Despite all the snow that has been dumped on WNY (and everywhere for that matter), there was plenty of high school basketball played. I made it out to five games over the weekend and followed along on twitter and preptalklive for the others. My apologies for the lack of stories/posts this weekend - between the snow, the impending holidays, a daughter's birthday, and a family that likes my company & attention when I'm not at the games, computer time has been tough to come by. With all that said, here's a smattering of thoughts from this weekend:
Canisius is good
- For a second straight season, the Crusaders win the Tom Keenan Memorial Tournament by knocking off Nazereth. When it happened last season, it turned out to be a preview of the CHSAA Class A state championship game. What makes this year's tournament victory for more impressive to me - Nazereth returned four starters from last year's state championship team...Canisius brought back one (Ryan Richards) from its runner-up squad. In my opinion, considering the opponent, it was the most impressive victory of Kyle Husband's coaching career.
We've all heard plenty about Howard Washington by now. After seeing him play twice this weekend, I now understand why he's so highly sought after. He stays within the game, stays under control, and keeps his teammates involved. Against Fordham Prep on Friday, he quietly scored 20 points and then finished with just five points on Saturday, but seemed equally effective in both games. He's a great example of a player who doesn't look to get his, but rather looks to help his team get theirs.
The other Crusader sophomore in the starting lineup, Stafford Trueheart, made a huge impression on me. He is the best big man Canisius has had since Gordon Lyons, and when it's all said and done, he will likely be the best big man Canisius has ever had. Period. Trueheart is active, athletic, and long. He held his own against the inside presence of a pair of future D1 players for Nazereth, including a wicked rejection of 6-9 Manhattan commit Sampson Akilo. He combined to score 27 points in the tournament, and most, if not all of those points came without Canisius looking inside to him as its first offensive option. If the Crusaders ever run their sets looking to get him esablished inside this season, I'd expect some monster stat lines.
Olean is also good
- I didn't see the game, but the Huskies traveled to Bishop Kearney on Friday and used a strong second half to earn an 89-69 victory over the defending Class AA state champions. Sam Eckstrom went off for a career-high 38 points in the win, an impressive feat considering the Kings had both Branden Kellam and Joseph Gause inside for him to contend with. The Huskies are off to a 4-0 start and appear hungrier than ever to make this their year to bring another state championship back home. If you have plans this Saturday afternoon, you better change them now. Olean is at Canisius for a scheduled 3:30 pm tip. The game is the fourth of a quadruple-header, so the tip time may be delayed. I'd still get there early and find a seat, and you can watch McKinley and St. Joe's go at it while you wait.
Amherst downs Maryvale to open ECIC III league play
- TC Brown and Jordan Nwora each netted 20 points for the Tigers in a 71-61 win over the visiting Flyers. Amherst raced out to a 9-0 lead in the first three minutes and never allowed Maryvale to get any closer than three points, which happened early in the second quarter, before the Tigers stretched the lead back to seven points at halftime. The Tigers showed off a deep rotation littered with underclassmen, that kept the energy fresh all game.
It was another father/son Kensy vs. Kensy battle between Mark (Maryvale) and Chris (Amherst). However this season, former Maryvale assistant, Garrett Kensy (Chris' brother), has joined the Amherst bench. He is the head coach for the JV Tigers, and now also the right-hand man for Chris.
Both schools had great fan representation at the game, with Amherst using a whiteout theme. Following the game, Tiger fans stormed the court. It seemed a little unnecessary, considering it was just the league opener. But since game security wasn't expecting it and the fans were all fired up, I say have at it.
My favorite moment of the game was watching the Maryvale cheerleading coach berate one of her cheerleaders for doing backflips. Not sure what the problem was, but she came flying out to half court from the baseline to yell at her cheerleader. That couldn't have waited until she returned to the baseline? Not sure if she was looking to make an example out of the student, but from the fan commentary I could hear around me, combined with my own thinking, the only person who looked bad was the cheerleading coach. Ready? OK!
The best player no one is talking about?
- I'd like to nominate Silver Creek junior Billy Brooks for that category. Here's his two-game stat line from the Park Tournament:
58 points - 28 rebounds - 15 assists - 14 blocks
On Friday, he was two blocks shy of a quadruple-double. Saturday, he scored 21 of the Black Knight's 25 second half points, including all 16 of their points in the fourth quarter. Against Olean, he scored 16 points, while Sam Eckstrom finished with 18 points in their head-to-head battle. I suspect Brooks had to side away from Eckstrom to help his teammates defensively, while the opposite was unlikely required.
The analogy I've been using to describe Brooks style - picture a super coordinated 5-9 player with great hands and vision saying, "If I was like 6-8, I would dominate inside". That's Billy Brooks, except he is 6-8. He lacks the classic post moves and footwork that players like Eckstrom and Will Regan use to command the paint, but his feel for the game, his coordination, and his timing could land him in the D1 ranks by the end of his prep days.
You would expect a guy his size to own the glass and block shots - check & check, big time. But then you see his passing and really start to become impressed. Touch passes, kick outs, threading it inside to a cutting player, and behind-the-back passes like he's holding a lacrosse stick. And nevermind any cliches like "he plays in Class C...look who he's playing against...he should dominate, he's 6-8". If you can ball, you can ball. He can ball. He is dominating, and he's putting up the kind of numbers from a big man that I haven't seen since James Ewing left Cardinal O'Hara in 2008.
- I went to the Park Tournament on Friday to check out Health Sciences, who started the year 5-0. I saw all of the Silver Creek/Buffalo Arts game and most of the first quarter of Park/Health Sciences. With Health Sciences up by double-digits early, I figured it was safe to head over to Amherst, thinking I could watch Health Sciences in the championship game on Saturday afternoon following the Tom Keenan Tournament.
Instead, Park came back and earned a 57-51 victory over the Falcons.
The following day, I returned and watched Park down Silver Creek, 48-42. Derek Cheatom scored the go ahead basket with 58 seconds remaining in the game for the Pioneers, putting them up, 44-42. Brooks missed a shot to tie the game with 13.8 seconds remaining and was then whistled for his fifth foul.
Park has won all seven of the games it has played this season, but its record is now 2-5. The Pioneers were forced to forfeit their first five wins after ineligibility of one of their players was discovered. Regardless, this team can play and will be a factor among the Class B schools in the Monsignor Martin. My brief takeaway from the few minutes I saw of Health Sciences - they are deep and very good too. So good, I'll be making it a point to see more of them this season. Good enough to challenge East in Class B2? Probably not, but I'll be shocked if they don't make it to Buffalo State this season on a mission to prove me wrong about that.