Every season for Olean head coach Jeff Anastasia begins with high expectations. That's what happens to a coach like Anastasia - one who builds a program that starts with the kids in grade school, one who gets his kids to play the right way, and one who not only wins more than he loses every year, but wins titles.
The Huskies have won a title in just about every season that Anastasia has been behind the bench. They've won countless league titles, so many in fact, that it becomes somewhat of a historical achievement when someone else wins their league. They've won Section VI titles, seven in just the last eight years alone. Olean has claimed the Far West Regional title in four of the last eight years. And in 2008, the Huskies won the NYSPHAA Class B state championship in Glens Falls. Oddly enough, that team may have exceeded expectations in that season.
For the Olean squad that just completed its 2014 campaign, exceeding expectations wasn't an option. There simply were no expectations to exceed. With a core group of four starters that played three seasons together and had already reached the state semifinals two seasons earlier, there was a state championship or bust mentality surrounding the Huskies. It came from the community, from casual fans of the team from the Buffalo area, from followers upstate who remembered the core as sophomores, and from local media types like myself. But it also came from within the locker room, from within the team and coaches itself. They knew they had a special group, and when you combine that factor with the name Olean across the front of the jerseys, expectations soar.
Olean petitioned for and were granted an independent schedule for this season. Once they received the go ahead, Anastasia lined up meat grinder of a schedule for his team, one that would not only push and challenge them, but also create more competitive games that would afford his stars time to play together and experience momentum swings, lead changes, large deficits, rewarding hard-earned victories, and even defeat. The results were exactly what the move to go independent was intended for. The Huskies split a memorable two-game series with Section V Class AA champ, Greece Athena, won on a buzzer-beater against Manhattan Cup champion Nichols, twice trounced a very talented Bishop Kearney team who were the defending Class AA state champs, swept a pair of games against Timon, and took to the road to rout St. Mary's. They also experienced a tough losses to Canisius and Aquinas.
Ultimately, Olean fell short of its expectations this season. They did reach the promised land, the Class B state championship game. But the outcome is promised to no team that arrives there. On a Saturday night in Glens Falls, Anastasia could only look on and marvel and what was transpiring in the title game. Eventual Federation champion, Westhill of Section III, put on the type of shooting display you couldn't repeat playing a video game. The first half became a surreal experience - watching a dominant team get dominated. Calling timeouts didn't help and playing defense didn't matter. The avalanche of momentum Westhill had in that game wasn't going to be stopped. A sad ending to a magical season for the Huskies to be certain. However, as time passes, the 2014 Huskies will likely be remembered as the best of a long line of great teams to take the court in Olean.
There is definitely a lot of talent that passes through Olean, but it's not like something exists in the water there. Every area has talent. But rarely do you see talent manifest itself the way it does in Olean. What makes the Huskies different and what does exist in Olean is a man who teaches the game to the program he has built. Anastasia has his own expectations for his teams every year. He expects them to conduct themselves with class, to properly represent the school, and to be commited to improving as a team. But he also manages the expectations placed upon him and his team admirably. He's a gentleman in every encounter you have with him. His players are polite and respectful. His staff is welcoming and accomodating. His fans revere him for the years of success he has given them. And his team's are a pleasure for someone who loves the game of basketball to watch.
What we saw this season from the Huskies, the number one small school in WNY, was the manifestation of superior coaching combined with special talent. Olean's dominance and downright clinical routs of Burgard, Depew, Fredonia, and Charlotte, en route to Glens Falls this season, were the result of a coach who was meticulous about the details. The spacing, ball movement, offensive sets, and defensive strategy at Olean are almost taken for granted - it's just what everyone has come to expect. Anastasia has created that culture over the years, on his way to winning more games than any other active coach in WNY. Already a legend in WNY coaching circles before this past season even began, he developed arguably the best Huskies' squad in school history this year and guided them on a memorable journey that went as far as it could and would never have gotten as far without him. For that, Jeff Anastasia deserves to be recognized, and he becomes the fourth annual recipient of the Centercourt Coach of the Year.
Simply stated, he's a gamer. Seems to understand exactly what his team needs and then delivers it at the right moment. As humble and level-headed a player as you will find. Led Jamestown to the Class AA state championship game. Voted 1st Team All-ECIC & 1st Team ECIC I. Selected to the Section VI Class AA All-Tournament Team. Earned a spot on the NYSPHAA Class AA Tournament Team. Shot 49% from the field & 41% from beyond the arc. Averaged 24.3 points per game in six playoff outings. Scored 30+ points in five games. Scored a career-high 37 points in three quarters against Lancaster. Scored 34 points in a regional win over Greece Athena and followed it up with a 31-point performance in the Class AA state semifinal win over Union-Endicott. Broke the record for most 3-pointers in two games at the NYSPHAA Class AA Tournament. Click here to read more on Zack's Player of the Year season.
