Two key focuses of my blog are Athletics and Sports and Health/Wellness. A very popular sport that people participate in for both competition and for relaxation is fishing. If you’re going to go fishing, it’s critical to have the proper equipment. The following contributed post is entitled, 5 Items That Every Serious Angler Should Add To Their Fishing Arsenal.
Fishing can be enjoyed by anybody of any experience level. When you are serious about your angling endeavors, though, you should go the extra mile to get better results and boost your enjoyment. A few simple purchases can make all the difference.
All items within your fishing setup are important. Still, nothing matches the significance of your reel. A premium reel, such as a KastKing Royale Legend, prevents casting problems as well as tangles and snapped lines during battles. Conversely, a bad reel will leave you spending a large percentage of your time will be spent fixing faults and setting up new tackle. If there’s only one item where paying a little extra will serve you well for years to come, this is it.
2| A Suitable Watch
One of the great things about fishing is that you can switch off from the world of social media and emails. While the hours can pass you by in the blink of an eye, you don’t want to lose track of the time. This is especially true when entering timed competitions or you want to try out several bays during a session. A diving watch is the best option as they can withstand extreme weather, water, and low light conditions. Compared to checking a smartphone, it’s a far easier way to monitor the length of a battle.
Whether you’re freshwater fishing or sea fishing, your feet will get wet. At least, they will if you are serious about getting the best haul. The right choice of waterproof waders will provide a solid platform. However, some moisture is likely to find its way into your footwear, even when combined with a fishing wetsuit. Therefore, thicker socks are ideal. Otherwise, the damp can cause a lot of discomfort and cause chills. Even with the right facilities, a towel and spare socks are priceless.
4| Fish Finder
Not all fishing trips can be as productive as others. Nonetheless, you do not want to limit your hopes of success before you’ve even started. A GPS fish finder gives you the chance to scout out the most densely populated areas of the lake, stream, or body of water. Aside from actually providing an edge, it gives you a motivational boost. After all, nothing cripples your enthusiasm like a slow start and doubts as to whether any fish are around. This simple device removes those concerns entirely.
5| Underwater Camera
Fishing is a great way to get away from the stresses of modern life. Still, you may wish to capture the moments either for personal or commercial reasons. An underwater camera that allows you to shoot film, as well as still images, enables you to gain a whole new perspective. Whether it’s to impress friends or share your adventures online isn’t overly important. It’s probably not a gadget that’s needed for casual anglers. But anyone that wants to record their experiences or study their skills should take note.
Two key focuses of my blog are Athletics/Sports and Health/Wellness. Humans have been fishing all throughout history. While its an industry and a sport, it’s also a therapeutic activity. If you’re looking for an activity that’s good for your well-being, fishing is something you ought to consider. The following contributed post is entitled, 5 Reasons Fishing Is The Best Hobby For Your Health.
There’s nothing like a new hobby to challenge your body and mind. Perhaps you haven’t ticked many items of your new year’s resolution list yet, but thankfully there’s still time. Maybe you’ve considered a few hobby options, and haven’t made a decision? Well, fishing is a great hobby to improve your health. There are many benefits to grabbing your fishing gear and heading to the waters!
1 . Great exercise
Fishing is an excellent form of exercise; you’ll give both your lungs a heart a nice bit of stimulation, plus work those muscles when you’re casting and reeling! Of course there are many different types of fishing, and some are more active than others. Fly fishing is usually done from a drift boat, however some adventurous fly fishers like to wade into the water. When you’re knee-deep in the water, standing strong and throwing the rod, you’ll be working your core!
2. Learn new skills
When it comes to fishing, there’s so much to learn, from the types of equipment and sustainable fishing practices to the best forms of bait. If you choose to try deep sea charter fishing, you’ll get to learn about the different fish you’ll catch (depending on the time of year). With this info, you can schedule your trip whether you’re looking for Yellowfin or Snapper! A fishing charter trip can be a real once in a lifetime experience, whether you’re a novice or a professional.
3. The great outdoors
Many studies indicate that the great outdoors boosts our health, whether it’s swimming in the ocean, hiking in the forest, or a fun-filled fishing trip! In our modern society, many of us have lost our connection with the natural world. We go from our offices to our TVs and forget about the joy of the outdoors. When you take up fishing, you’ll get out in the fresh air and help your body to raise it’s endorphin levels. Being out in the sun helps you to get enough vitamin D which is essential for a healthy immune system. For a fast way to boost your wellness levels, fishing is the key!
4. A social hobby
One of the best things about fishing is that it’s a really social hobby. A fishing trip with family or friends is excellent fun, or you might like to go to a local fishing club. At a fishing club, you’ll get yourself some fishing buddies plus gain some great fishing tips. A fishing trip with friends is a great way to find new camping spots across the country and explore the countryside.
5. Improved concentration
Fishing requires a lot of concentration, and so within just a few weeks, you’ll see your concentration levels improve. As we age, it’s important to do activities which boost our cognitive health, and fishing is undoubtedly one of them!
Check out sites like Facebook or Meetup to see if you can find a local fishing club in your area. When you are starting out it really helps to have some connections and like-minded hobbyists.
“I think playing in Buffalo alone prepares you for the world, if you’re lucky enough to be able to grow up in the City of Buffalo!”
This interview is the second part of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Damien Foster, the other half of the Buffalo Traditional dynamic duo from the 1990s. In part one we discussed his background, and the run he and his teammates went on at Buffalo Traditional High School in the early- to- mid 1990s in Western New York’s city league, the ‘Yale Cup’ and in postseason play. In part two we discussed his basketball career after Buffalo Traditional at the college level. The pictures in this post were shared courtesy of Damien himself and from an archive of Section V and Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones.
Anwar Dunbar: So pretty much after your freshman year, you guys had ‘bullseyes’ on your backs (no pun intended). Everyone was looking for Buffalo Traditional, but were there teams you guys looked forward to playing? I know there was a ‘thriller’ against Bennett High School in your junior year. Adrian Baugh (pictured below in blue) posts about that sometimes on Facebook. Did you have that game circled? I know Bennett was supposed to be pretty good that year with players like Mike Carter and Monty Montgomery.
Damien Foster: Well, in our junior year we lost to those guys. I think we took them for granted. I have that tape and I watch that game. I watch a lot of the games. I’ve got all the games starting from my freshman year. We really weren’t focused on that game and we really didn’t have a game plan, so we really didn’t know what to expect. We knew they were good, but we felt like we were going to go in, beat them and take care of business. When the ball went up, those guys were focused! Mike Carter was focused! The infamous ‘spin move’ – everyone kept saying he was spinning to the hole. Mike was a big guy! He was a football player so once he got you on his hip, it was hard to contain him. So that game caught us off guard and it really sparked the rivalry between us and Bennett.
Losing that game in front of all those people – I want to say that there were 5,000 to 6,000 people at Erie Community College’s (ECC) gym at the time, it was very embarrassing. Those guys rubbed it in our faces, and it was one of those things like where you say, ‘Wow.’ They definitely had a bullseye on our calendar for next year. I was absolutely looking forward to that game and I couldn’t wait for it in my senior year. You could tell the difference between our junior and senior year – the focus was just so different. We were locked in my senior year. There was no way they were going to beat us again. Some of their players didn’t care for me – Monty Montgomery didn’t care for me. I didn’t care for him and that was a rivalry. It was what it was, but yes, that game for sure.
