Some of the top high school basketball players in Western New York have a chance to make state history this weekend.
Buffalo’s boys team will look to defend its championship at the Basketball Coaches Association of New York’s Summer Hoops Festival that begins Friday in Johnson City.
Silver medalists in consecutive years before last summer’s triumph, the Buffalo boys also can become the first team to reach four straight finals dating to the tournament’s origins as part of the defunct Empire State Games.
“That’s our motivation,” said Amherst coach Chris Kensy, who is leading the squad for a fourth time. “To have back-to-back bragging rights for the state and be that first team that’s gone there four years in a row, I think that speaks volumes for Buffalo basketball.”
Two players return from last year’s championship team: guards Jalen Bradberry and Tyler Hind. Bradberry, a rising junior playing for the Park School this coming season, was an all-tournament selection last year who went on to make second-team All-Western New York for Niagara Falls. Hind, a second-team All-WNY pick for Randolph as a junior, made key shots down the stretch during last year’s BCANY Summer Hoops Festival.
“It was an awesome feeling knowing that you are part of being one of the best teams in New York State,” Hind said. “It’s great playing against all the guys. It’s not like an all-star game where sometimes it’s not that competitive. This is more of a team and you practice together and compete together for that championship.”
The journey begins tonight...
— Amherst Basketball (@ACHSTigersBball) July 29, 2019
Coaches selected the nine-player team, which also includes fourth-team All-WNY forward Cal Shifflet (Williamsville East), and honorable mention guard Jaylen Stewart (Amherst), from a pool of close to 50 at last month’s tryouts. They came together for three practices earlier this week.
“I think we are real talented and we play hard,” Bradberry said. “That’s going to take us far.”
The Buffalo boys will begin play at 4 p.m. Friday against Hudson Valley and continue pool play Saturday with games against Southern Tier at noon and Capital at 4.
Depew coach Larry Jones, who led the Western region scholastic team in the last Empire State Games, is now president of the BCANY. Jones noted how participate in the summer tournament has helped players elevate their game the following winter.
“I would say 90 percent of them made All-WNY,” Jones said. “Obviously, we are picking from a great group to begin with. But you see tremendous growth from each of these teams. It’s an awesome camaraderie thing. These kids compete against each other so much during the season and it’s great for them to get to come together now.”
Each of the last three Allen Wilson Boys Basketball Player of the Year award winners played in the BCANY Summer Hoops Festival: Cheektowaga’s Dom Welch, Williamsville South’s Greg Dolan, and Park’s Noah Hutchins.
The 13-player Buffalo girls squad is striving to break through to Sunday’s medal round for the first time.
“We’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of great athletes and interchangeable parts,” said Niagara County Community College women’s coach Nate Beutel, who is directing the BCANY team for a third year. “What we lack in sheer size, I think we make up for in athleticism.”
Grand Island guard Lydia Sweeney, a fourth-team All-WNY selection as a junior, is one of three returning players, along with Cardinal O’Hara’s Amelia Strong and Eden’s Brooke Woodard, both All-WNY honorable mentions as sophomores. This will be Woodard’s third time playing in the tournament.
“It’s a great opportunity to get better because you are working with some of the best players in the area and playing against the best from out of the area,” Woodard said. “You never really know how good basketball is until you go outside the area.”
The team also features second-team All-NY guard Tashawni Cornfield (Lake Shore), fourth-team All-WNY guard Myla Kline (St. Mary’s) and honorable mentions Mia McCarthy (O’Hara), Gabby McDuffie (Olmsted) and Lauren Nawojski (St. Mary’s).
The Buffalo girls tip-off at 5:30 Friday against Central and will play North Country at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Capital at 2:30.
“I like our draw,” Beutel said. “We avoided a few teams that have been our nemesis in the past. Our first game is going to determine a lot. That Central team has a lot of Division I talent up and down the roster.”
Buffalo boys roster: Jalen Bradberry (Park), Casey Curran (Allegany-Limestone), Mike DiGiulio (Williamsville South), Da’Quan Hill (Sweet Home), Tyler Hind (Randolph), Tre Kleitz (Iroquois), Nick O’Neil (Amherst), Cal Shifflet (Williamsville East), Jaylen Stewart (Amherst). Coaches: Chris Kensy (Amherst), Brandon Woods (Sweet Home), Kevin Hind (Randolph).
Buffalo girls roster: Alissa Backert (Lancaster), Tashawni Cornfield (Lake Shore), Mayla Kline (St. Mary’s), Mia McCarthy (Cardinal O’Hara), Gabby McDuffie (Olmsted), Kymi Nance (Dunkirk), Lauren Nawojski (St. Mary’s), Claire Pikett (Holland), Logan Streety (Iroquois), Amelia Strong (Cardinal O’Hara), Lydia Sweeney (Grand Island), Brooke Woodard (Eden). Coaches: Nate Beutel (NCCC), Ron Stepien (Sacred Heart), Nick O’Neil (Cardinal O’Hara).