“It’s a great game. I love the game because there are so many facets to it – it’s so exciting and you’re teaching life skills in a sports-setting in my opinion.”
This is part two of my interview with legendary LaSalle Senior High School Head Basketball Coach Pat Monti. In part one, we discussed his background, and how he built the LaSalle basketball program. In part two, we discuss more aspects of coaching, memorable games, notable opposing players and coaches, and his coaching career after LaSalle closed. We end by acknowledging the hardworking staff of the Buffalo News who covered the Explorers and Section VI basketball throughout Coach Monti’s tenure as the Explorers’ leader on the bench.
The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Western New York basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Sections V and VI playoff programs, by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Tim Winn, and Coach Monti himself. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.
Anwar Dunbar: In the late 1980s, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote a story saying that the Niagara Frontier League (NFL) officially had surpassed the Yale Cup as the best league in Western New York. Was that due to you guys or were the other teams in the NFL very competitive as well?
Pat Monti: No, I think it was just the great rivalries. Kenmore West had Dick Harvey who was a tremendous basketball coach (pictured to the left). I got into the New York Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, and I think Dick got in a little bit after me.
You had a couple of really, really good coaches at Lockport High School like Dick Crossett while I was still coaching. North Tonawanda always had a solid program. The NFL was really, really good. I don’t think it was just LaSalle. Niagara Falls always had talent. Kenmore West was the team we wanted to beat in the mid-1980s when we started getting really good.
AD: During that 10-year stretch when you guys consistently won the Section VI Class A championship, can you talk about the yearly matchups with the Rochester schools?
PM: Oh yeah. We went up against McQuaid a couple of times, East High School a couple of times – East was supposed to blow us out every time we played them because they had so much more size. The Greece-Athena matchup was really unfortunate. I wish New York State did what they do down here in Florida. In Florida, they don’t call them “Sectionals”, they call them “Districts”.
When you play in your District championship game, win or lose, you’re not out of the tournament. The winner hosts the loser from the District next to you, and your District loser goes to play the other winner so that the two teams could end up meeting again to see who advances to the Final Four. The game with Greece-Athena was unbelievable. We just had no answer for ‘DA MAN’, John Wallace (pictured to the left).
AD: Yes, I remember he actually did have that cut onto the back of his head for that game (laughing). Well it was close for first half and then it slowly slid away from you guys in the second half and –.
PM: No, it was close for three quarters! It was tied after three quarters, but we just had no answer for him. We kept the game under control as much as we could as a low scoring game, but we just couldn’t stop him inside. We were both undefeated at the time.
AD: Yes, they called the game “The Meeting of the Perfect Strangers” as you were both amazingly 23-0 going into that matchup.
PM: They not only won the Public School title easily, but they won the Federation also. Think about it – they struggled with us. Had we had another opportunity, you never know what would’ve happened. It was just a shame that the two teams had to meet each other before the Final Four. I went to the states that year as a spectator as I did most of the time when we didn’t make it ourselves.
The guys at the Glens Falls Civic Center loved us. We never had to get tickets or ribbons – we used to just go in where the players’ entrance was, and these guys would welcome us with open arms because the guys who ran the place just loved the style we played – the unselfish basketball and the way we played defense – we were always undersized, but we never, ever gave in. It could very well have been the state championship game – us vs. Greece-Athena. John Wallace obviously went on to have a great career at Syracuse and after that.
AD: Of LaSalle’s many berths to Glens Falls, are there any memories that stand out to you?
PM: We had some unbelievable runs in Glens. One year we played Hempstead – a powerhouse from Long Island – a much bigger school than us. It might’ve been the year after Jody Crymes and Terry Rich graduated – it might’ve been 1996, Timmy’s last year.
I was told by some people who had scouted them, ‘There’s no way that you can play this team man to man. I know that man is your dominant defense though you do play some zone, but if you play man against them, they’ll just kill you inside.’ They had two brothers that were going to play at Rhode Island – dunking machines – 6’8” guys, the Bell brothers.
Hempstead had us down by 15 points at the half, and I was playing zone because I was told that there was no way I’d be able to match up with them. I went against the voice in my head which said to go with what got us there, so I played my 1-3-1 matchup zone and they just got too many easy baskets and our pressure wasn’t good enough. At the start of the fourth quarter, we were down by 13 and I said, ‘Screw it. Let’s go back to our “Run and Jump” 1-2-2 full court press and see what happens.’ I believe we still hold the state record for points scored in a quarter in a finals championship game. We scored 39 points in an eight-minute quarter, turned them over, and over, and over again and we ended up beating them by 12 points.
