Park School rode the towers of three and perhaps the best backcourt in the area to championship glory last season. It was expected that the underclassmen core would return with the mission of completing a New York State Federation Tournament Class A championship repeat.
Then the offseason happened.
Three pivotal players to Park’s run transferred to prep schools, including 6-foot-10 John Orogun and second team All-Western New York pick Daniel Scott. Mix in the transfer of 6-9 Julian Eziukwu due to age eligibility and it appeared the Pioneers might be a wee bit vulnerable, especially since they no longer have the advantage of having three players 6-8 or taller on its roster to rotate in and out to patrol the paint.
But Park isn’t worried about what it doesn’t have. It’s worried about competing with each player on its roster handling his role. And whatever happens, happens.
“All we can do is play how they know how and try not to be someone you’re not,” Park senior guard and returning first team All-Western New York pick Noah Hutchins said. “Don’t try to compare to last year’s team.”
What does that mean for Park this season? Can the Pioneers repeat as Manhattan Cup champions?
The Pioneers did add a 6-5 Niagara Catholic transfer Harrison Abramaitis. They also added young talents in 6-3 Caleb Hutchins, Noah’s younger brother, along with 6-foot sophomore guard Keonjay Carter.
“Being young and having to develop a new rotation, we’re preparing hard to compete,” Park coach Rich Jacob said. “Our leadership with Noah Hutchins, he’s one of the finest players in the country. It’s certainly an advantage having him at point guard.”
Park’s title-defense campaign is one of the storylines as the boys basketball season kicks it up another level Friday with Park facing Niagara Falls in the 8 p.m. clash at Niagara Falls.
Here are other items of interest:
Notable class changes: Two-time defending Section VI Class B champion Health Sciences is still a Class B-size school in terms of enrollment but has been moved into Class A-2.
“Just because they have such a broad spectrum of kids to choose from than a public school does,” said Larry Jones, Section VI boys basketball chairman as to why the Falcons were moved up a class. “Obviously a charter school is considered a public school but that and their past performance in Class B the past two years” are the reasons for the move.
East, which has been rebranded as a community school, moves from Class D to C-1.
Middle College, which lost the past two years to Health Sciences during the playoffs, drops into C-1.
Class D semifinalist Ellicottville moves up to Class C-2.
C stands for competition: There are 20 teams in Class C, which means there will be a C-1 and C-2 bracket during the Section VI Tournament.
It figures to be a gauntlet, especially C-1. That includes last year’s Class D state champion East, perennial sectional title contender and East’s Yale Cup rival Middle Early College and defending classification champion Tapestry. Randolph, a Class C-2 champion and Class C finalist the past two seasons, also is in this classification. Ellicottville, which nearly upset East in the sectional semifinals, moves up from Class D to C-2.
C stands for closed: Niagara Catholic and Oracle Charter are no more as both schools shut their doors last June.
Welcome back: Bennett, which had been slated for closing before being rebooted by the Buffalo Public Schools District, is no longer merged with Middle College and is playing as a solo outfit. It will be in Class C-2 during the postseason.
Key transfers: The closure of Niagara Catholic, which won the Manhattan Cup Class B championship, resulted in dispersal of some talented players. The biggie: Jalen Bradberry. He is now a member of defending Class AA champion Niagara Falls after earning fourth team All-Western New York honors as a freshman.
Haakim Siner and Avion Harris went from helping Niagara Catholic beat Cardinal O’Hara for the championship to joining the Manhattan Cup Class B runner-up.
While Bradberry is now a Wolverine, Roddy Gayle opted to leave Falls for Lewiston-Porter.
Daesean Ashley left Amherst to run the point for St. Joe’s. The Marauders also added 6-8 junior Greg Poland from Williamsville North.
Coaching changes: Twenty-two total. The biggies include:
-- Gabe Michael going from Williamsville South to St. Joe’s. His replacement at South is Mike Trybinski.
-- A familiar face returns to the Monsignor Martin Association as ex-Bishop Timon-St. Jude coach Joe Mihalics has taken the reins at Nichols after a brief hiatus.
-- Willie “Hutch” Jones moves from Burgard to South Park as Pete Hudecki’s replacement. Sean Edinger now coaches Burgard.
-- Marcus Rivers runs the show at Lackawanna.
-- Chris Frankowski is now the coach at Orchard Park.
Key games: Niagara Falls is the place to be Friday night as Park visits the Wolverines to close out day one of the Cataract Classic.
Other must-see games: Saturday – Tom Keenan Classic consolation and championship game doubleheader which begins at 12:30 p.m. at Canisius High; Bishop Timon-St. Jude at Niagara Falls, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 – Health Sciences at St. Joe’s, 7 p.m. Dec. 13-15 ADPRO Public vs. Private Schools Challenge at St. Mary’s. Dec. 19 – Canisius at Cardinal O’Hara, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 4 – Middle College at East, 6 p.m.; Amherst at Williamsville South, 7:30. Jan. 10 – V-McQuaid at Park, 6 p.m. Jan. 12 – Park at Canisius, 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19 – Canisius at St. Joe’s, 2:30 p.m. MLK Classic at City Honors (Olmsted vs. TBA, 10 a.m., Hutch-Tech vs. Dunkirk, 11:30 a.m., McKinley vs. Amherst, 2 p.m., East vs. Health Sciences, 3:30 p.m., Middle College vs. North Tonawanda, 5:45 p.m.) Jan. 23 – West Seneca West at Health Sciences, 7 p.m. Jan. 25 – Lew-Port at Park, 6 p.m. Feb. 8-9 – Centercourt Classic at Villa Maria College.
Section VI Playoffs: The Section VI Tournament begins Feb. 19. Championship week at Buffalo State and Jamestown Community College starts Feb. 25. Section VI Class C-1, C-2 and D finals are March 1 at JCC. Section VI Class AA, A-1, A-2, B-1 and B-2 finals are March 2 at Buffalo State. Class A, B and C state qualifiers are March 5. Far West Regionals are March 9 at Rush-Henrietta High School. NYSPHSAA Final Four – March 15-17 at Floyd Maines Arena in Binghamton. Federation Tournament of Champions – March 22-25 in Glens Falls.
Manhattan Cup semifinals: Class A, Feb. 21 at Canisius College; Class B, Feb. 23 at Canisius College. Class A final, Feb. 26 at Canisius College; Class B final, March 2 at Canisius College. NYSCHSAA Class A semifinal, March 2 at Canisius College.