Sterling Taplin - Williamsville North, Senior
22.6 PPG / 4.9 APG / 4.3 RPG / 3.1 SPG
A 1st Team All-Centercourt selection for a record third-straight season. A highly skilled player with the best court vision and passing of any player in the area. Faced a defensive game plan designed to limit him everytime he took the court. Chosen to play in the Jordan Classic Regional game. Named All-ECIC Player of the Year. Named to the Section VI Class AA All-Tournament Team. Selected as MVP of the Five Guys Holiday Tournament. Scored a season-high 45 points against Frontier in 27 minutes of gameplay. Shot 57% from the field on the season. Led the Spartans to a share of the ECIC I league title. Finishes his career 23rd on WNY's all-time scoring list and #1 in school history with 1,877 points. Also the all-time leader at Williamsville North in assists (371) and steals (245). A five-year starter who never missed a game during his 99-game varsity career and averaged 19 ppg, 3.7 apg, & 2.5 spg over that span.
Wil Bathurst - Olean, Senior
19.8 PPG / 7.0 RPG / 4.0 APG / 1.7 SPG / 1.0 BPG
One of the very best all-around players in WNY this season. A fan favorite and high-riser who can do everything on the court. Helped the Huskies capture a third straight Section VI Class B title and a 20-win season against a grueling independent schedule. Scored over 30 points in a game three times this season, including a 36 point & 12 rebound effort against Greece Athena. Selected to the NYSPHAA Class B All-Tournament Team. Named MVP of the Section VI Class B1 Tournament. Was MVP of the Olean Tip-Off Tournament. Will play Division I basketball at Cornell next season.
Johnathon Lewis - East, Senior
17.6 PPG / 5.0 RPG / 3.2 SPG / 2.7 APG
Brings relentless energy on both ends of the floor all game. Whether taking a big shot or driving to the basket, was absolutely fearless. One of the top defenders in WNY. Led East to the Section VI Class B2 championship. Scored 11 points in the fourth quarter of a furious comeback attempt in the Game of the Year against Olean . Named MVP of the Aquinas Tournament. MVP of the Section VI Class B2 Tournament. Chosen as MVP of Championship Week at Buff State by Keith McShea of the Buffalo News. Game MVP in win over Timon at the Pastor Cooper. Voted 1st Team Yale Cup I. Season-highs of 33 & 32 points in wins over Middle College & Aquinas. Considering an offer from Daemen, going to Prep School, Juco, & Buffalo State College.
Donte Williams - Timon, Senior
24 PPG / 6.8 RPG / 3 APG
One of the area's most talented players who is built to play at the next level. Capable of taking a game over when he was dialed in. A high-riser who threw down some spectacular dunks in traffic. Finished the season with 652 points, the most in WNY by any player this season, and totaled 1,133 for his three-year varsity career. Led Timon to the second seed in the Manhattan Cup playoffs, where the Tigers reached the final. Voted All-Catholic Co-Player of the Year. Named Player of the Game after leading Timon to an overtime victory over Williamsville North at the Cataract Classic, following his game-winning 3-pointer. Eclipsed the 30-point mark four times this season, twice going over 40 points, with a season-high of 43 points against UPrep of Rochester. Undecided regarding future plans.
SECOND TEAM ALL-CENTERCOURT
Bri'an Brown - Middle College, Senior
18 PPG / 11 RPG / 6 APG
Athletically gifted player with exceptional body control and the ability to knife through a defense to get to the basket. Showed great timing when blocking shots. Led the Kats to the NYSPHAA Class C state championship game after they captured their second Yale Cup in program history. Named Yale Cup I Player of the Year. MVP of the Section VI Class C1Tournament Team. Selected to the NYSPHAA All-Tournament Team in Class C. Scored 30 & 40 points in a pair of meetings with Bennett. Considering Canisius College, Hartford University, and Prep School.
Howard Washington - Canisius, Sophomore
15.0 PPG / 5.5 APG / 4.0 RPG
The floor general of WNY's most dominant team this season. Smooth shooter from the perimeter. A pure point guard with a team-first style. Tremendous court vision and passing. Already the recipient of multiple major Division I offers. Voted All-Catholic Co-Player of the Year. MVP of the Crudaders' win in the RAP Classic over Webster Schroeder after a 24-point performance and his first ever high school dunk. Controlled the tempo in an 18-point win over Olean with 13 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. Scored over 20 points in six games and seven or more assists in 10 games.