PM: In hindsight you say, ‘Dammit I wish I hadn’t listened to those people who gave me all of that scouting information. I should’ve just gone with what got us there, but you live and learn. And that’s the thing as a coach, anyone who tells you it’s their thing is crazy because we all steal from each other, or we all share with each other. Even after 50 years of coaching, if I see something I’ll say, ‘Hey that’s going to work with the team we’ve got this year at Gulf Coast High School or Naples High School,’ the two places I’ve coached down here.
That’s what you’ve got to do as a coach, you’ve got to give your kids the opportunity to win, by putting them in position to win, depending on who your opponent is. So, do I prefer man to man? Of course. But do I play a lot of zone? Sure. If I think a team is going to run up and down the court and jump over the top of me, and I don’t think I can match up with them athletically, I’m going to zone them. It’s just the way of life.
Maybe the best example of that is after we won the states in 1988. We weren’t supposed to win the Niagara Frontier League in 1989, but Elon McCracken (pictured to the left) – the experience he had helping us with the state title in 1988 and the cast of characters around him – we not only won the NFL, but we won Section VI again, and then a supposed upset over McQuaid. We then won our first game in the state semifinals against Long Island-Lutheran that had this Vasil Eftimov that played at the University of North Carolina. The guy was a beast – he still owns the record for rebounding in the state tournament, but he was 6’11”.
I played a ‘slowdown’, very smart game and we beat them by a couple of points and kept it in the 40s. The year after that, we were supposedly an even lesser team and we won the league again, and we won the section again. We played East High School out of Rochester with their old coach Sal Rizzo. Our biggest kid was 6’3” who came over from Bishop Duffy/Niagara Catholic, Duke Davis. Who else was on that team? Milo Small? I think Modie, maybe Carlos Bradberry, a really good guard –.
AD: Did Carlos have an older brother named Cazzie?
PM: Yeah Cazzie was a year older than Carlos (pictured to the left). Cazzie was a forward, a solid player who played for me. Carlos was younger – more of a ballhandler and a big guard and could score. As a matter of fact, Carlos was the school’s leading scorer until Timmy came along. Timmy ended up being the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Anyway, we were playing East High and they had six guys 6’6” or bigger. We had one 6’3” guy – chunky Duke Davis (pictured in the gold shirt below). I had one week to prepare for the Far West Regionals and I put in “delay and strike” game – I said I’m going to keep this game in the 40s and it’s the only chance we’re going to have to win because if we run up and down with this team, we won’t have a chance because they had good guards too. That’s why I said you’ve got to do what’s best for your team and not be hard headed and knuckleheaded and think, ‘This is the only way that we play.’ To me you’re doing your kids a disservice. But that game with East High, do you know what the final score was?
PM: It was 36-33 in triple overtime (laughing).
AD: So, you guys did really slow it down.
PM: Well what was great was that Sal Rizzo who was the nicest guy you’ll ever want to meet, God rest his soul – I honestly don’t think he knew a lick about the game of basketball. He had so much talent year in and year out – he should’ve been in the Far West Regionals every year – that’s how talented East High was. He got so ticked off because the score at halftime was something like 17-15. He came out at halftime and came over to me and said, ‘What are you doing? This isn’t basketball!’ I said, ‘Coach, I’m doing the only thing I can do to give our team a chance to win!’ He said, ‘Well two can play that game Coach!’ And guess what he started doing –.
AD: He started delaying the ball?
PM: He started delaying the ball! (laughing). I said to my assistants, ‘Oh my God. Can you believe this? He’s playing right into our hands!’
So, it’s a great game. I love the game because there are so many facets to it and it’s so exciting. You’re teaching life skills in a sports setting in my opinion. If you looked at my contacts in my phone, probably more than half of them are our former players. It’s those relationships you make – I mean some of them still call me, ‘Dad.’ My wife and I weren’t fortunate enough to have children, and it’s funny when people ask, how many grandchildren we have, my wife will say, ‘Oh we don’t have any children or grandchildren, but we have hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of sons and daughters,’ from my teaching and coaching.
AD: When your LaSalle teams advanced to the Far West Regionals, how were you able to scout your opponent from Rochester, if at all? Your Final Four opponents?
PM: We usually got to see our opponent one way or another. Sometimes my staff and I would head to Rochester for their semifinal games when and if they were being played on different nights than ours. Also, sometimes their Finals were on different nights than ours – either Friday or Saturday. There were sometimes when we had to send someone to scout for us if we were playing our Semifinals or Finals at the same time as the Section V schools were out in Rochester.
