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A formidable starting five - on and off the basketball court

What would happen if you put the current Buffalo mayor on a basketball court with the former mayor, a former congressman, and the superintendents of Western New York’s two largest school districts?

As it turns out, that’s a decent starting five.

Mayor Byron W. Brown, former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, Erie Community College President and former U.S. Rep. Jack F. Quinn Jr., Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash, and Williamsville Central Schools Superintendent Scott Martzloff – they are among the area’s most influential leaders.

And they all played college basketball.

With the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Buffalo this week, The News asked them to recall their court experiences and reflect on how hoops shaped where they are today.

“You know,” Cash joked, “we get better with age.”

For basketball players of old, the glory days rush back this time of year, ushered from the mind’s recesses by the symphonic squeak of sneakers on hardwood. Or maybe it’s just an ache in the knees that draws out the memories.

Scott Martzloff - Center

No amount of watching the game will ever match the enjoyment of playing it, said Martzloff, who played center at Holy Cross from 1988 to 1992.

“But you do kind of reminisce about the excitement of this time of year,” he said.

Martzloff remembers his coach at Holy Cross telling players that he would have cut off his own left arm to be able play competitive basketball again. Most players rolled their eyes at the time.

"I know now what he was talking about. You wish you could go back and play again and run and jump and do all the things you used to be able to do and that were so enjoyable, but you can’t,” Martztloff said. “That time has passed, and so you take the lessons you learned and try to apply them to other facets of your life, and try to impart them on your children and children in the community when you can.”

In high school, Martzloff was part of a powerhouse squad at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester that lost in the 1987 state playoffs to Nichols School, which included Duke and NBA-bound Christian Laettner. In 1988, the McQuaid team captured a state championship. Martzloff grew to 7 feet tall at Holy Cross and helped the team reach the National Invitational Tournament in his sophomore year. By his senior year, Holy Cross was in contention for a berth in the NCAA Tournament, and Martzloff was having his best season. But a broken foot midseason ended his college career.

Martzloff tried out for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and played briefly overseas. In 2005, at age 35, he made a comeback of sorts by signing on with the Rochester RazorSharks of the ABA.

Martzloff hung up his hi-tops after the RazorSharks won a championship in his first year. He hasn’t played since. But Martzloff will always be grateful for his hoops years, which he calls a “key formative experience in my life.”

“Without it, I don’t think I’d be even close to where I’ve been,” he said. “You don’t realize it when it’s happening, when you are playing, until you kind if see how it impacts you as a person, as you mature and you get older. It’s been pivotal in being a leader, whether it’s in school building or a school district.”

Jack Quinn - Forward

Quinn had grown up playing hockey in Blasdell and switched to basketball when he went to Bishop Timon because it was so much less expensive.

“My father says to me one day, ‘You know, you’ve got four other brothers behind you. I can’t afford it. The skates alone are $40. Try basketball. You look like you’re going to be tall.’”

He was promptly cut from Timon’s freshman team.

“The coach’s name was Bob Forsythe. I have since forgiven him, but only recently,” he said with a wry smile.

Quinn worked on his game and eventually made the varsity team, playing a pivotal role in Timon’s advance to the Manhattan Cup Finals in 1969. At Siena College, Quinn made the freshman team as a 6-foot-4-inch walk-on and joined the varsity as a sophomore in 1970-71. The then-Division II Saints finished the season with eight wins and 17 losses, and Quinn played in every game, averaging 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds.

But he didn’t play another year at Siena. As a walk-on player, Quinn did not receive an athletic scholarship and he needed money to help defray college expenses.

“I said, ‘You know coach, I’m starting. I’m the only guy on the team without a scholarship. Can’t you come up with something? Room and board?’ I said I gotta have something or I gotta get a job,” Quinn recalled. “And he said, no. So I got a job at the post office.”

Quinn had no regrets about his decision.

“I had a lot of years playing,” he said.

Indeed, after earning a degree from Siena in 1973, he returned to Western New York and played for many years in rec leagues around town, sometimes squaring off against Masiello on Sunday mornings at the Carmichael Center in South Buffalo. Later, Quinn became a regular in pick-up games in the “House gym” at the Capitol during his 12 years in Congress, from 1993 to 2005.

“We got more work done in the House gym than anywhere else in Washington. I’m not kidding,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of camaraderie built up, and it’s an entrée and a connection that supersedes politics and religion and neighborhood. It just does.”

Back surgery for a herniated disc put Quinn on the sidelines for good about 15 years ago. Otherwise, he said, he might still be playing.

Anthony Masiello - Forward

Masiello still remembers honing his jump shot on a makeshift half court made mostly of dirt near the home of his youth on Buffalo’s West Side.