Quinn Lee Yaw - Jamestown, Senior
16.1 PPG / 10.1 RPG / 2.2 APG / 1.4 BPG
A high-intensity player who was the team's emotional leader. Improved significantly in each of three varsity seasons at Jamestown. Was instrumantal in leading the Red Raiders to the NYSPHAA Class AA state championship game by being the teams major presence in the post. Was dominant in the Section VI final against Clarence, posting 26 points and 15 rebounds and earned MVP honors of the Section VI Class AA Tournament. Was one rebound against Greece Athena shy of having a double-double in all six of the Red Raiders' playoff games. Named Co-Player of the Year in ECIC I, 1st Team All-ECIC, and was named to the NYSPHAA All-Tournament team in Class AA in Glens Falls. Considering Edinboro, Hobart, & Exeter Prep after graduation.
Sam Eckstrom - Olean, Senior
20.3 PPG / 9.6 RPG / 1.3 BPG
Smooth finisher around the basket with solid footwork. Excellent at using pivot and going right or left. Finishes career at Olean with 1,536 points, good for third on the school's all-time list. His 790 career rebounds are a school record. Shot 64% from the field on the season. Scored over 30 points on five occasions this year, including a 38 point & 12 rebound effort in a win over Bishop Kearney and 34 points & 14 boards in a victory vs. Greece Athena. He also netted 30 & 10 in the Class B state semifinal. Selected to the NYSPHAA Class B and Section VI Class B1 All-Tournament Teams. Will attend the College of St. Rose next year.
Stafford Trueheart - Canisius, Sophomore
13.0 PPG / 10.0 RPG / 4.5 BPG
Provided the Crusaders with the best post presence I've ever seen at Canisius in just his sophomore season. Exceptional timing as a shot blocker. Plays above the rim. Runs the floor better than any big man in WNY. Voted 1st Team All-Catholic. Named MVP of the Tom Keenan Memorial Tournament after Canisius upset defending CHSAA state champion Nazereth. Selected to the Georgetown Prep All-Tournament Team. Had a game-high 16 rebounds in the Crusaders' win over Olean. Eclipsed the 20-point mark in four games and collected at least 15 rebounds on five separate occasions.
THIRD TEAM ALL-CENTERCOURT
Billy Brooks - Silver Creek, Junior
19.1 PPG / 14.4 RPG / 6.7 BPG / 4.2 APG
A highly coordinated 6-8 big man that completely dominated in the post. Has the ability to get the fast break started with outlet passing after rebounds. Superior ball movement skills - the best passing big man in WNY. Aggressive shot blocker with more rejections than any other player in WNY. Voted 1st Team CCAA West I. Selected to Section VI Class C1 All-Tournament Team. Registered 18 double-doubles in 21 games. Had a stretch of four straight triple-double games. Scored all 16 of his team's fourth quarter points in a 31-point outing at Park. Had 21 points, 24 boards, & nine blocks in a 14-point win against an unbeaten Barker team in the Class C1 semifinals.
Cam Lewis - Nichols, Junior
16.1 PPG / 7.7 RPG / 2.0 APG / 1.4 SPG
A do-it-all big man who is comfortable in the paint, but routinely handles the ball. Can serve as a press-breaker and will knock down shots from the perimeter. Led the Vikings to a Manhattan Cup championship, where he was named MVP. A career 1,000 point scorer heading into his senior season. Scored a career-high 28 points in a win over Park. Voted 1st Team All-Catholic. Posted nine double-doubles.
Chris Miner - Nichols, Junior
16.4 PPG / 12.9 RPG / 2.1 BPG / 1.8 SPG
A force inside for the Vikings who owns the glass and finishes with ease around the basket. Led Nichols to the CHSAA Class A semifinal, after being the team-high scorer in the Manhattan Cup championship win. A double-double machine, registering 20 this season after starting all 28 games. Scored his 1,000th career point as a junior in the Manhattan Cup quarterfinals. Voted 2nd Team All-Catholic. Scored a career-high 27 points twice this season in wins over St. Francis & Park.
Colin Dougherty - Lockport, Senior
16.4 PPG / 2.6 RPG / 2.5 APG / 1.6 SPG
A shifty player with an excellent handle and a high basketball IQ. Has great shooting range and knows when to assert himself in a game. Was a crowd favorite at Buff State after leading his team to the Class AA semifinals. Helped Lockport earn a share of the NFL title. Voted to 1st-Team in the NFL. Selected to the Section VI Class AA All-Tournament Team. Had 28 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in the quarterfinals at Kenmore West to advance his team. Scored a game-high 26 points in the semifinals against eventual state finalist Jamestown. Considering an offer from Daemen, along with the possibility of Nazereth, Allegany, and Prep School.