One way or the other I always made sure that we had adequate information on whomever we were to play. I was and still am a firm believer in deep and thorough scouting of any of our opponents no matter how strong or weak I thought they may be! There’s a very old adage which says, ‘leave no stone unturned,’ and it was a real belief of mine in preparing our team for battle!
AD: What did the LaSalle players do in the offseason? Did they play in camps? Did they play in leagues?
PM: Back in the day there was nothing like there is today with this crazy traveling all over the country – this AAU stuff. They have this great thing down here in Florida. Do you know how in college football they have spring practice and they have a spring inter-squad game? Unless you’re Michigan and you go to Rome or Paris (laughing).
In Florida, football rules and basketball takes a second seat unfortunately. Several years ago, they let them start practicing in May – right now they’re practicing – real football. The first week, no pads, just a helmet, and they walk through stuff and do cardiovascular training. The last three weeks they have full equipment, tackling and everything and then by the end of the month they play a game against another high school that they won’t be playing in the regular season.
I guess the basketball coaches approached the state and said, ‘Hey, we know that we’re second class citizens but we’re a pretty important sport too. Can we do something like that?’ So down here in June, you can coach your own kids in your own gym with your own gear, and then every weekend, there’s a tournament somewhere around the state.
They usually have 16 teams and they break you up into pools of eight. Over the weekend if you make it to the championship, you can play as many as four games on the last day which you play from Friday to Sunday where No. 1 from this side will play No. 8 from that side and so on, so you can play as many as 6-7 games on a weekend. So that’s what’s big down here even though they also still do the AAU thing which is going on right now. Come June, there’ll be actual basketball practice going on which is really great.
Back in my day there was no AAU though there was ‘traveling’ basketball and my better players played on what I would call more ‘All-Star’ teams. There was a guy – Mickey something out of Syracuse – he picked up Timmy one year and he picked up Modie another year. They’d travel around Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York in probably what is now AAU basketball. I myself used to put our team in summer leagues. Based upon the rules I couldn’t coach them, so I’d have one of my unpaid assistants – a player or a parent who knew the game and I would come and watch.
You wanted them to be thinking the game 24-7, 12 months a year but I was a firm believer in pushing my kids to play another sport. Down here in Florida it’s a shame. There are really good baseball players would could be good basketball players. There are some tremendous football athletes who would be phenomenal basketball players. But down here the coaches don’t get along with each other and they have the tendency to almost threaten their players saying things like a, ‘Well if you do that, then you’re not going to do this,’ type of thing.
I was the opposite. I wanted my kids to play a second sport for two reasons. Most of them were inner-city kids and I knew where they were – they weren’t running the streets if you know what I mean. It also kept their grades up because you had to have a certain average to stay eligible.
So, I used to push my basketball players and say, ‘If you want to play football, go play football. Go run track.’ A couple of them used to run Cross Country to get into cardiovascular shape in the fall for basketball. So, I always pushed them to do another sport, and they don’t do that enough anymore. They get them too isolated into the one thing and I personally don’t like that myself, but it is what it is.
AD: Are the kids different today than they were 20-30 years ago?
PM: Oh God. Are you kidding me? Of course. Absolutely.
AD: Are they less tough?
PM: There’s a lot more entitlement. I don’t know why. Maybe not up there, I haven’t been up there in a while – maybe 15 years. I hear from people about how bad the NFL is now. I hear about how bad the Catholic league is except for a couple of schools. Ritchie Jacobs used to be one of my assistants. He called me before he was playing Canisius the second and third time – I guess they got throttled by them the first time they played this year.
He called me and picked my brain for a good 40 minutes asking, ‘Coach what do I do about this? How do I do this? I’ve got this guy who can do this –.’ Over the phone I said, ‘Get your white board out – this is what I think you should do –.’ Then he turns around and wins the whole thing.
My tree has grown exponentially and it’s fun to have these young guys still contacting me. One of our LaSalle super fan’s brother coaches his son’s 10-year old team – they live in Mississippi or Alabama or something. He said, ‘Coach, my brother wants to contact you. Is it okay if I give him your number? He’s got this pretty good little 10-year old team but there’s this one team they can’t beat because they have one kid who scores three quarters of their points and you always run that gimmick defense. Do you think 10-year olds can do that?’
