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Best of the Best Upstate event helps area basketball players increase exposure

In many cases, local high school basketball players must travel outside of Western New York to get on the radar of college recruiters.

Organizers of the upstart Best of the Best Upstate Exposure Showcase are hoping to change that.

Reginald Burke, a Buffalo native who has operated Bay Area Hoops in Tampa, Fla., since 2009, and Quintin Redfern, a local basketball coach and skills trainer, invited 26 elite boys Saturday and 25 girls Sunday to Nichols School to perform drills and scrimmage in front of recruiting scouts and local college coaches at the inaugural event.

Such gatherings of elite prospects are common in other cities, but this was the first of its kind in Western New York, Burke and Redfern said.

“I grew up in New York City and I was at showcases like this my whole life,” said Redfern, who lived in Buffalo before moving downstate at age 10 and played basketball at Genesee Community College and Division II Livingstone College in North Carolina.

“We have a lot of big-time talent in Buffalo,” Redfern added. “We’re trying to help these kids get notoriety and connections to college coaches so they can get scholarships and play at the next level.”

Burke, who played at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts and Alfred University, has run the Breakdown Showcase in Florida for eight years. He has scouted players at national exposure events, including the Nike Elite 100 and Geico National, and is affiliated with former NBA player and coach John Lucas’ grassroots basketball programs.

“I wanted to come back home and try to build that structure in Buffalo,” Burke said. “We have a rich culture of basketball in Buffalo. People around the country talk all the time about how Buffalo used to have players. We’ve got talent here but they need to be seen.”

Buffalo natives Quintin Redfern, left, and Reginald Burke organized the Best of the Best Upstate Exposure Showcase held Sept. 14-15, 2019, at Nichols School. (Jonah Bronstein/Buffalo News)

Two national scouts, Robert Alfonso of Baseline to Sideline and Darnell “Tate” Johnson of All Metro Hoops watched both days of action and will provide each player with written evaluations.

“This is a solid event for the kids in this area because where Buffalo is located, it’s difficult for them to drive to Cleveland or Albany to get exposure,” said Alfonso, a New York City native who came up from North Carolina for the showcase. “Here is a chance for them to play against the best kids in the area, for the most part, gain exposure, and learn who they are as a player, both good and bad. That will hopefully challenge them going forward."

While some of Western New York’s most touted prospects did not attend the showcase, like Williamsville South junior Amari DeBerry, Lewiston-Porter sophomore Roddy Gayle, Park School junior Jalen Bradberry and their former Niagara Falls teammate Willie Lightfoot, many of the area’s top talents seeking to raise their national profile did participate.

“It’s a good event for the city because people don’t really come up here to recruit us as much,” said Canisius senior Dewayne Vass, a third-team All-WNY selection last season. “It’s good for some of us to get our name out there.”

Burke said he maintains a database with more than 3,000 college coach contacts he will use to share reports on deserving players. Top performers also will gain exposure through Alfonso's and Tate’s websites and social media channels.

Standing out in a smaller showcase like this one could open doors for players to attend larger exposure events, Burke added.

St. Mary's sophomore Shay Ciezki, left, and Cardinal O'Hara sophomore Jade Rutledge participated in the John Lucas Top 160 Invitational Camp in Houston earlier this month. (Jonah Bronstein/Buffalo News)

Burke’s connection to John Lucas Enterprises has already benefited a few local players. St. Mary’s sophomore and returning All-WNY guard Shay Ciezki and Cardinal O’Hara sophomore Jade Rutledge were invited to the John Lucas Elite Invitational in Houston last weekend after being evaluated by Burke at a camp Redfern held over the summer at Nichols.

“It was fun and challenging,” Rutledge said. “You’re playing against ranked players, girls that have offers from UConn, Tennessee and Notre Dame. I feel like I did well.”