Ryan Funk - Clarence, Senior
18.0 PPG / 7.0 RPG / 1.2 APG
Moves up from Fifth Team All-Centercourt last season. Named 1st Team All-ECIC and ECIC I. Led the Red Devils to the Section VI Class AA championship game. Helped his team earn a share of the league title in ECIC I and capture the Clarence Holiday Tournament championship. Named to the Section VI Class AA All-Tournament Team. One of WNY's deadliest shooters, made 43 three-pointers and shot 82% from the charity stripe. Posted five double-doubles and scored 30 points twice in wins against Williamsville North and North Tonawanda. Considering Daemen, Medaille, St. Thomas More Prep, & Lynchburg for next year.
FOURTH TEAM ALL-CENTERCOURT
Phil Bowen - Iroquois, Senior
24.2 PPG / 3.9 RPG / 3.8 APG / 2.1 SPG
Strong with the ball and able to penetrate. Relied upon to both handle the ball and score for the Chiefs. Put Iroquois on his back and carried them to the league title in ECIC II. Voted ECIC II Player of the Year. Had second highest scoring average in all of WNY this season. Eclipsed the 30 point mark in a game three times. Considering either Medaille or Hilbert for basketball next year.
Lester Diaz - Lafayette, Senior
31.4 PPG / 7.0 APG / 3.4 RPG / 3.2 SPG
Outstanding court vision and basketball IQ. Plays the game at full speed for 32 minutes. In range the moment he steps over half court. Voted Player of the Year in Yale Cup II. Had highest scoring average in WNY while always finding an open teammate with a pass. Had a season-high 43 points against Buffalo Arts. Scored 41 points in a win over MST Seneca. Finished with 39 points against top ten small school Park. Scored 35 points against Yale Cup II champion, I-Prep. Had 25 points at Class A2 semifinalist Lew-Port.
Percy Bryant - East, Junior
17.4 PPG / 6.2 APG / 4.7 SPG / 3.5 RPG
Combines blistering quickness with excellent dribbling skills. Slashes through defenses at will. An unrelenting defender who consistently creates turnovers. Part of the backcourt duo that led East to a second straight Class B2 championship. Led his team in both assists and steals. Had at least five steals in 13 games. Voted 1st Team Yale Cup I. Selected to the Section VI Class B2 All-Tournament Team. Recorded a season-high 33 points, along with 10 steals, in a win at McKinley. Scored 23 points and dished 10 assists in a sectional overtime win vs. Health Sciences.
Kevin Briggs - Middle College, Senior
17 PPG / 6 APG / 4 RPG / 3 SPG
A classic scorer who can hurt you from the perimeter or by slashing to the basket. A high-motor player who thrived in transition. Helped the Kats advance all the way to the NYSPHAA Class C state championship game where he was named to the state's All-Tournament Team. Scored a game-high 31 points in a state semifinal win over Friends Academy. Voted to 1st-Team Yale Cup I after helping Middle College capture the city's championship trophy. Also selected to the Section VI All-Tournament Team for Class C1. Had a pair of triple-doubles on the season, including 35 points, 11 assists, & 10 rebounds in a win over Hutch-Tech. Will look to play JUCO following high school.
Nick Schmidt - Olean, Senior
17.0 PPG / 3.1 APG
The best perimeter shooter in all of WNY. A tough and underrated defender. Takes care of the basketball and makes great decisions in helping to facilitate Olean's offense. A luxury as a third option for the Huskies. Finishes his career with 1,135 points. Ended up third all-time in steals at Olean with 198. Shot a whopping 52% from 3-point land. Connected on a WNY-leading and school record 97 3-pointers this season, the 4th most in a season all-time in WNY. Named MVP of the IAABO Tournament after connecting on eight treys, including the game-winner, against Nichols. Made seven of nine attempts from downtown in the Class B state semifinal win over Woodlands.
Combines size & athleticism with natural game instincts. Well-rounded skill set allows him to play anywhere on the court. Selected to the Section VI Class C1 All-Tournament Team. Voted 1st Team N-O for a third consecutive season. Led Barker to its first league championship since 1978, before they even played in the N-O. Guided the Raiders to a 19-0 start and the last unbeaten team in WNY. Broke the all-time scoring mark at Barker this season and finished with 1,338 for his career.