I looked forward to playing against Jeremiah Wilkes and Burgard High School (pictured). I also looked forward to playing against Kensington High School, which had Kilroy Jackson and Edmund Battle. You couldn’t just go into Kensington and be soft. Edmund Battle and those guys would talk crap to you and try to intimidate you. Me? I liked it because it got me going and those were the games I looked forward to playing – the big games against guys who talked crap – guys who thought they were tough. It was definitely Kensington, Burgard and Bennett. Those were the teams.
AD: Now, I might not put this in print, but did you and Monty have some kind of run in at a summer league?
DF: No. Monty moved here from California and he was on his California ‘swag’. He talked about how he was going to do this and do that. He looked at us like, ‘Who are these guys?’ I’m looking at him saying, ‘Numbers don’t lie!’ And there were some words that were said over the summer when he first got here. And then when they won the game in my junior year, they really ran with it so that’s kind of what got the fire underneath me for my team.
AD: Well they had a bit of a ‘reckoning’ when postseason play started because they got disqualified in the Class B bracket, while you guys went on to Glens Falls and then back again. Anyway, your best game, was it the final game where you got the MVP or was it something else?
DF: For me I would say it was the state championship final game in my senior year. My shooting percentage was pretty high. I scored more points in other games, but it was just more so the timing of when the points came because it was the state championship. I won the “Most Valuable Player Award” and that was huge.
AD: I also asked Jason this. I asked him about the last shot of games, and he said it was never a concern because your team were usually so far ahead of your opponents (laughing). In terms of the volume of shots, were you always able to find a balance?
DF: You’ve got two ‘A-type’ personalities, two ‘alpha-dogs’ out there – of course you’re going to bump heads a little bit. Me and Jay (pictured with Damien), we were close, so we knew how to work through it. It was never a concern about who would take the last shot because we were both comfortable with whoever shot the ball. If one of us ‘squared up’, both of us had a good chance of the shot going in. We both had great shots, so for me, I never had a problem with him taking the last shot and he never had a problem with me taking the last shot. It was more like just make it and get the win.
Our chemistry was always natural from our playing together at the Boys Club, learning the game together and coming up together. We were cut from the same cloth. Teammates are going to argue. You’re brothers and you’re around each other all the time – the locker room, practice, school. When we were on the court it was a family and it was all about taking care of business.
AD: Of your four years, was one your favorite or did you enjoy them all together?
DF: I enjoyed all four years, but my senior year was my favorite because we won everything. We won the Yale Cup, the states and the federation. It was just a great year. There was a lot of winning and when you’re winning, everybody is happy. You’re being remembered, you’re writing your legacy and you’re winning at the same time. It was my best year, but then you hate for it to come to an end because you know it’s your last year. The years go by so fast.
AD: With your team coming in together, was Jason your closest teammate? Or were you tight with some of the other guys?
DF: LaVar Frasier and I were close, and Damaon White and I were also close. Jason and I came up in the Boys Club and didn’t live too far from each other. I was probably closest with those two guys in my senior year, but again me and LaVar Frasier were close and are still close today (seated to the right below with Jimmy Birden and Adrian Baugh). We talk all the time.
AD: Was there anything you saw during your four years that surprised you? I know one of your teammates got murdered in your freshman year, Cameron Calvin.
DF: That was huge. We’d just won the Wilson Tournament. The bus dropped us off at the school and everyone went their own way. Some parents picked up teammates, while some guys caught the bus. I just remember getting a phone call the next morning from one of my teammates saying, ‘Man did you hear about what happened to Cameron?’ I said, ‘Cameron? Last night?’ They said he got shot and murdered and I couldn’t believe it. I felt like no way.
We were just playing together and it kind of haunted me. Growing up on the eastside you hear stories, but I’ve never experienced it with someone so close to me getting murdered like that. So that was very detrimental to the team and we rallied together and around his parents, his brother and sister. And we all wore No. 41 armbands in remembrance of him. We wore the black bands and with the black socks and we tried to mimic Michigan’s “Fab Five” back in the day. Everybody was doing it. That brought us together even more and we really became family when that happened.
AD: Yes, that was right before you guys played us (laughing). Academics kept a lot of Yale Cup players from playing beyond high school. What kind of student were you when you were at Buffalo Traditional?
DF: I was a B+ student. My grades were pretty good because it was instilled in me early on what a ‘student-athlete’ is supposed to be. My parents didn’t play with my grades. I was just inspired to play the great game of basketball. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to play if my grades slipped, just knowing that alone made me work even harder in the classroom. There was no way I wasn’t going to be eligible to play the game knowing what I had to do to set records. So, I never had a problem with school. I liked going to school.
AD: When did the colleges start recruiting you?
DF: The colleges started recruiting me my sophomore year.
DF: I started getting letters every day. It was pretty much from every school and conference in the country except for Duke. Those letters started coming in like crazy. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we were so active during the summer.
AD: Well, that was also before social media. Was that before or after you guys started playing big-time AAU or was it just word of mouth?
DF: It was after the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) stuff because you must remember that we started it after my freshman year. We were in France competing with their professional teams. We beat two of their pro teams, so every summer that was the regimen, AAU basketball and we were traveling. Mickey Walker was our Head Coach out of Syracuse, and it was called the “USDBL” which stood for the “Upstate Developmental Basketball League”. That was huge. Just being at the ABCD Camp, you’re playing in front of head coaches. Everybody was going to the Nike Camp, but ABCD was where it was at. You had all the head coaches in the stands and you’re playing against hundreds of other kids. That clearly helped with all the college recruiting and the letters, just getting your name out there and competing.
Don’t get me wrong. Here you’re doing good in the city, but you’ve got to play AAU ball. And like you said there was no Facebook, none of that internet stuff. This was real stuff. You had to be who you said you were (laughing)! You had to go out and prove yourself, drop some numbers and beat somebody.
AD: So, you were playing under Head Coach, Jim O’Brien. I’d gotten one of the Athlon Big East preseason books that year and remember seeing your picture. You were on the team with Danya Abrams right? – Keenan Jordan and those guys. Was James ‘Scoonie’ Penn on that team too?
DF: Yes, Scoonie Penn was on that team. That was my point guard! That was my boy!
DF: I wanted to play in the Big East Conference. Dave Spiller was an assistant at the time on Coach O’ Brien’s staff. He was from Buffalo. I also met Danya Abrams at an AAU tournament. I majored in Communications.
DF: I stayed at Boston College for two years and left after my second year. Jim O’ Brien left after my freshman year and went to Ohio State – he left on bad terms with the university. Danya Abrams, Keenan Jourdan and Stephen Thomas – all those guys were seniors when I was a freshman. We had a lot of seniors on that team, and Coach O’ Brien was trying to bring in some players to get it going. These guys he was trying to bring in were from Boston and were good guards and good players. They passed their SATs and everything, and the school ‘shut them down’. They basically told them that their high school curricula weren’t good enough. That was the second time they did that to O’ Brien’s recruits, so he was fed up with it. To make a long story short, he left the university and sued them. He took Scoonie Penn with him to Ohio State.
AD: Yes, I remember him leaving and Scoonie Penn transferring, but not all the legal stuff.
DF: He asked me if I wanted to go. I didn’t want to go because I played very limited minutes in my freshman year because we had so many seniors. I didn’t want to go and sit out a year. Everyone was leaving and I stayed.