“It really helps put my name out there,” said Ciezki, who already holds scholarship offers from Syracuse, Buffalo and Niagara. “Nowadays, basketball recruiting is really based on technology. Twitter, Instagram and all that, if you go viral, you get so many more looks.”

Williamsville East sophomore Max Schneider, Canisius sophomore Declan Ryan and Amherst freshman Nick Moore have been invited to participate in next weekend’s boys John Lucas Elite Invitational, Burke said.

“It’s a big deal for the area,” Redfern said. “Shay and Jade went down there and represented very well. That lets scouts know this area has top talent and maybe they should look at Buffalo more. And I have no doubt those boys will go down there and represent us well, too.”

Many of the showcase participants train regularly with Redfern in his Last1Best1 program throughout the year.

“Q gets you to an elite level,” Vass said.

“I wouldn’t be the player I am today without him,” Ciezki said. “He started working with me when I was 8 years old. Everything I’ve learned was because of him and I’m so glad I could see more of these girls do the same.”

Redfern also invited 45 middle school boys and one girl, Amherst seventh-grader Nicole Miller, to participate in the showcase for two hours after the boys event ended Saturday.

“It starts early,” Burke said. “There are kids who could be a McDonald's All-American or Nike Top 100, but they need people to see them when they are up and coming.”

The plan is to hold a second exposure event in April and continue with the September showcase next year, Redfern said, hopefully with an expanded field.

“We want it to be a top 40 event,” Redfern said, “but we don’t want to water down the competition.”

Elite high school basketball players from Western New York and Rochester were invited to participate in the Best of the Best Upstate Exposure Showcase on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 at Nichols School. (Jonah Bronstein/Buffalo News)

Participating rosters for the inaugural Best of the Best Upstate Exposure Showcase:

Boys: Daesean Ashley (St. Joe’s), 11-Kuran Askia (McKinley), Markel Crawford (Health Sciences), Mike DiGiulio (Will. South), 9-Niccolo DiGiulio (Will. South), Ishmael Fairclough (Canisius), 11-Kenneth Freeman (Greece Athena), Noah Fox (North Tonawanda), 9-Jason Gibbs (Churchville-Chili), 10-Kamar Goudelock (Timon), 10-Justin Glover (St. Joe’s), 10-Tyreke Hopkins (O’Hara), Aidan Horan (Nichols), Eric Kegler (Canisius), 9-Shaun Kolnacki (Will. East), 9-Nick Moore (Amherst), 12-Dante Moultrie (North Tonawanda), 9-Isaiah Odom (St. Joe’s), 10-Todd Robinson (Niagara Wheatfield), 10-Declan Ryan (Canisius), 10-Max Schneider (Will. East), 11-Jaden Slaughter (St. Joe’s), Jaylen Stewart (Amherst), Dewayne Vass (Canisius), 11-Torian Wallace (Park), Nyjon Zelesko (Health Sciences).

Girls: 11-Rachel Adolf (Sacred Heart), 9-Quinn Benchley (Nichols), 10-Mary Caterina (Sacred Heart), 10-Shay Ciezki (St. Mary’s), 11-Jessica Cook (Cicero-North Syracuse), 11-Catie Cunningham (West Genesee), 9-Haven Daboll (Amherst), 10-Morgan Giancaterino (Sacred Heart), 9-Kaylee Kryztoff (Depew), 9-Casey Mahoney (Lancaster), 9-Amya Mcleod (Rome Free), Angelina Meola (Iroquois), Deseree Meola (Iroquois), Jaden Mott (Starpoint), 10-Margaret Nawojski (St. Mary’s), 11-Lexi Roe (Fayetteville-Manilus), 10-Jade Rutledge (O’Hara), 11-Cotrinea Smith (Hutch Tech), 11-Lynsey Sterling (Iroquois), 9-Meghan Trapper (Sacred Heart), 11-Ella Wanzer (Amherst), 11-Amaya Williams (Nottingham), 11-Kyra Wood (City Honors), 11-Brooke Woodard (Eden).

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