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.