Masiello dreamed of playing college basketball in the old Memorial Auditorium, and he worked his hands raw in the winter months taking countless jumpers in the dim light of a nearby street lamp. Back then, Saturday night basketball at the Aud featuring the “Little Three” schools, Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure, was a huge deal in Buffalo. By eighth grade, Masiello was hooked. He won a Catholic League scoring title playing for Cardinal Dougherty High School, then led Canisius College in scoring for two of his three years on the varsity squad, modeling his game after Frank Swiatek, who preceded Masiello at Canisius.

“He drove to the basket hard. He was a very aggressive, hard-charging player. He didn’t back down from anybody, which I loved,” Masiello said.

Their name recognition as stars at Canisius helped jump start careers in politics for both Masiello and Swiatek. Swiatek was a Cheektowaga town councilman for many years and was elected town supervisor in the 1980s and 1990s. Masiello was a state senator before becoming Buffalo mayor from 1994 to 2005.

“Politics and government really for me was a great segue from sports,” he said. “It’s very challenging. It’s very competitive, and you’ve got to have you’re A-game everyday.”

Basketball requires that players transition quickly from offense to defense and recover from break downs.

“In basketball, you’re bouncing back every time you’re running up and down the court,” he said.

Like Quinn, Masiello played for years in Western New York after his college days. And he didn’t alter his intense style of play just because it was recreational ball.

“Rec league was war,” he said. “It was everybody reliving their past and thinking they still had a future. It was intense.”

The upshot was that most of the competitors went out for wings and beer after the games.

Masiello quit playing when he was elected mayor.

“There just was no time for it,” he said. “There comes a time and place where it’s over.”

Kriner Cash - Guard

Cash loved getting other players the basketball so that they could score.

At Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, he spent a lot of time on the court setting up other players.

“I was a point guard, so assists were what it was all about for me,” he said.

Cash grew up in the same hometown as the legendary Oscar Robertson and when asked if he saw Robertson play in person, he likes to respond: “He saw me play. He said, ‘The kid’s pretty good.’ ”

Cash had hoped to be the set-up man, as well, at Princeton University, where the legendary coach Pete Carrill ran an offense predicated on back-door cuts and a man-to-man “shell” defense. Cash wore #11 on the Princeton freshman team in 1973 and remembers offensive drills in which the team would work the ball around for what seemed like an eternity before attempting a single shot.

Basketball did not have a shot clock in those days.

“We used to practice running our offense three minutes and 45 seconds. Pete used to emphasize, they will get tired,” Cash said.

Injuries ultimately limited Cash’s playing career at Princeton. He suffered a hip pointer and partially ruptured his Achilles tendon, missing out on the opportunity to play with Armond Hill, who ended up in the NBA after playing at Princeton. But Cash chose Princeton not so much for its basketball as for its academics and said he “would never trade” his Princeton degree for a college basketball career at another university. He doesn’t dwell on the notion that his college playing days didn’t turn out as he had hoped.

“The fact that I did prepare and do well at Princeton academically made it easier,” he said. “The main thing was to pull some life lessons from that basketball experience.”

And as it turned out, Cash’s hoops playing picked up after Princeton. He played for several years in a league for guys under 6 feet tall.

“I got comfortable enough again to drive and shoot,” he said.

Another Achilles rupture sidelined him again, and around age 45, he decided to give up the game entirely.

“I only knew one way to play, and that was all out,” he said.

Cash worried that another injury would put him out of work for an extended time in a superintendent’s job where “you can’t miss days.”

Byron Brown - Guard

Some of the credit for Brown being in Buffalo goes to the late great Randy Smith.

As a kid, Brown idolized Smith, a Buffalo Braves star who had played his college basketball at Buffalo State College. So when it came time for Brown, a Queens kid who attended August Martin High School, to choose a college he looked west to Buffalo.

Brown never made the varsity team at August Martin, a huge school that could have fielded “three or four varsity teams” with the amount of basketball talent enrolled there. As a sophomore at Buffalo State in 1977, Brown made the junior varsity team coached by Joe Corey. He was a slashing, driving point guard.

“I was trying to distribute and score. I think my coach wanted me to focus more on distribution. I learned that lesson – to figure out how to make things happen,” Brown said.

“I did not get a lot of playing time, but one of the things I learned from that experience was the team concept. You can get more done when you work collectively with others,” Brown added.

Brown’s aspirations to play at the varsity level didn’t pan out, and he didn’t play college basketball beyond the 1977-78 season. But the experience led to a longtime friendship with Corey, a local hoops legend. And Brown continued to play recreationally in leagues around Buffalo after he graduated from Buffalo State. Like Cash, a couple of ruptured Achilles put him on the sidelines for good.

“The first time it happened, it sounded like a tire blowing out,” Brown said.

So he transferred his energy and passion for basketball and the competition into the political arena.

The thrill of competition, he said, is what drives so many basketball players, and now “I’m competing every single day for the city, competing every day to get things done, to achieve breakthroughs for the city of Buffalo.”

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