EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of The Buffalo News' high school boys basketball preview.
Gabe Michael came to appreciate the basketball tradition at St. Joe’s from the opposing end of a hallowed hardwood rivalry.
“This place is very special,” the 1998 Canisius High School graduate said while gazing at the St. Joe’s gymnasium. “It was the toughest gym to play in. I remember Canisius would always come in here and lose by 20. Nobody came in this gym and won. Unbelievable talent and unbelievable coaches. And this place used to just rock.”
Having developed a winning program over six seasons coaching Williamsville South, Michael has taken on the task of restoring St. Joe’s to past glory.
From 1990-2008, the Marauders claimed eight Manhattan Cup titles and five state Catholic championships under coaches Ed Kobierecki, Tim Lennon and Mark Simon, who retired in March after winning 307 games in 18 seasons.
That success faded in recent years. The 10-year Manhattan Cup drought is the longest in school history. While Canisius has dominated the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association for much this decade, St. Joe’s last won a regular-season title in 2011 and has slogged through four straight losing seasons.
Measuring his expectations for a quick turnaround, Michael plans to foster his desired culture at St. Joe’s one fundamental at a time.
“It’s a little dangerous to start with that vision,” Michael said. “Right now we’re just trying to get them to close out on shooters.
“But the big picture is we think we can get this program back to the top in Western New York, year in and year out. Our dreams and aspirations are certainly to get back to that point. But it’s going to be a long process. We aren’t expecting it to be overnight and we aren’t going to skip steps.”
Since Michael’s arrival, the Marauders have had an infusion of talent to go along with five seniors returning from last year’s 8-17 team.
The most notable addition is Daesean Ashley, a transfer from Amherst. The 6-foot-1 guard was an All-Western New York honorable mention after averaging 17.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.3 steals as a sophomore. He helped the Tigers win the Section VI Class A-2 title as a freshman.
Ashley has known Michael since he played for Williamsville South’s modified team in seventh grade. While at Amherst, he noted the success Greg Dolan had under Michael. Leading the Billies to sectional titles in 2016 and 2017 before losing an epic Class A final to West Seneca West last season, Dolan was a three-time All-WNY selection and the 2018 Buffalo News Allen Wilson Player of the Year.
“I saw what coach Michael and Greg did and I just like the style that he coaches,” Ashley said. “And the fact that it’s an all-boys school, it’s a little bit easier to focus and get better grades, that was a big thing for me.”
Greg Poland, a 6-8, 240-pound center, has also transferred to St. Joe’s after helping Williamsville North reach the Class AA final in his sophomore season.
“Having a 6-8 kid with his type of athleticism is really exciting,” Michael said. “He’s a tough kid, he blocks shots and rebounds and he can score in the post.”
Will Beilein, a 6-foot sophomore who played for Lewiston-Porter’s junior varsity last season, brings a coach’s son mentality to the squad. His father, Bill Beilein, is the coach at Niagara County Community College and worked alongside Michael as an assistant under Mike MacDonald at Medaille College. University of Michigan coach John Beilein, regarded as one of the top leaders in the sport, is his uncle.
“Will is a very smart player,” Michael said, “as I would hope anyone with that last name is.”
Two promising freshmen will play significant roles for the Marauders this season — 5-7 point guard Justin Glover and 6-1 forward Jimmy Scott. Glover has been an AAU standout and was one of eight freshmen invited to the New York State Top 24 showcase organized by the Albany CityRocks.
Among the returning seniors, 6-2 forward Patrick McCann, 6-3 guard Will Ostrowski, and 6-foot guard Santino Martone will have prominent roles, Michael said.
“I’m liking the new changes. It’s a different look all around,” McCann said. “The past few years, we struggled to have the intensity, the energy, the passion. But we are all bringing it this year.”
Glover’s brother Jordan, a former St. Joe’s player and the lone assistant retained from Simon’s staff, is encouraged by what he has seen so far.
“It’s a lot of things that people haven’t seen around here the last couple years. It’s going in the right direction,” said Jordan Glover, whose father, Kevin, is a former Turner Carroll and Canisius College standout now in his 14th season assisting Fajri Ansari at Buffalo State.
The Marauders open their season Thursday in Rochester against McQuaid Jesuit, a Class AA state semifinalist last season. They host Class B state semifinalist Health Sciences on Dec. 13 before heading to Long Island for a pair of games.
The first matchup with rival Canisius is Jan. 16 at St. Joe’s. Michael has no misgivings about coaching against his alma mater.
“I’m a St. Joe’s guy now,” Michael said. “I switched allegiances pretty quickly. It’s such a cool place and I’m just so happy and proud to be a part of this.”