Al Skinner came in from Rhode Island. He played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with Dr. J and all those guys. When he came in it was so late in the recruiting period. Everyone had signed their recruiting letters. He brought in about four guys who I think were going to Division II schools. There were five of us left from the previous year’s team. Antonio Granger and Dwayne Woodward were getting ready to be seniors and I was in my sophomore year. We also had Kostas Maglos who was from Greece. That five who were there was who started. It was my sophomore year and I remember we were in the Maui Invitational Tournament, because I ran into Duke’s Elton Brand in Hawaii and we talked about that game from my junior year (laughing) (see part one of this interview).
We were getting ready to match up with Arizona which was No. 1 in the country with Mike Bibby at the time. They’d just won the championship. Right before the game was going to start, Al Skinner came up to me and said, ‘Hey I’m going to start Kenny Harley in front of you this game. Just be ready to come off the bench and play!’ It was a last-minute change, so I said, ‘Wow, okay whatever.’ The game came and he never put me in the game at all (laughing). So, then everyone was wondering what was going on with me. You go from starting to not playing at all. I had no explanation and had to figure out what was going on.
From that point on it seemed like this guy just didn’t want to play me. I couldn’t understand it and I had to figure out what was going on. I figured Jim O’ Brien was suing the university and I was caught up in the mix. I was O’ Brien’s youngest recruit and the other guys were getting ready to graduate. I wasn’t Skinner’s recruit – I understand how the game goes. I realized that it was probably time for me to go. I sat down and talked to him after the season and we just weren’t getting anywhere. In terms of transferring, it was between Duquesne and Marquette, the University at Buffalo (UB) and Canisius. UB had just gone into a new conference that year.
The only reason I came home and went to UB was because I needed to get somewhere where I’d play immediately because I’d lost the time. So, I get to UB, sit out my first year and the next year I’m ready to go. I shook the rust off a little bit. I think I had 38 points against Manhattan. That was the game before the big North Carolina game. We had North Carolina at home. And then the same thing happens. There was just a whole bunch of nonsense going on behind the scenes with the team and the coach at the time, Coach Cohane.
DF: Some of the guys on the team didn’t like Cohane. He was a military guy and he kept it real. He’d let you know if he liked you or if he didn’t. I respected that about him. If you don’t want to play me, let me know so I can go someplace else. He just had that aura about him and some of the guys on the team didn’t really care for that. Believe it or not we had a talented team at UB. There were a couple of guys from New York City who came down with Coach Rock Eisenberg. He was helping Coach Cohane. Things basically went ‘left’. The players on the team said if Coach Cohane wasn’t fired before the North Carolina game, they weren’t playing. They were going to boycott that game.
DF: It was just beyond crazy to me and I didn’t know what was going on. They had an NCAA investigation going on at the time and they were investigating Coach Cohane about being in the gym. In the offseason, coaches are not allowed in the gym. They were trying to get down to the bottom of it regarding players seeing him in the gym. The NCAA sent its investigators to interrogate us. They brought us into these small rooms one by one to see if our stories matched up. I’d never seen Coach Cohane in the gym because I was too busy playing basketball. The other players’ stories didn’t go like that. They were making up stuff saying, ‘Yes, we saw him in the gym!’
There were only three of us who said we didn’t see him in the gym, and the NCAA came back and said, ‘We’re going to give you 24 hours to recant your story because it’s not lining up with the rest of the team! Basically, if you don’t change it, you could lose your scholarship!’ They said we could go to jail. They were really trying to intimidate us and extort information out of us. So, they interviewed me for a second time. I never changed my story and to make a long story short, the players boycotted the game and they ended up firing Coach Cohane before the game. They brought Reggie in right before the North Carolina game. He came in and that was a whole other story. So, I basically went through four college coaches in four years.
DF: And it hurt me a little bit.
AD: Well, yes, it hurts most players because you don’t have that continuity, and the new coach has a new way of doing things, and he’s probably going to bring in some of his own players. So, who was the last coach?
AD: I have one last question about Al Skinner. Was he basically trying to ‘clean house’ and wipe the slate clean?
DF: Basically. He brought in his own players and they were nowhere near my level skill-wise. You have a certain time period where you sign with Division I schools and then you have a time period where you can sign with Division II schools. These guys signed with Division II schools and at the last minute, he brought them with him to Boston College. It was one of those things where some of the players were asking me, ‘Yo. Why are you sitting down? Why are you not playing?’ When you’ve got your teammates asking those questions, something isn’t right. So, I guess it was just a political thing.
He just didn’t want to play me. I just wasn’t his recruit. I didn’t understand it, but I had to understand how that political game was being played. Again, O’ Brien was suing the university and I was his recruit. He was at war with Boston College and I was still there. It was the same thing at UB. Cohane sued UB and the NCAA. We recently lost the lawsuit against the NCAA a few years back. My name is on affidavits and all kinds of crap. What they did to him wasn’t right. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that. The NCAA is an institution and you’re not going to win against them (laughing). I think Jerry Tarkanian, “Tark the Shark” from UNLV, he had a lawsuit against them too. No one wins against them (laughing).
AD: Well, that’s interesting. I never knew all of that happened. I remember Jim O’ Brien going to Ohio State and Scoonie Penn following him to Columbus. And then they had Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd in the backcourt, but I never knew all of that happened and –.
DF: In hindsight, looking back maybe I should’ve left because it would’ve been me, Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd. I thought I was making the right decision by staying and –.
AD: Well, you also think that when you’re going to a school, you’re going to be there for the next four years playing for that particular coach for the entire time and –.
DF: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s the reason you sign up and that’s why you’re there – because of that coaching staff. You say, ‘I’m here for four years with you guys!’. That’s not always the case. I had four different coaches in four years (laughing). That was crazy.
AD: Did your team ever come close to winning the conference tournament and making the NCAA Tournament?
DF: Not at UB. Like I said, we had a very talented team, and when that coaching change happened that was Reggie’s first run with a Division I school, so he was learning. He was learning how to maneuver and practice, and it just wasn’t there for him at that time. He couldn’t relate to players and players didn’t like him. I’d known Reggie since I was in the seventh grade.
He had an AAU team called ‘Ace’. Ryan Cochrane played on his team and I think Jason played a couple of times with his team. Reggie was a workaholic. He was going to work you, and if you didn’t have that mindset to come to work and be ready to run, you might get a little frustrated. A lot of the players didn’t know that about him, so they didn’t know what they were in for.
They got Cohane out and now they’ve got Reggie, and he’s running them like dogs – even before he introduced himself to them. They didn’t take that too well. It definitely rubbed off on the court in terms of winning. We weren’t on the same page, so we won some games, but no tournaments. When I was at Boston College in the NCAA Tournament, we went out to Utah and lost in the second round. We also went to the Big East Championship in my freshman year – I’ve got a championship ring from that. But Reggie literally went from coaching at ECC to coaching us at UB in the North Carolina game.
DF: In addition to me, we had Lou Campbell, Theory Harris, Davis Lawrence, Maliso Libomi, who was from France and we had Nikolai Alexeev and Alexei Vasiliev (our point guard) who were from Russia. We had a talented team. We could’ve beaten North Carolina. Reggie decided to play everybody on the bench down to the last man. The rotation just wasn’t there. Again, you’re not coaching at ECC anymore, you’re coaching at a Division I school. I was blown away by some of the stuff that I saw, but it was a learning experience. If you let it some of it would deter you.
