that's helped them go from contender to championship outfit.
How did the gym get its nickname?
First impressions go a long way and that's the term that immediately came to players' minds when they gathered two years ago for their first practice there.
"Honestly, I don't see how we win because this gym is terrible," junior Tyron Lott said, a three-year starter, noting that the championship banners celebrating Health Sciences' athletic accomplishments have helped improve the look of the gym.
The smell of sweat in the air -- a scent that one gets used to after a few minutes -- provides an answer.
So too do the sounds heard by anyone walking past the gym from Parker's booming voice demanding more out the team to the squeaks of sneakers as players come to sudden stops after running at full speed during workouts.
"We run a lot in here so we don't get tired," said 6-foot-6 junior Davonte Gaines, who averages 17.9 points and more than 10 boards per game. "We push each other to the edge so that in games it becomes natural."
"People say, 'how did we get this good?'" said Lott, whose 18.8 points per game lead the Falcons. "It's our coach. … We work on every aspect of our game."
Health Sciences plans to use that approach in getting ready for a Canton team that took out previous state No. 1 Glens Falls of Section II, which lost to Olean last season in the state semifinals.
Being well-prepared is something that has helped the Falcons reach this point.
"We're going to be aggressive," Parker said. "We're going into the game with the mentality we're going to win a championship."
"We're just blessed," Gaines said. "It's a good feeling to be in the state tournament."
Franklinville agrees with that as it has reached this point for the first time in 39 years.
The Panthers have done so by playing phenomenal team ball and by not being caught in the moment.
Remaining composed has been a key, considering they have had to go through programs with more recent big-game experience than them – including past state champion C.G. Finney in last week's Far West Regional.
Franklinville will have to go through another program that's been there in Moriah, which graduated its top two scorers from last year but has reached the state semifinals for the fourth straight season. The Vikings are ranked first in the state.
"Our kids know we have to match effort early on because the other guys have been there and know it can be their last game," Panthers coach Jeff Haskell said. "It gives us confidence too knowing we play a team with a lot of history in Moriah. … They've been there before. We're 1-2 in the state and it lets our kids know they belong with those types of teams."
Franklinville has received contributions from everyone, with four of its starters each hitting double-figures last Saturday -- led by Sam Erickson's 19 points. Isaac Kopp drained five three-pointers for his 15 points.
Erickson averages 20.4 points per game. He is one of four Panthers who average 9.5 points or more per game.
"I think we have to stay with what got us there," Haskell said. "We can't change things now. We have to stick with our game plan, which is 11 guys playing their role.
"If our guys continue to play unselfishly I think we have a shot."