The Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association earned the "no nights off" moniker last year because the top boys' basketball teams in the private schools league showed a knack for knocking each other off on a given night.
That also held true during the postseason as the No. 4 seed won the Manhattan Cup Class A crown. That said, the champion was still a familiar face in Canisius.
The three-time defending champion Crusaders head into the season looking to keep it going. They've won seven of the past nine Manhattan Cups. Of course, there figures to be plenty of challengers trying to hunt down the Crusaders – including old friend Park and last year's runner-up St. Francis.
Each of the league's Class A teams entered the week with a winning record with four ranked in the News' large schools poll and the fifth, St. Joe's, just missed out on a top 10 spot.
So far, top-ranked large school Canisius has flaunted its depth during a 4-0 start, which includes last Saturday's 67-56 win over News No. 1 small school Health Sciences. In that one, eight different players scored. Three of them shared team scoring honors with 15 points (seniors Ryan Bradley, Austin James and Nick MacDonald). Senior Jayce Johnson also scored in double-figures that game and earlier this season earned MVP honors at the Tom Keenan Memorial Classic.
Joe Jamison, a key spark for the Crusaders during their championship run after being called up from junior varsity, is one of the first off the bench for Husband's crew.
Park and company: Park is under the guidance of a new coach familiar in area circles in Rich Jacob. The Pioneers are off to a 4-0 start under the former college coach and appear to have plenty of depth of their own along with size despite losing second team All-Western New York selection, the 6-foot-10 Joe Jones, to a prep school. Six-8 junior Ebuka Quentin Nnagbo scored 12 points in a win over Niagara Falls at the Cataract Classic and is an intimidating presence in the post. Pioneers also work in 6-10 sophomore John Ese Orogun and 6-9 junior Julian Eziukwu. Let's not forget Park also has one of the top point guards in the area in Noah Hutchins and returning All-Western New York guard Daniel Scott. Senior Brandon Smith scored 21 in a win over Falls.
St. Francis has bounced back from a season-opening loss to Orchard Park to win four of its last five games – including wins over Williamsville South and Long Island-area schools Holy Trinity and St. John the Baptist. Third-team All-Western New York selection Bo Sireika returns for the Red Raiders and surpassed 1,000 career points last weekend. Other key players include Lucas Theisen, Dorian Ivey and Justin Poumpey.
First-year coach Jason Rowe has Bishop Timon-St. Jude off to a 3-1 start following Sunday's win over Syracuse Science Academy. They have a nice mix of size and athleticism. Senior Master Radford is a double-double threat and opened the year with a 34-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over Notre Dame (Ont.). The Tigers picked up a third-team All-WNY pick in St. Francis transfer Julian Cunningham.
St. Joe's has eight players back from last season, including senior Jack Capen. Kevin Durkin is the point guard.
Small schools: Among the Class B teams, St. Mary's is the defending champion and led by returnees Matt Ciezski, Christian Szablewski and Eric Brown. Cardinal O'Hara has a difference-maker of its own in junior Justin Hemphill who has the ability to take over games. His older sister, Summer, is a sophomore at University at Buffalo. Other Hawks to keep tabs of include Jermaine Haynes and Nasir Benton. Niagara Catholic is also off to a fine start under coach Giulio Colangelo, and has received a boost from freshman Jalen Bradberry, who played as an eighth-grader at Niagara Wheatfield last year. Pat Clarke is the new coach at Nichols and takes over a program that has reached four straight Manhattan Cup finals – the last two in Class B. Trent Banaszak and Aidan Horan look to build on solid first seasons and will be joined by West Seneca East transfer Chris Stineman. Walsh graduated first team All-WNY scoring phenom Tavien Kemp but return his little brother Latrell Butler-Kemp.
Quotable: "You will definitely see a deep rotation. We need to play hard. We need to play fast. The more people we can get to buy in to that I think the stronger we'll be in the long run," Canisius coach Kyle Husband said.