AD: Was that one of Antawn Jamison’s North Carolina teams? Or was that one of Joseph Forte and Brendan Haywood’s team?
DF: We played against Joseph Forte in my senior year. We played them twice.
AD: What did you do after college? Did you play any professional basketball like Jason or Tim Winn?
DF: I had a tryout with Cleveland. They told me to come up for free agency camp. I came up. They took too many players in the draft, so they cancelled the camp (laughing). I also got an offer from Israel. I want to say that Trevor Ruffin was over there playing at the time. I got with an agent and signed, and it was just bad over there at the time with the wars and the fighting over the land. I want to say that Trevor was on his way back – I think he was literally at the embassy. I just didn’t feel like the money was worth it – what I was signing for at the time, so I didn’t go over to Israel and I started doing real estate from there.
AD: Damien, it sounds like you guys were relentless with your development. For any youngster who wants to play basketball, what would you tell them?
DF: The game has evolved so much since I played. These guys have got all the tools available to them – a lot of stuff. They have online tutorials, videos – when I was –.
DF: Yes, they’ve got personal trainers and they’ve got a lot of stuff that’s available to them. My advice to the youth is to just develop a good work habit. Develop great work habits all season and away from the court. Work on your game every day and you’ve just got to push yourself. You’ve got to practice and play when nobody else is. That’s just how it goes. I believe in the old-fashioned road work, so you get up in the morning at 5 am. At 6 am you’re running while the air is thin – you get your laps in. You’re putting up 500 shots a day. At the Boys Club, we would shoot at least 500 a day. You just have to work and build your confidence. Confidence is the key! Basketball is about confidence! Just be relentless and make up your mind about your goals. Set goals and if you work to achieve your goals daily, you’ll be fine. You’ll be good!
AD: You and Jason made it beyond Buffalo Traditional and the Yale Cup. There were a lot of players who didn’t make it though. In terms of facilities and budget, the Yale Cup underfunded and a lot of players didn’t make it to the next level. Do you have any thoughts on the old Yale Cup? You guys won most of the time (laughing), but do you have any thoughts looking back on how the league could’ve been better?
DF: Well, my understanding back in the day is that the Yale Cup didn’t even have the three-point line (laughing). Curtis Aiken (of Bennett) and those guys played when there was no three-point line. You play in some of the gyms in some of these schools and it was like you were playing in a bowling alley –.
AD: Like South Park or Performing Arts (laughing).
DF: With a track above it – yes, South Park. Today it has changed a little bit from that, but the city schools could always use a boost. I hate the fact that they shut Buffalo Traditional down – that’s a whole other thing.
DF: They’re redoing the gyms in some of the schools. It’s good because our kids need that. They need to have the best stuff. You walk into the suburban schools and they had the best of the best.
AD: Yes, those schools had three large gyms. They had ‘Modified’ teams and Junior Varsity teams at every school, state of the art weight rooms, a track out back. And that’s a testament to how good you guys were to have accomplished what you accomplished without all those things.
DF: Yes, I think it was just coming from where we came from, our backgrounds and just wanting it. We wanted it! I know I did, and I wanted it bad. Just growing up in a single parent home, you want so much for your Mom. It was one of those things where I felt like I was going to do everything. I was going to be the man of the house. I’m going to do everything for my Mom! You deal with what you deal with. You try to make the best out of it, and you try to make it work for you. A lot of our games were played at ECC because of the schools we were going into. Our gym at Buffalo Traditional didn’t have the corner line, and everybody was coming to our games, so they had to be at ECC. You just must push through.
AD: And when those game were at ECC, did they push them to the nighttime?
DF: Yes, they were night games.
AD: That makes a big difference, because most of our games in the Yale Cup were right after school. So, you didn’t have a lot of time to get your head right. In the private and suburban schools, their games were at nighttime. Okay, last question. What did playing at Traditional and in college teach you about life and success?
DF: Ah, man, it’s the perfect parody to life. It teaches you discipline. For me, it taught me that in all your endeavors in life, you must know how to deal with them. You’re going to have to deal with problems in life and just being an athlete, it makes you see things differently. I’ll put it that way. You know how to deal with certain things when life gets hard. Life starts being overbearing or overplaying you, so you sort of have to go ‘back door’. It’s the same thing on the court. Especially playing in Buffalo. I think playing in Buffalo alone prepares you for the world. If you’re lucky enough to be able to grow up in the city of Buffalo –.
AD: Really? I’ve never heard that before (laughing). What do you mean by that?
DF: I think Buffalo gives you the tools to go out into the real world and compete.
DF: You know, it’s just the grime and grit here. Whether it’s the snow, it’s Buffalo. If you can make it here and make a name for yourself, I think you’ll go out in the world and you’re ready! I truly honestly believe that. Buffalo prepares you for everything in the world and you’ll definitely know how to go out and handle yourself. You have no choice. You almost have no choice growing up here. I’m speaking about growing up in the city.
AD: Well, Damien. That’s pretty much all I’ve got. I think I asked Jason this as well, but once you guys got to a certain point, did you focus solely on basketball? No football or other sports?
DF: I was never a two-sport athlete. We talked about football because we played pole to pole. But we talked about it and we didn’t want to get hurt. The basketball season was after football season and we didn’t want to mess that up trying to play football, so that was never my thing. I got asked to play football when I was at Boston College. Matt Hasselback was the quarterback at Boston College at the time and –.
AD: Oh really?
DF: He needed some wide receivers, so he said, ‘Just come out for the team! I need a receiver! You’re tall! You’re fast!’ I’m looking at him and saying, ‘Are you crazy? You want me to play Division I Football?’ If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to do it from little league (laughing).
AD: That’s right.
DF: That never was my thing. I told Matt that they would tear my little skinny butt up (laughing)! That was interesting. He asked me, but nah, I couldn’t do that.
AD: You said something about being one of the top 50 players in the country, but not ‘All-Western New York’ your junior year. Is that true?
DF: I got an invitation to the ABCD Camp in my junior year. They wrote up an article in the paper saying that I was one of the top 50 juniors in the country (see the caption above). The ABCD Camp was for the top 100 players in the country! I’ve got the letter which Coach Cardinal signed. I’ve still got it in my scrapbook. So, it’s like my junior year I went to ABCD Camp, I was killing the Yale Cup and the numbers were there. I didn’t make the All-Western New York First Team (see picture below). I couldn’t believe it and I said, ‘Wait a minute!’
The rumor was that they couldn’t have an all-black All-Western New York First Team. They weren’t ready for that, so they had to have some white faces on the team. I just didn’t see myself not making the All-Western New York First Team my junior year. I made it in my senior season. But how are you top 50 in the country where you get invited to play with Kobe Bryant and all these guys and you don’t even make the All-Western New York First Team?
AD: Yes, that doesn’t make any sense.
DF: Because if you look at the team my senior year, it’s all-black (laughing). I get it. I totally get though. It’s Buffalo!
AD: What are you doing now?
DF: I’m in real estate on the investment side and I’ve been doing it for the last 12-13 years.
AD: Are you ‘holding’ them or are you flipping them?