Dylan Meyer - Fredonia, Senior
21.7 PPG / 4.2 RPG
Strong player inside with great instincts. Can step out and shoot from the perimeter, or put the ball on the floor to get past you. Voted Player of the Year in CCAA West I. Selected to the Section VI Class B1 All-Tournament Team. Scored a season-high 36 points against Greece Athena at the Jamestown Tournament. Finished with 32 points in a win at Lackawanna. Finished his career with 1,410 points and 438 rebounds for the Hillbillies. His career point total is second only to Michael Heary in Fredonia history. Will play D3 at Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Dominick Welch - Cheektowaga, Freshman
19.5 PPG / 13.3 RPG / 3.6 BPG / 1.4 APG / 1.2 SPG
The future of WNY basketball is in great hands with this young star. Can play every position on the court. Poised beyond his years. Threw down the highlight dunk of postseason at Buff State. Led the Warriors to their first ever sectional title as a freshman. Voted 1st Team ECIC III. Named to the Section VI Class A2 All-Tournament Team. Set the single-season school record for blocks with 80. Registered 19 double-doubles and one triple-double.
TC Brown - Amherst, Sophomore
18.2 PPG / 6.0 RPG / 5.6 APG / 3.9 SPG
Confident team leader and fierce competitor who still has two varsity seasons remaining. Led Amherst to a second straight ECIC III title and a return trip to the Section VI Class A2 final. Voted 1st Team All-ECIC and POY in ECIC III. Selected to the Section VI Class A2 All-Tournament Team. MVP of the Jolly Boys Tournament.
Devin Morris - McKinley, Junior
15 PPG / 11 RPG / 2 BPG / 2 SPG
Excellent outside shooter with a knack for penetrating and finishing. Led the Macks to a 3rd straight sectional title in Class A1 and back to the regionals for a second-straight year. Voted 1st Team Yale Cup I. Selected MVP of the Section VI Class A1 Tournament. Logged 15 double-doubles and three triple-doubles on the season. Connected on 36 3-pointers. Scored a career-high 27 points against St. Joe's.
Justin Hollins - St. Joe's, Senior
18.8 PPG / 7.9 RPG / 2.2 APG / 1.3 SPG - 1st Team All-Catholic - Eclipsed 30 pts three times
Tyler English - St. Mary's, Senior
15.3 PPG / 6.0 RPG / 2.6 APG / 1.6 SPG / 1.0 BPG - 1st Team All-Catholic
Matt Wrobel - St. Mary's, Senior
12.8 PPG / 5.6 RPG / 1.5 APG - 25 pts, 14 rebs in win vs. Clarence - Led team in offensive reb.
D'Andre Steward - McKinley, Senior
14 PPG / 8 RPG / 3 SPG - 1st Team Yale Cup I - 4 triple-doubles - career-high 32 pts vs. Bennett
Varin Lenard - McKinley, Senior
13 PPG / 8 RPG / 2 SPG - 2nd Team Yale Cup I - Class A1 All-Tournament Team
Bryan Jost - Clarence, Senior
10 PPG / 5 APG / 3 SPG / 3 RPG - 1st Team ECIC I - Class AA All-Tournament Team
Willie Smith - Riverside, Senior
19.0 PPG / 8.6 RPG / 5.8 APG / 3.3 SPG - Career-high 38 pts, 15 rebs, 5 assists vs. East
Ryan Richards - Canisius, Senior
10.0 PPG / 7.0 RPG / 2.0 SPG / 1.5 BPG - Athletic, aggressive in post & lockdown defender.
Luke Hennessy - Olean, Senior
5.7 PPG / 6.5 APG / 1.6 SPG - Finished career with 421 assists & 194 steals
At the end of the 2012 season, I was at Buffalo State talking with some friends at the conclusion of championship Saturday and they were already looking towards the following season and trying to project who would be on top. Jamestown had just lost a three-point decision to Niagara Falls for the Section VI Class AA title, after junior Tommy Campion's potential game-tying '3' missed at the buzzer. The others in the conversation were already projecting a Falls/Jamestown rematch in the 2013 final, something I agreed with. As they made their case for Jamestown being back, they pointed to Campion, sophomore Quinn Lee Yaw, and freshman Branden Kellam all coming back. I remember adding to their assessment something to the effect of, "don't forget about the other freshman, Zack Panebianco, he's not real flashy but he's so composed".
Fast forward two seasons from that moment, and the then quiet but capable Panebianco has now led Jamestown to a second consecutive Section VI Class AA title and is about to embark on an improbable run all the way to the state championship game. In a season where three Section VI teams played for state championships, the run that one team made really stood out, and particularly the performances of one player stood out. If choosing a Player of the Year is really about rewarding the player who turned in the best season, this season, there's one player who separated himself from the pack by scoring, by leading, and by winning. As the season wore on and the competition became more challenging, he accepted the challenges and delivered in ways we hadn't seen before. Jamestown's Zack Panebianco is your 2014 Centercourt Player of the Year.
