BINGHAMTON – It’s the end of the road for Olean and its longtime boys basketball coach, Jeff Anastasia.
That’s because the player known throughout most of the state as JGIII performed like a man determined to end his scholastic career in his hometown of Glens Falls next weekend during the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions.
As a result, Section II champion Glens Falls will be playing for the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class B championship on Saturday and not Olean, the top-ranked team in the state.
Syracuse signee Joe Girard III scored 18 of his game-high 39 points in the first quarter and finished one assist shy of a triple-double as the Indians pinned a season-ending 83-63 defeat on previously unbeaten Olean before an estimated 3,000 at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Indians will face Section III champion Lowville, which defeated Section XI champion Center Moriches, 80-68.
After the game, Anastasia confirmed that Friday morning’s contest was his last as coach of the Huskies after 32 seasons. He said following his team’s Class B-1 title win in sectionals that he was considering it but hadn’t made up his mind to step down.
Anastasia has decided it’s time.
“It’s a tough call,” Anastasia said. “That was the toughest thing I’ve had a to do in a year since my wife (Barb) had passed. I told them that was the last game I’ll coach at Olean. I thanked them for giving me so much, just an incredible group of young men.”
Anastasia walks off into retirement as Western New York’s all-time leader in coaching victories and overall record of 602-139 – guiding the Huskies to two state championships and 14 Section VI crowns. It took him 108 games to go from 500 career wins to 600.
“Seven years ago, my mom said I had to stay until my nephew Josh Bihler graduates,” he said. “I just felt after the passing of my wife Barb last year, we had big plans. This was going to be the year I retired from coaching and teaching. And then when she passed I wasn’t sure if I should stick with it. Everybody’s’ trying to tell me 'you need to stay busy.'
Basketball has been such a major part of my life. I love it. I love this group. Just a hard-working, class-act group. I enjoyed every practice and game I was able to coach with them.”
“We knew coming into the season our last game would be his last game,” senior Mike Schmidt said. “I think it’s something special that he wanted to go down with us.”
Olean tried everything to slow down Girard. He dazzled in his first state semifinal contest. After Olean took a 2-0 lead, he scored the next 13 points in the game, flaunting his limitless range by draining an open three from about 5 feet inside the centercourt line. He hit contested threes.
“I felt like I was in control of the game,” Girard said. “I felt like we were in control of the game and that’s the biggest thing to gain confidence for the rest of us.”
When Olean tried to triple-team Girard in the second half, teammates Nick Danahy (16 points) and cousin Trenton Girard (12) burned the Huskies.
“He’s definitely a great player. There’s no question about it,” Anastasia said. “My biggest fear: We needed our shooters to make shots. If you don’t make shots everything becomes magnified. And of course you get back into it and he hits a shot or he comes down and makes a play. ... I just felt if we kept chipping away we’d be there. ... We got it down to nine and just couldn’t get over that nine-point hump.”
Glens Falls’ 20-6 first quarter put Olean in catch-up mode. Though the Huskies cut the deficit to nine in the third quarter, they struggled to hit shots – even open ones – throughout finishing 13.8 percent from beyond the arc and 35.8 overall.
Schmidt led the Huskies with 29 points and six assists, and classmate Alex Weakfall added 11.
“I love these guys like my family,” Schmidt said. “I wish our season could’ve ended differently but we’ll have a run that will go down in the history books.”