DF: I pretty much buy and rent them. I’ll sell if needed, but I’ll buy and rent for the long-term. I sold one last year. I got lucky. I bought when the recession hit so I was able to stack them then. I’m glad that I did because now the Buffalo market is through the roof. My older brother was doing it when I was in high school, so I learned from him and from my other brother in Detroit. That was one of the other reasons I didn’t pursue playing basketball overseas as much. My goal was to get to the NBA. You can make a living playing overseas, but the first house I got paid off for me, so I did that.
To me there’s a fine line in any sport in terms how long you play, and a lot of athletes get caught up chasing it for the rest of their lives. And each athlete is different. It works for some and doesn’t work for others. I didn’t want to be that guy who was chasing it, chasing it, and chasing it and then would have to look around and try to be a regular civilian (laughing). Who is going to hire you at 30 or 40 you know? I saw lots of athletes get caught up that way, and I just never wanted to be that guy. The decision was easy for me, so I just did real estate.
AD: Well, I’ll you what Damien. I’m going to transcribe this, but money is something I’m also passionate about. I write about it and I record videos about in on my YouTube channel, Big Discussions76, so if you would like to come on at some point, I’m sure that a lot of the Buffalo folks around the country would be interested in it. And I think it’s something that our people need to get more involved in, the investing side.
DF: Yes, we need more black ownership. Especially in Buffalo.
AD: Well, Damien, thank you again, and I really appreciate your willingness to talk about your life and playing days. Whether you know it or not, you are royalty, at least as far as I’m concerned. What you guys did at Buffalo Traditional was big and in your successes you touched a lot of lives – not just at Buffalo Traditional, but also for the rest of us at the other schools – seeing that those types of things could be done and giving everyone else something to shoot for. It was something for the entire area to be proud of – to say that you were there, and that you played against Damien Foster and Jason Rowe, and the Buffalo Traditional Bulls.
DF: No problem.
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. Finally, please check out my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
A key focus of my blog is Athletics/Sports. A piece of sports is coaching. Having the right coach can make all the difference in the world in terms of developing, learning your sport and winning and losing. It’s particularly critical at the professional level. The following contributed is entitled, Here’s Why All Sports Professionals Should Hire a Coach.
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As a sporting professional you will already know how much pressure your mind and body is put under every single time you train or compete. Going through all of this alone simply isn’t an option, especially with so much competition around you. Whether you’re prepping for a big tournament or trying to improve your technique, hiring a coach is absolutely fundamental. As a sports pro, you always need to be on your A game and a coach will definitely help you to stay on track. If you’re still on the fence, here are a few reasons that might just sway your decision to hire a coach.
They Will Help You Win
When you hire a coach, you don’t expect to be second best at anything you do. One of the highest priorities of your new sports coach will be to help you win. Whether you’re looking for reputable golf coaches to assist with your technique or you need a boxing coach to put you through your paces, there are coaches for every sport possible.
They Will Support Your Losses
Of course, your coach will push you to win as often as possible but even the greatest athletes lose sometimes. No matter what, your coach will be there for you when you are beaten at the last hurdle. Their job is to stick by you no matter what the outcome. When you fail, they will be able to coach you through mistakes and help you learn from them in the future.
They Will Hold You Accountable
A coach won’t necessarily leave you to get on with your training schedule by yourself. Most coaches come in very useful as they hold you accountable for everything you do. If you have a training session, a health check up or a weigh in, they will be there or they will expect you to tell them the results. You won’t be able to find any loopholes or skip anything important when you have a coach on hand.
They Will Work Through Mental Health Struggles With You
As a sports professional, your mental health will be pushed to the limit every single time you compete. Pushing through those mental blocks is so important and that will be one of your coaches’ main jobs. When you think you can’t do something or have limiting beliefs, they will coach you through these struggles so that you always have full confidence every single time you compete.
With all of this in mind, you will probably want to hire a sports coach right away. You don’t need to take the plunge right away, because you will want to research the best ones in your industry. Make sure you check their credentials and try to meet them in person before you sign any contracts. You need to ensure that their way of working is right for you and your sport. Once you have found the right coach for you, there will be so much improvement in your mental health and your technique too.
A key focus of my blog is Athletics and Sports. Fishing while a relaxing activity is also a competitive sport which requires quite a bit of knowledge and skill. As with most activities, there important aspects for beginners to consider. The following guest post is entitled, Fishing Dos and Don’ts All Beginners Need to Know.
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Do you like the idea of spending a lazy afternoon being surrounded by nature? How about the thrill that comes with not knowing what can happen next? Then one activity you should consider doing is fishing.
Fishing can be both a relaxing activity bursting with fun and excitement. It allows you to de-stress and appreciate and understand nature more. The fact that there is no way to learn how many fish you can catch and what kind of fish is on the other side of the line makes it an exciting adventure. This is the very reason many continue to fall in love with fishing.
If you finally decide to go fishing, then it is a must to know more about the activity before testing the waters. We’ve gathered some dos and don’ts that newbie fishers like you will find extremely useful.
Don’t forget to secure your fishing license
To make sure that you don’t get in trouble, secure a fishing license before you plan your fishing trip. But why would you need such a license in the first place? Acquiring a fishing license is an act to protect fish populations. There are state regulations that will tell you what kind of fish you can legally fish in a day and what species are legal. The fees you pay will not only support wildlife departments. These will also help finance wildlife research that also costs much.
Don’t buy fishing equipment that you can’t afford
Even if you already set your mind to learning how to fish during your free time, it is wise to buy only fishing shackles that you can afford. Take reel shopping, for instance. When buying reels, it is a good idea to buy Shimano spinning reels, as you can choose from a variety perfect for beginners. Of course, you need to consider your budget before buying one. As for your fishing lures, you can choose cheaper ones so that you won’t regret buying expensive lures only to lose them while fishing.
Be wise when choosing between saltwater and freshwater fishing
For beginners, freshwater fishing is a common choice. When choosing lake fishing, you still have two options to choose from: natural and man-made lakes. Knowing the differences between the two and doing a bit of research will help you understand the best way to fish.
Being the newbie in the block is not enough reason to feel wary about not catching a fish. Remember that in everything you do, your confidence is your key to success. The same goes for fishing. If you are not confident, then it can be hard to attract fish. Having the best equipment and learning the best techniques are not enough. You will need to learn how to be confident enough so that you can succeed.
Fishing is not easy. But know that before expert fishers became great, they had once been newbies, too. Don’t lose hope if you fail to catch a fish or two. Get your fishing license, invest in the right fishing tackle, and choose the perfect place to start learning how to fish. Keep practicing and build up your confidence, and you will succeed in no time.
“From that point it just got better and better. Your confidence starts to build, and half of basketball is confidence! Once you get your confidence, you can go anywhere!”
One of the key principles of my blog is ‘Creating Ecosystems of Success’. A key pillar of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in the Buffalo Public Schools’ ‘Yale Cup’ high school city basketball league laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.
I’m working on a project chronicling my early journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Yale Cup players from my era. On October 19, 2019, I had the honor of interviewing Damien Foster. Damien, alongside Jason Rowe, spearheaded Buffalo Traditional High School’s ascension to the top of ‘Section VI’ basketball, leading his Bulls to the ‘Far West Regional’ each of their four years, and then to State Tournament in Glens Falls in their final two years, before winning it in their senior season. In part one of this two-part interview, we discuss his background, and his storied playing days at the Buffalo Traditional High School. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Section V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Damien himself and Jason Rowe.
Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you, Damien. I’m working on an ambitious writing project about my high school basketball experience. It was my first major success and failure life lesson. While I didn’t play organized basketball beyond the 1993-94 school year, my high school experience on our team at Hutch-Tech gave me the tools I needed to earn my Ph.D. in a STEM-field – not quitting during the hard times, dealing with adversity, finishing what I started, and so on.
In my project I also tell the story of the Yale Cup in that era, and you can’t properly tell it without discussing the Buffalo Traditional Bulls, as you were the premiere program/team. As a part of my research, I’ve reached out to some of the other Yale Cup players to gain insight into what it was like to play at Bennett High School, City Honors, Kensington High School, Riverside High School, and others. I’ve also spoken with players from Hamburg, LaSalle and Niagara Falls Senior High School. As you know I spoke with Jason Rowe, so I know some things about the Buffalo Traditional Bulls, but I thought it would be great to talk to you as well.
Damien Foster: No problem. Thank you for allowing me to speak.
AD: The Buffalo Traditional Bulls were a big deal. I know you went on to play in college after graduating from high school, but when you came into the Yale Cup and Section VI, Buffalo Traditional became the game that everyone circled on their calendars (laughing). Let’s go back to the beginning. Where are the Fosters from? Are you all originally from Western New York or somewhere else?
DF: My Dad’s side of the family is from Saginaw, MI. I have lots of family in Saginaw. My Dad’s family is bigger. My Mom’s side of the family is from Greenville, SC.
AD: I attended the University of Michigan for graduate school, so I’m a little familiar with that state. Did they come to Buffalo for the steel jobs?
DF: Yes, my Dad’s oldest brother left Saginaw back in the 1950s or 60s. He came to Buffalo and left his younger brothers behind. He and his wife moved to Buffalo where he opened a bar and got into real estate – he owned property in Buffalo. Sure enough as the saying goes, when one brother leaves, the younger brothers follow. My Dad and my uncles who followed him, is what landed them in Buffalo. They visited and stayed. As far as my Mom’s side, my Grandfather married my Grandmother when they were in Greenville, SC. They were trying to get away from all the racial stuff down south and it was common for folks to go north. My Grandfather didn’t want my Grandmother around that type of stuff, so that’s what landed him in Buffalo.
AD: In the mid-1990s when you and Jason (Rowe) were juniors, they wrote a feature in the Buffalo News capturing his history. They pointed out that he basically came from a ‘basketball family’, but I don’t recall seeing anything about your start. Do you come from a basketball family as well? How did you start playing the game?
DF: I have a brother who is nine years older than me. He’s one of the reasons I started playing basketball. He played for Bennett High School and was on their 1987 team that made that run with Trevor Ruffin (pictured), ‘Boo’ Alexander, ‘Crow’ and all those guys. They were undefeated around Buffalo and in the Yale Cup; and they lost the state championship. I was around 10 years old when they played the Yale Cup championship game. It was Bennett vs. South Park and it was held at the Canisius College Koessler Center.
My Dad took me to that game, and it was the first game I ever went to. I remember my brother needing these ‘Air Jordans’ so bad for this big game – the Jordans were ‘popping’ back then. I went to the game and saw how many people were there and it was crazy. I saw him play and ever since that day, I was inspired to play basketball. They say that if you get inspired as a kid, that’s huge. I was inspired, and it took off from there for me. I was just ‘jonesing’ to play and learn the game – to just be around the game. My Dad also played a little bit in the military. So, it wasn’t a huge basketball family, but my brother and my Dad played.
AD: You eventually grew to 6’4” or 6’5” right?
DF: I grew to 6’4.5”.
AD: Was your father tall?
DF: My Dad was 6’1” and my brother ended up being 6’2.5”.
AD: I remember you becoming an ‘all-around player’. You developed your ‘guard-skills’. You could shoot it from long-range, you could handle the ball – everything. Did you start on your elementary school team? Did you start going to camps?
DF: So, taking it from 1987, I was 10 years old and I watched my brother play in that game. From that day on I wondered how I could get a basketball hoop. How could I practice? I’m ‘jonesing’, I’m a kid. Back then I was in a single-parent home. Mom didn’t have money to buy a basketball hoop at that time, so I got creative. In the winter I’d hustle by shoveling snow to make money.
I ended up buying a rim – just a rim alone. I figured out a way to start making my own basketball hoop. I’d get two by fours and plywood. I’d nail the rim to the backboard, tie it to a fence and there was my basketball hoop. I’d also tie it to a pole and then I eventually ended up putting it in my back yard. I’d play every day in my backyard for hours and hours – just being curious. I started inviting my friends over to play – you need somebody to practice on. We’d play for hours every day. It got to the point where it would rain, and it would snow, but I’d still have that jones to play and I’d go in the snow to play.
So, it started there and then my Mom was able to eventually buy me a real basketball hoop. When we put it in the ground in the backyard, my backyard became considered ‘the spot’. I was 11 or 12 years old and we were in the back yard all day. We’re talking seven days a week playing basketball all day.
Eventually it went from the back yard to running into one of my now mentors, Garcia Leonard. I met him at 12 years old at the Masten Boys & Girls Club. At the Boys Club, I learned the culture. The Boys Club back then was considered ‘the Mecca’ of basketball for all the people who came out of Buffalo. The type of people that were coming through the Boys Club at that time were some big names including: Glen Taplin, Ray Hall, Trevor Ruffin – you name it and those guys were coming through there and that was just the pick-up games. At that age I was playing with them and catching on. I was also tall for my age back then.
I wasn’t quite 6’4” then, but I was at least 6’. They worked with me. I was fortunate and very lucky for them to be able to come back and recognize the talent that I had and to just give it to me raw. They treated me like I was a grown man at 12 years old. At 13 years old if you step out there on the basketball court, you’ve got to be treated equally like everyone else and these were grown men! I learned so much from them and they took the time out just to break the game down and instill certain skills in me.
It went from playing in my backyard to playing at the Boys Club every night. Now I’m going to the Boys Club five days a week and we’re running every night. Ozzie Lumpkin was the director at the time. He played ball as well and he’d literally open the gym at 11 pm or 12 midnight.
DF: He would call it ‘runs’, so now we’ve got 15 guys down there like Ray Hall and others. We’re literally running in the middle of the night and learning the game of basketball. I’m 12-13 years old and I’m thinking to myself, this is great stuff in terms of learning to compete. I was able to pattern myself after grown men. Jason would come around as well. He got the same treatment. We were very lucky, and timing was everything at that point. It was beyond crazy because they were playing professional at the time – Trevor, Ray Hall and those guys. So, to get that one-on-one teaching and competition from them was just huge.
The next thing you know, my skill set started to develop. You’re playing with grown men so eventually your skills are going to go beyond the kids your own age. When the kids your own age can’t keep up with you they start scratching their heads wondering where you’re getting it from and how you’re doing it.
By the time I got to the sixth grade, I was at Campus East. I tried out and made the basketball team. The coach at the time was Mr. Spindler. He put me on the team, and they had seventh and eighth graders. It’s funny, one player on that team was Ben Franklin. Wait, was it Ben Franklin? Yes, Benjamin. Was Franklin his last name? He went to Riverside High School.
AD: Was it Ben Rice?