In the summer months prior to the start of the season, rumors began swirling that Branden Kellam would be transferring out of Jamestown and heading to Rochester. By early August it was official, Kellam had moved and would play for Bishop Kearney. Despite his departure, I still considered Jamestown the favorite, but felt the playing field had been significantly leveled in the local Class AA ranks. The Red Raiders could still win the section, I thought, but whoever wins in Class AA isn't getting past Greece Athena. I just didn't think we had a team in Class AA who could compete at the state level this season, and really didn't come across anyone who disputed that sentiment.
Jamestown actually had Greece Athena participating in its United Way Tournament to begin the season. The hope was that the two would meet up in the tournament final, as they were paired in separate matchups to begin the tournament. Instead, our first of several snow storms this winter caused the tournament's other two participants, Fredonia & Bennett to pull out of the Friday night portion. Greece Athena however, was already en route and wasn't turning back. At 4 pm that afternoon, I received an email from Jamestown coach Ben Drake: "Change of plans, we're playing Greece Athena tonight"!
So on the night of Jamestown's re-dedication of its gymnasium, they were suddenly facing the Section V Class AA favorite in the season-opener, with only a couple hours to prepare. Athena would eventually pull away in the fourth quarter and hand the Red Raiders a stinging 20-point home loss on a blizzardous night that was supposed to be a feel-good night in Jamestown.
"Our team got off to a slow start, I think there was a lingering effect from football season" said Drake.
A 1,000 yard receiver this season in football, Panebianco made 1st Team All-WNY from the Buffalo News as a defensive back, after breaking the sectional championship stadium record for receiving yards with 181.
"The football team had a long season and Zack came in to the basketball season with a concussion. He didn't start practicing for two weeks after the loss to Aquinas (November 14, 2013), so he didn't get much practice time. It took him awhile to get his basketball mojo going." Drake said.
Panebianco was solid to begin the season, but really began to hit his stride in a 30-point home win over Clarence on January 21st, when he scored 21 points to go with seven assists.
On February 1st, the Red Raiders made the long trip to Rochester to play in the finale of the RAP Classic against the event's host school, East High and its highly touted and high-scoring star, Dontay Caruthers. Jamestown took the team that would reach the NYSPHAA Class A state championship game to overtime and then defeated them behind a game-high 32-point night from Panebianco.
Two nights later, Jamestown visited Lancaster, where Panebianco went off for a career-high 37 points, and did it in just three quarters.
A week after his career outing in Lancaster, Panebianco and the Red Raiders were back in Jamestown hosting league rival Williamsville North and needing a victory to avenge an earlier loss to the Spartans and force a three-way tie atop the ECIC I standings heading into sectionals. With playoff seeding and a league championship on the line, Panebianco delivered a game-high 31 points, that included a 3-point dagger to thwart off a late attempt at a comeback by North and help seal what ended up a 67-54 victory.
The final regular season game came at home and was also senior night in Jamestown. Panebianco, a junior who is the last guy who would worry about his stats, was content to watch the seniors shine according to Drake, with all five scoring and three finishing in double figures, while a fourth scored nine points.
"On senior night against West Seneca West, he only scored four points because he wanted to make sure the seniors were all involved and got their time".
The postseason began with a 71-53 quarterfinal win over Frontier and a game-high 17 points for Panebianco. In the semifinals against Lockport at Buffalo State, the Red Raiders trailed most of the first three quarters as Lions' guard Colin Dougherty put on a show and wowed the crowd. But as the game reached its critical juncture, Panebianco asserted himself. He led Jamestown to an 11-point win with his game-high 26 points, along with six assists, advancing the Red Raiders to their fifth straight Class AA sectional final.
In the Section VI Class AA championship game against Clarence, Panebianco finished with 18 points, and was happy to defer to the hot hand, teammate Lee Yaw who scored 26 points, as his team won its rubber match with the Red Devils to move on to regionals.
Waiting for Jamestown in the Far West Regionals was an opponent they had already seen, an opponent who had spoiled the Red Raiders home-opener on re-dedication night - Greece Athena. However this time around, Panebianco wasn't coming off of a long football season or a concussion.
Instead he was focused. Incredibly focused. And that focus gave way to one of the most epic big game playoff performances witnessed in years by fans at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Panebianco helped the Red Raiders come flying out of the gate, scoring six points in the first three minutes. Jamestown began the game on a 14-0 run and led Greece Athena 34-22 at halftime, with Panebianco already sitting on 12 points by intermission. He was just getting warmed up.
Just over two minutes into the third quarter, the Trojans had trimmed the Jamestown lead to just five points. That's when the magic show began. To ensure his team's trip to the state final four, Panebianco went off in the second half, scoring 22 of the Red Raiders 27 points against a team that was frustrated by him and determined to stop him.