‘Anybody can do it if it’s taught properly,’ I said. So the brother of Dave Universal, this super fan and one of my former students, Dan Universal calls me and with pen and paper out, and I explained to him what I do when I want to, ‘chop the head off of the monster,’ so to speak. He got a hold of me a week later and said, ‘Yeah we beat them. We held that kid to six points,’ and he was so excited. He says, ‘Your thing works.’
‘It’s amazing more people don’t do it. You can’t do it if you’ve got a team that’s got two or three monsters. But if you’ve got one guy who’s primarily the ballhandler and also a scorer-facilitator and kind of the team leader – if you can take him away the right way, the rest of the guys get rattled, they don’t know what to do, and they shoot the ball differently than if he were involved,’ I said. I’ve proved it down here twice. We played two private schools down here – ritzy schools kind of like Nichols is or was. One of them called the “Community School of Naples” costs $22,000 a year to go there believe it or not.
PM: They had a kid who was averaging 23 points a game. Just the week before they were being touted in the newspapers here as “the best local high school basketball team”. The team I was coaching at Gulf Coast High School, we were pretty good – we had only lost one game locally. The other losses were to big teams out of Miami and Tampa. I had a week to put in my gimmick defense which held Lamar Odom to 7 points, and Stephon Marbury to 11 points. We put it in, and this kid from this Community School of Naples only scored 1 point. It’s effective if you don’t have too many monsters, but you can’t do it all the time.
AD: Would the LaSalle dynasty have gone on had the school not closed?
PM: Oh absolutely, and I probably would’ve gone on myself another five years or so. Who knows, some people say that if it were still open, I’d be coaching now at 71 going on 72 years of age. I ask them, ‘What are you crazy?’ I enjoy playing tennis or golf every morning. I go to basketball practice after school and just show up and teach without doing anything else.
I remember when I first started doing this down here, my former players and assistants would say to me, ‘Coach you can’t be somebody’s assistant! That’s impossible!’ I tell them, ‘You guys don’t understand. I’ve got the best of both worlds.’
Most of these teams I’ve been coaching, they buy into everything I teach, and it’s like watching LaSalle. As a matter of fact, Mark Simon, the outgoing St. Joe’s coach – he has a place here in Naples and he comes down in the winter once and while when he gets a break from work. He must’ve seen something on Facebook so he reached out to me and asked if he could come by a practice and pick my brain a little bit. He came by practice this winter and stayed the whole two hours of practice – watched our Gulf Coast High School team practice and picked up a few things.
AD: Now you may not know this, but the other Section VI Class A coaches – the Lancasters, the Williamsville Norths, the Lockports, the Hamburgs – did they all breathe a sigh of relief when they heard that LaSalle was closing?
PM: Well (laughing), the last year – the 1999-2000 season, that’s when Niagara Falls finally beat us. God, they had six to seven kids who were just tremendous basketball players, and all we had was Dewitt Doss and a cast of characters, and little munchkins. Believe it or not, that’s when they were still doing that crossover stuff where you had two divisions.
We won our side, and they won their side and we played them at North Tonawanda. We had a 7-point lead on them with about four minutes left in the game, and all we did was turn it over. We ended up losing them by two, and we ended up playing them again in the sectional finals, and they beat us on a buzzer beater. I’ll be honest with you in that we should’ve been blown out by 20 points, and we kept both games in the 40s.
Your kids have got to believe in you, and you’ve got to believe in them. I see too many screamers and yellers. Did I yell? Of course I yelled, but I yelled for a purpose and for a reason. If yesterday I put in an out of bounds play, and we went over it 20 times in row, and then we ran it tonight in the game, and you went the wrong way, you better believe you’re going to hear it from me. Right? I’m a teacher, and I taught you to do it this way and not that way.
I think people misconstrued me as a ‘win at all costs’ guy and it’s never how I’ve been. Am I a competitor? Absolutely. Do I like to win? Of course. I love to win. Show me someone who loves to lose and I’ll show you a loser, right? But you talk to my players and they’ll tell you that they learned more life lessons than they did the game of basketball. Talk to Modie Cox – do you know Modie?
AD: We met and spoke briefly a couple of years ago.
PM: Well you talk to Modie (pictured in the gold uniform below) and have him tell you some stories. He’s got a great program he runs now. It’s his business and it’s called “Winning Because I Tried”, and he speaks all over the place – all over the state at Boys Clubs and middle schools, and he’s just turned out to be one hell of a great and dynamic young man. He was a freshman I brought up from the JV on that 1987-88, 27-0 team. I’ll remember it until the day that I die. We still get together and every time I see him, and he still brings it up. He says, ‘Coach, that was the moment that changed my life.’