DF: Yes! It was Ben Rice. Ben Rice was at Campus East with me. He was in eighth grade. Who else was on that team? Was it Chuck or Henry? Anyway, I was the youngest player on that team, and I didn’t get any time. The two games that I did get in, my Mom is sitting in the stands and I’m nervous as heck. In the sixth grade you don’t know what to expect. I got in the game and held my own a little bit. I scored my first two points and they were pretty cool, Ben Rice and my other teammates in terms of showing me little things. They weren’t big headed.
After Campus East, I went to Build Academy for the seventh and eighth grades. There I hooked up with my boy, Roosevelt Wilson, and we started in the seventh grade. That’s where it really, really took off because you must remember that I was still playing at the Boys Club. I could see myself advancing a little bit further than the average player in the seventh grade and by the time the eighth grade came around, I was dunking the ball. I could dunk in the eighth grade!
DF: Yes, I was dunking in the eighth grade! That summer going into the eighth grade we’d play street football, pole to pole. Jason lived a few streets over from me. He lived on Ada Street. We’d play street to street to street and we ended up playing his street. He’d quarterback and I’d quarterback. We played against each other, and then in eighth grade in basketball, we played against each other for the championship – he was at Traditional and I was at Build Academy. They won, but it was a good game. That’s when Jason and me kind of meshed in terms of asking each other, “What are you doing? Which high school are you going to?”
After eighth grade, I took a few tests. I think the schools were St. Joe’s and Canisius. I just said forget it and decided that I’d go to McKinley High School. I couldn’t really make up my mind and my Mom was really on me about it. She said, “You need to make up your mind! The school year is about to start –.” So, I was decided, alright McKinley it is.
The day before school starts, I get a call from Jason and he says, “Man, we really need you over here –.” I said, “I’ll come, but my Mom is really on me!” I was so indecisive, and my paperwork was already at McKinley. Jason said, “You know what, I’m going to have Card (Coach Joe Cardinal) call you.” He had Cardinal call me and he said, “Look. Don’t show up at McKinley, show up at Traditional!” So, I’m leaving out the door (laughing), and my Mom thinks I’m going to McKinley, and she didn’t know that I was going right down the street to Buffalo Traditional.
AD: Wow. Really?
DF: And that’s how that happened. That’s how me and Jason ended up at Buffalo Traditional. It was a last-minute decision for me. The next day I showed up and just walked into Traditional.
AD: And they just enrolled you?
DF: Yes, it was one of those things where they enrolled me and got all the paperwork straightened out. Everything was taken care of and I was like, “Okay, let’s go!”
AD: Okay, before we start talking about the Buffalo Traditional Dynasty, which neighborhood did you and Jason grow up in?
DF: We grew up in Cold Springs. We were cut from the same cloth, same environment, everything.
DF: My favorite professional player was Scottie Pippen. I liked Scottie Pippen and that’s why I wore No. 33. It was Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. That was pretty much it back then. I was a Bulls fan.
DF: I was familiar with them because again I studied the game as a player coming through the ranks and coming through the Boys Club. You had no choice but to study the players before you. I heard about Ritchie Campbell. I saw him play one time, and that’s when him and Trevor Ruffin went head to head in “The Randy”, the Randy Smith League. I was young. I want to say 13 years old maybe. But I remember that game. I just remember seeing Ritchie come down and just ‘letting it fly’ – two steps across half court and just letting it fly. I was like, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’ Ritchie Campbell never really came through the Boys Club. Neither did ‘Ice Cream’ (Marcus Whitfield). They played more so downtown. They were down at ’Live at Five’.
AD: Did you say Live at Five?
DF: Yes, it was called Live at Five and I think it was at the Pratt Willert Center. That was something for the downtown guys.
AD: Okay, one more question before we get back to Buffalo Traditional. Did you ever go down to Delaware Park?
DF: Oh yeah. We went down to Delaware Park. I was 13 when my brother first brought me down to Delaware Park, getting that experience playing, seeing Cliff Robinson pull up, all the old school legends. And I was able to hold my own with them at a young age. I had my fair share of Delaware Park, but not so much as we did at the Boys Club.
AD: When I was at Hutch-Tech I heard stories about your nickname being ‘Mush’. Was that your nickname?
DF: Yes, my nickname was ‘Mush’. Back at the Boys Club, we all used to rib and play ‘the dozens’. The names just stuck with me and everyone has known me as ‘Mush Damien Foster’. At first, I didn’t care for it, but it stuck, and I got used to it.
AD: When you and Jason got to Buffalo Traditional, you two coincided with what I call the ‘Fab Five Era‘. What was your mentality? Where you going in thinking that you were taking over the team? Or were you thinking that you’d get together with the players that were there and make the best of things?
DF: To be honest, Jason and me were cut from the same cloth, so going in we knew what we were capable of doing because we’d been doing it for so long at the Boys Club. We knew that skill-wise, we were advanced. It was just a matter of going on the court, showing and proving it because when we got there, there were seniors on the team – Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra. We didn’t really know what to expect, and I remember having a conversation with LaVar Frasier. At the time he was a sophomore. I called him the day before practices started. We had a conversation on the phone, just trying to get a feel for some of the players.
That first day of practice, we were going at it and there was some serious business going on. In terms of my mentality I felt like I had to go out and prove myself and that I belonged on the team. Making the Varsity as a freshman is very rare. Usually you go to the Junior Varsity (JV) and you do that for about a year, and you move up to the Varsity. My mentality was straight “Mamba” (Kobe Bryant) – to just ‘kill’ everything and that’s what we did!
We went in and showed off all our skills sets. We competed and the returning players on the team – I could read their body language and facial expressions. They were blown away with what they were seeing from us as freshman. From that point it just got better and better. Your confidence starts to build, and half of basketball is confidence! Once you get your confidence, you can go anywhere. It was just very competitive that first year walking in there. From day one they respected us – Coach Cardinal and the players. They started us as freshman – “Young Guns” (laughing).
AD: So, Jason basically said the same thing in that there was a ‘basketball circle’, and you got that extensive hands- on training before you went to Buffalo Traditional. I wasn’t in that circle, so the first time I saw you play was in my junior season. I was injured and wasn’t playing much. I do vividly remember hearing some buzz about some new younger kids at Buffalo Traditional before that game, and I didn’t know who or what people were talking about.
My former teammates might not like this, but you all came out and laid the beatdown on us, literally. You beat us 96-73. You made the game look so easy. Your teammates were feeding off what you and Jason were doing, and I’d never seen anything like that before (laughing). I was amazed at what I was seeing – your ability to shoot it, your ability to gracefully handle the ball in the open floor, and so on. But you caught a lot of teams off guard that season right?
DF: Oh yeah! It was one of those things whereas a freshman you start off with three or four ‘non-league’ games. You start off against teams that are not in the Yale Cup – St. Joe’s and the other private schools and the suburban schools. And to me those were hard games. We had St. Joe’s my freshman year and they had Jeff Muszynski who was a senior. Jeff Muszynski was a star. We played St. Joe’s on their home court and when he got the ball in the layup line, all you saw were the cameras going off. You saw cameras pop and this guy is just laying the ball up. I’d never seen anything like it.
And then at the jump ball, we held our own, but we lost the game. I want to say that I had 12-13 points that game and after that we just kept getting better. I still remember our first Yale Cup game and it was against McKinley High School. I’m saying to myself, ‘Okay, these guys have a lot of seniors!’ I want to say at the time that they had ’Fats’. Do you remember Fats?
AD: Yes. Chelston Martin.