Not only did they fail to stop him, he wasn't even contained.
Seemingly trapped, the escape artist would split defenders, dribble around them, or zip a pass to an open teammate and then cut away from his defender to re-acquire the ball. As he would begin to penetrate, the defense would collapse on him - bodies much larger than him there to swat away whatever he managed to throw into the air. Except somehow, he squirmed through the defense anyway. Somehow he would hang in the air just long enough to get a shot attempt off while drawing contact that would send him to the line.
Once he got to the charity stripe - clutch. No big game pressure, just swish after swish. A perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line.
And how about those 3-pointers? Panebianco banged four of them in the second half, with each shot seeming bigger than the last. We're not talking about swinging it to the open man to knock down a shot. These were catch & shoot treys where he came flying off screens and sent high-arching shots over a defender's hand stretched out in his face. And they were deep. He was already shooting behind the college 3-point line at Buff State, but the last two were even well beyond that.
When it was all over, Panebianco had scored 34 points, to go with eight rebounds and three steals, and Jamestown was headed to states.
"His performance in the Athena game was just unbelievable" said Drake. "I honestly can't remember an individual performance that special on that big of a stage". "Anytime Athena made a run, he responded. A couple of the shots he hit were deep threes with players on him".
One week later at Glens Falls, Panebianco scored a game-high 31 points, dished three assists, grabbed three rebounds, and had a pair of steals in a Class AA state semifinal victory over a Union-Endicott team that had knocked off the mighty Mount Vernon to get there. He had carried his team all the way to the state championship game.
In the NYSPHAA Class AA state final, the Red Raiders were physically and athletically overmatched by the eventual champ, Green Tech. It didn't stop Panebianco from battling. He finished with a team-high 20 points in the final and scored his team's last five points, including a 3-pointer that pulled Jamestown within two points with just 13 seconds left in the game.
He had made an impression at Glens Falls. A spot on the NYSPHAA Class AA Tournament Team after scoring 51 points in two games and a place in the record books. Panebianco broke the Class AA tournament record for 3-pointers when the last one went in.
Over his final 13 games of the season, which included three games against Class AA finalist Clarence, Williamsville North for a share of the league, Class A state finalist East High of Rochester, and six playoff games, Panebianco averaged 24.5 points per game. It surely would have been even higher if not for his unselfish four-point game on senior night.
I'm not sure if his accomplishments have ever been equaled before. I certainly can't remember anyone from Section VI ever scoring over 30 points in back-to-back games in the Class AA regional and state semifinal. I also can't remember watching a player quite like Zack. One coach who is a friend of mine calls him the magician, because there's no other way to explain the things he makes happen.
"Zack is kind of a throwback player. He's deceptively athletic, has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and is always a step ahead of the opponent" Drake said.
He was a step ahead of his contemporaries as well - the player from WNY who turned in the best season in 2014, the Centercourt Player of the Year.
Here's the lineup for the AdPro Public/Private Challenge for next season. The Challenge will take place at St. Joe's next year, part of a new rotational format, and will be headlined by Jamestown vs. Canisius.
As a pollster for the Buffalo News, I'm asked to send in my weekly ballots ranking the top ten large and small schools. This is the last time I'll vote this season, so these ballots represent where the teams finished. Here's a look at how I see them and some of the rationale used to get there.
1. Jamestown (AA) - A spectacular postseason run for the Red Raiders earns them the top spot on my ballot. Cameback after trailing the majority of the game to defeat Lockport in the semifinals. Avenged a road loss to Clarence in the Section VI final. Avenged a 20-point season-opening home loss to Greece Athena in the regionals. Knocked off the team (Union-Endicott) who eliminated Mount Vernon from the state tournament. Then were tied with Green Tech after three quarters in the Class AA state championship game, before bowing out by five.
2. Canisius (MMA) - Dominated the local competition like we haven't seen a team do in several seasons. The Crusaders won every game by double digits against competition from WNY (including Olean and McKinley, along with sweeps of Timon & St. Joe's) until they were tripped up by Nichols in the Manhattan Cup semifinals to unceremoniously end their season.
3. Clarence (AA) - Reached the Section VI Class AA final after earning a three-way share of the ECIC I crown. The Red Devils were a cohesive group that, besides splits with Jamestown and Williamsville North, won games against McKinley, Amherst, North Tonawanda, and Iroquois.
4. McKinley (A1) - The Macks used a whole new cast to repeat as the regional representative in Class A for Section VI. They also broke the Yale Cup winning streak, a record that ended at 33 games for McKinley this season. Unlike McKinley's star-studded lineup from last season's state championship squad, this year's version was more like the Macks' team of past seasons under Zaire Dorsey, a deep unit with waves of contributing players and different players stepping up throughout the season.
