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Olean boys basketball reaches years-long dream of state Final Four

GREECE — It was never hard to find them.

The seven seniors who comprise the Olean boys basketball team’s main rotation grew up playing hoops together. On AAU teams, pickup at St. Bonaventure University, at the YMCA, in the backyard. Their court took many forms, no matter the weather conditions.

“We would play every single day,” senior guard Josh Bihler said. “If we had a snow day, we were at the Y, playing basketball for five hours.”

“Or shoveling the driveway (to play),” said Mike Schmidt, another senior guard.

Years later, the group has remained basketball crazy. And as a reward for its focus, it has realized a goal set in first grade.

Paced by senior Matt Droney’s 20 points and 12 rebounds, the Huskies defeated Greece Odyssey, 61-47, in Saturday’s Class B Far West Regionals at Greece Athena High School. The win sends the Huskies (25-0) to the state semifinals for the first time since 2016 — just like the team’s seniors planned more than 10 years ago.

“They’ve been talking about getting to the final four since they were in first grade,” Olean coach Jeff Anastasia said.

Droney said the Huskies’ tight-knit bond over hoops started when Mark Schmidt was hired as St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach in 2007, and Mike and his two brothers moved into the district.

“It feels like a movie and how it’s supposed to happen,” said Mike Schmidt, who finished with 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. “For us to get this far with the guys who are on our team, it’s something special.”

Bihler had 11 points and eight rebounds. The other four longtime basketball buds — Jack Dwaileebe, Jarrett Prizel, Brian Ramarge and Alex Weakfall — also contributed to the Huskies’ win against Greece Odyssey (20-4).

Weakfall had 12 points and drilled a pair of 3-pointers that keyed a 15-0 second-half run, which allowed the Huskies to pull away in a tight game. Dwaileebe also hit one of his two triples during that spurt.

Defense, as always, led the way for the unbeaten Huskies. For the 21st time this season, they held their opponent to less than 50 points — and they still haven’t had a game decided by single digits all season.

“I told the kids before the game, ‘You guys are different from other teams because you play Olean basketball,' ” Anastasia said. “Thirty-two minutes of doing the little things that most teams don’t want to do. Most players don’t want to dive on the floor or take charges. Our guys don’t care.”

The energetic defense fed the offense, too. After being held to just nine points in the first quarter, Olean exploited Odyssey’s press defense to overcome a few early deficits.

“Our defense has been our constant all year,” Anastasia said. "Once we broke the pressure, we were able to get some layups off that.”

Coinciding with the early offensive struggles was Droney having to take a seat after two quick fouls. Once he returned, the Huskies never looked back. Droney scored 18 of his 20 points over the final three quarters.

“That zone, our guards handled it great,” Droney said. “They found me in the middle and it just opened up.”

Just as the weather never interfered with a pickup game or shootaround, a slow start wasn’t going to stop the Huskies from their years-long objective.

“That’s how our team chemistry is how it is — we’ve been playing together so long we know where everybody is going to be before they get there,” Schmidt said.

Olean will play in the state semifinals against Syracuse signee Joe Girard III and Section II’s Glens Falls, an 84-76 winner Saturday over Section X’s Ogdensburg Free Academy.

The game is set for 9:30 a.m. Friday at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton.

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