He didn’t play a lick in any of those games. If I had 11-12 Varsity players, I would always bring my three or four best JV players up to the Varsity team. They’d practice with us all through the Sectionals and all through the Far West Regionals. I’d take them to Glens Falls so they could see what it was like and want to do it themselves.
He was on that team, and after the game – he didn’t play a second and he was crying like a baby. He hugged me and said, ‘Coach this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in my life!’ And now he’s turned out to be doing the right things for the right reasons and is just a great young man. He had a nice career at UB. If you have a chance, you should talk to Modie and Timmy Winn.
AD: Okay that would be great. Well thank you Coach Monti. I think readers are really going to enjoy this interview – your players, the LaSalle alumni who I see have their own Facebook page, others who knew you, and basketball fans alike. I have some pictures and news clippings from the Buffalo News to go with what we’ve talked about here.
PM: Well the stuff you want to get is the stuff that Allen Wilson wrote up back in the day. Do you remember Allen Wilson? What a great guy. He loved, loved, loved my kids. He followed us as if he was our number one booster. That guy really, really liked our team. He came to a couple of our postseason banquets – great guy and it’s a shame what happened to him.
His wife Lisa who used to be the sports editor for the Buffalo News – sweet girl. He met her when she was doing sports for the Niagara Gazette when he was doing the Buffalo News, and I sort of introduced them.
AD: I moved away from Western New York in the mid-1990s. What happened to Allen Wilson?
PM: He died of Cancer after my retirement. I want to say that he’s been gone maybe 10 years now. Great guy. Tremendous guy. Great sports reporter. He loved high school basketball – a Carolina guy.
AD: I know Mike Harrington was writing most of the stuff and then Allen took over?
PM: Yes, Mike moved up to the big-time and Allen took over the high school beat. And after Allen, there was Keith McShea. Did you go to college after Hutch?
AD: Yes, but I didn’t play after high school. It was a bit of rocky road for me. I got injured my junior year and had some issues with my grades, and then the coach I started playing under retired. Then my senior season was a wash.
PM: Who did you have at Hutch?
AD: Ken Jones. His 1990-91 team won the Class B Sectional and advanced the Far West Regional where they lost to Newark my freshman year, and we just had a hard time getting back and making things work, and then he left.
PM: And you said one of my teams played you guys in one of the Christmas tournaments?
AD: Yes, it was the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament – my first year on the team. I remember the day before the game, following practice, one of my teammates said, ‘We’re not going to beat LaSalle!’ I wondered why he would say such a thing, but I was in large part unexposed to Section VI basketball at the time so I didn’t know who you guys were (laughing).
PM: Who did I have on that team?
AD: You had: Carlos Bradberry, Todd Guetta, Curtis Ralands, Chris Frank and Shino Ellis – those guys (pictured in the team photo above).
PM: Oh the team that played against John Wallace and Greece-Athena in the Regional.
AD: Now I hope my Coach and teammates don’t get upset with me for this, but from the opening tip, it was like a Lion jumping on a Deer where the two teams were playing at two different speeds, and you guys beat us handily, 72-42. I was hoping to get at least one basket in ‘garbage’ time, but Jody Crymes and the other reserves were still playing at full speed (laughing).
PM: Oh (laughing). Well towards the end there when we used to go into opposing gyms, people used to say, ‘Well it’s already 10-nothing LaSalle before you even come out of the locker room.’
Yeah so if there was ever a dynasty, for that one stretch, I think we were truly a dynasty. I know there was a lot of banter back and forth. Who was better? St. Joe’s or LaSalle? Traditional or LaSalle? Turner/Carroll or LaSalle? But, I don’t think there’s anyone who did what we did for that stretch of time.
It sounds cocky, but I’m very, very proud of that. We were able to do it year in and year out with a change in personnel every year. And it all goes back to what we talked about in the beginning – the system. It was the system!
To see the first part of my interview with Coach Monti and other basketball-related pieces on my blog, see the links below. There will be one more installment in addition to this ‘question and answer’ portion of my interview with Coach Monti. During our interview, Coach Monti told numerous stories from the LaSalle basketball dynasty which were quite substantial length-wise for a standard interview format, and were more appropriate as ‘standalone’ stories. Those stories are coming soon. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy:
• Pat Monti discusses building, coaching, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
• Tim Winn discusses playing point guard in the LaSalle basketball dynasty and beyond part one
• Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments
• Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
• Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on basketball camp
• Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness
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