5. Lockport (AA) - After earning a share of the NFL title with the Blue Devils during the regular season, the Lions went into Kenmore West and won a second straight over their league foe, this time in spectacular fashion. From there, Lockport advanced to Buffalo State to face Jamestown in the Class AA semifinals, where they led for nearly all of the first half and led by nine in the third quarter, before succombing to a comeback by the eventual Class AA state finalist.
6. Timon/St. Jude (MMA) - The Tigers reached the Manhattan Cup championship game for a second straight season. Their year was marked by wins over Williamsville North & St. Joe's, along with taking care of business in the regular season against ranked small schools Nichols, St. Mary's, and Park.
7. Williamsville North (AA) - The Spartans seemed to peak midseason this year when they won seven straight, including a convincing road win at Clarence and a rout of Frontier at home.
8. Cheektowaga (A2) - Won its first ever Section VI title in school history after knocking off Amherst for a third time this season in an overtime thriller at Buff State.
9. Amherst (A2) - Repeated as ECIC III champs and reached the Class A2 title game for a second straight season.
10. Kenmore West (AA) - The Blue Devils get this last spot by a slight margin over St. Joe's, who they defeated at home prior to the start of the postseason. It was the right win at the right time poll-wise for Kenmore West, as St. Joe's had just beaten Williamsville South, who was also a candidate for this spot.
1. Olean (B1) - The Huskies beat the next three teams on this ballot (Nichols, East, & St. Mary's), defeated Greece Athena, and swept Bishop Kearney & Timon. They also won their first three playoff games against Burgard, Depew, & Fredonia by an average of 38 points. Olean advanced to the Class B state championship game, where they fell to eventual Federation champion Westhill.
2. Nichols (MMA) - After starting the season 9-7, the Vikings won 10 of their last 12 games, including wins over Canisius, Timon, St. Joe's, and a pair over Park. They also earned the biggest upset in the last seven years (knocking off Canisius) on their way to hoisting the Manhattan Cup, and did so with 6-7 Tanner Schmit, who has D1 offers, sidelined with an injury.
3. East (B2) - With a healthy Tyree Tyson in the lineup, East began the year routing teams: Timon by 23, South Park by 54, Bennett by 47, & Leadership Academy (swept Section V Class B champ Charlotte) by 39. Without Tyson, the Panthers still won at Aquinas by 13, took rematches with Middle College & McKinley, and routed both Hutch-Tech & Sweet Home by 40 & 32. And who could forget their performance in the game of the year against Olean.
4. St. Mary's (MMA) - The Lancers won more games against ranked small schools (six) than any other team in WNY, knocking off Middle College & Fredonia, along with sweeping Nichols & Park. They also earned a victory against Clarence and a pair of wins over St. Joe's. St. Mary's was an overtime loss in the Manhattan Cup semifinals against Timon, away from an opportunity to win a fifth straight versus Nichols dating back to last season.
5. Middle College (C1) - Reached the Class C state championship game after winning Yale Cup I outright. The Kats defeated Class A2 champ Cheektowaga, swept overall Class A champ McKinley, and took its first meeting against Class B2 champ East during the regular season.
6. Park (MMA) - Tough to fault the Pioneers for going out in the Manhattan Cup quarterfinals against Nichols, after the Vikings went on to win the Cup. Still a very impressive debut in the MMA for Park, who returns all its key players next season.
7. Fredonia (B1) - The Hillbillies proved to be the second best team in Class B1 this season with a convincing victory over Tonawanda to reach the final, before running into Olean. A 16-5 season included sweeps of Class C1 & Class C2 finalists, Silver Creek & Maple Grove. Losses came to Greece Athena, Olean, St. Mary's, Iroquois, & Fairview (PA).
8. Randolph (C2) - The team that nearly got the hashtag #BombsAway trending for its willlingness to fire away from beyond the arc. The Cardinals won Class C2 and led the entire first half against Middle College in the overall Class C final, before ultimately falling by three points.
9. Sherman (D) - The Class D champs put on an epic shooting display in the regionals against private school Batavia Notre Dame to reach Glens Falls. Even though they didn't win a Class D state championship, they also never lost to a Class D public school this season. The Wildcats' only two losses all season - Randolph (Class C2 champion) and Coleman Catholic (a private school that hides in Class D and reaches Glens Falls annually).
10. Cleveland Hill (B2) - The Golden Eagles lay claim to the final spot in the small schools for winning ECIC IV and reaching the Class B2 final, where they ran into East and lost by nine.