DF: Moses Tolbert and those guys – they were nice! In my freshman year, McKinley was in our building and we ‘lit’ them up. I couldn’t believe it. I had 37 points that game and I was like, ‘Wow, I gave Fats and Moses 37!’ I’m a freshman and it just starts to go from there. You start building confidence and you start to build a swagger. I don’t want to say its arrogance. It’s kind of arrogance, but it’s confidence as well and you start to build that thing up. And with each game, you’re running into players who are seniors. Do you know what I mean? You’re making a name for yourself because they’re hearing about you!
I remember the Riverside game. This is when they had Ben Rice, so I’m able to see Ben Rice in high school now – I’m catching him in his senior year. When I was in the sixth grade, they were ahead of me, so now I’m a freshman and they’re on their way out and I’m catching Ben Rice and Ed Harris. Riverside had a nice team with ‘Russ’ (Coach Bill Russell). I remember that game because I think they were No. 1 at the time in the Yale Cup.
We ended up beating them at the buzzer. We were down by two and eventually it was tied, and they were on the free throw line. I ended up getting the rebound off the missed free throw with six to seven seconds left. I dribbled to half court and hit a ‘runner’ off one leg. I let it fly and it went in. That’s what put us at No. 1 in the polls and in the Yale Cup and we beat them. Our team was just jumping all over me and hugging me. I remember looking at the expressions on Riverside’s faces and they were so mad because they were getting beaten by freshmen. It was unheard of for freshman to start on the Varsity level and then to get beaten by freshman – it was a surreal thing back then.
AD: Well, if you figure that they were the Yale Cup Champions the previous year in addition to the Section VI Class C Champions, they probably expected to repeat. I think I saw the same thing happen to our team when you came in and beat us. There was a bit of disbelief as that game unfolded. It’s like the Mike Tyson-Trevor Berbick championship fight. This young guy is coming in and he’s whipping the older guy, and the older guy can’t believe it’s happening.
AD: I asked Jason this, and I’m sure you heard this too. One of the knocks on Coach Cardinal was that they say he wasn’t teaching you any basketball and that you were just playing ‘pickup’ basketball in practices and in games. Is that true and what do you think when you hear that?
DF: I’ve heard it 1,000 times! Coach Cardinal heard it 1,000 times and we all heard it. Most of the time you’d hear it from the suburban coaches and schools. My opinion on that is that Cardinal wasn’t trying to be something he wasn’t. Cardinal was more so a father figure to us. He was there for us. We could come to him for anything and he’d give us advice whatever the case may be. You’re dealing with city kids – kids that come from single parent homes. You’re dealing with a lot of things and lots of these kids don’t have structure in terms of playing organized basketball, so they come to the city schools and play on these teams. With their attention span, you draw up a play and they get in the game and they might forget the play. Or they might not have that discipline to run a play.
I’m just saying that was the majority of what they were dealing with in the past before we even got there. They were inner city kids and a lot of the coaches were gym teachers, so it was a lot about how you related to the kids. The kids in the suburban areas, they were coming from ‘organized’ basketball, their parents were putting them in camps, and they’re going to the best schools like Timon and St. Joe’s. They get in there and they learn the ‘Xs and Os’ with no problem. It’s just a different animal when you’re dealing with city kids.
I always thought he got a bad rap for that. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of room for us to learn things coming out of Traditional. As far as the practices go, we had practice. We practiced and competed. Were there times when we went light in practice? Absolutely. Xs and Os, that wasn’t our thing. Our thing was we’re the fastest team in the Yale Cup and we’re the most skilled and talented team. We’re going to run this motion thing. We’ve got inbound plays. More so me and Jason, we were able to apply a lot of the stuff that we had learned and bring it to Traditional and bring it on the court in situations when we needed it. I either had the ball in my hands or he had the ball in his hands. When the games were winding down, Jason and me could overcompensate for a lot of the lack of coaching because we were the leaders on the court and they followed us. The chemistry was just natural. It was there and it was from us playing together all along.
Card said he was going to retire and write a book and name it, “All The Way Without A Play”. And when we won the state championship and went all the way, the media didn’t like that. He got criticized for saying that. Who in the hell thinks like that? And other coaches in the area and in the suburban schools looked at our teams and said, ‘You have got all this talent on this team. You should be winning the state championship every year – all four years!’ And I can say honestly, yes, that was the goal. It didn’t work out that way, but there was still a lot of success. But they looked at our team and said, “If you had a different coach, you would’ve won every year!” He got criticized for that, but Cardinal was a good person. He had a good heart and I respected him because he had his own unique way of relating to us and getting us motivated. It wasn’t like he didn’t motivate us. He motivated us, and he kept the team together as a family – we were a really tight family.
AD: Well, that family piece was important. Not every team had that. In terms of motivation, would he say stuff like, ‘They’re saying we can’t beat them because you all aren’t good enough?’ Would he use reverse psychology on you guys?
DF: Well, not so much that because most of the teams were gunning for us nightly, trying to get a name off us. He more so kept it to where he made sure we went out and competed every night. He made sure we left it all on the court. He made sure we focused throughout the day during school – all the little things that go on behind the scenes that go into the game. He was just that guy and I want to say that his swagger, just Card being himself – his personality, he gave off an aura where you wanted to play well for him. You wanted to do good for Card. It’s Joe Cardinal. You know he was one of those types of coaches where you want to give him your all. Not a lot of players will do that for certain coaches. So, he had his own unique way of motivating us and talking to us and keeping it real – not sugar coating anything.
AD: And his Assistant Coach was Ellis Woods?
DF: Yes. Ellis Woods was his Assistant Coach.
AD: Okay, well going back to your freshman year. I got cut from my team for grades and other struggles. I was home every night of the 1993 boys’ basketball playoffs and I remember watching the nightly news and seeing you go on your first sectional run. I remember one night seeing you do a ‘finger roll’ layup against Roy-Hart or Newfane, again with ease. Another night I saw a clip of Jason stealing the ball from one of Newfane’s guards and laying it up with ease. When the playoffs started, did you look at the bracket and think you could win the whole thing? What was your mentality going in?
DF: My freshman year we started learning about postseason play and going to Glens Falls and we said, ‘We’ve got to get to Glens Falls! That’s the goal at this point!’ You look at your team and you see what you’ve got and how you’ll measure up in the sectionals. We had some great leaders on our team in Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra (pictured above with the 1991-92 Bulls). Those were tough players and we went out there and competed. We were trying to get to Glens Falls my freshman year. We fell short, but it was a learning experience. We got a lot better from it and we worked on our games.
AD: You beat all suburban teams. Did those teams try and fail at slowing you down? Were you just athletically better?
DF: Teams always tried slowing us down. They’d run lots of half court sets. They’d try to ‘screen’ us. They didn’t want to run with us, because they knew they’d get run out of the gym! That was a lot of teams’ strategy, not just the suburban schools. You’ve got to remember that we were solid in terms of the fundamentals of basketball. We knew how to get through picks for example. We were able to rub all that energy off onto the other players of our team as well.
AD: You made it to the “Far West Regionals” as freshman where you lost to Marion. Coming back as sophomores, I like to say that you were the new ‘Kings’ of the Yale Cup. It was your second year, and a lot of teams graduated their seniors and were young. You graduated two seniors and reloaded with more talent (the 1993-94 Buffalo Traditional Bulls pictured above). Did you look at it that way going in? How did you go into that second year?
DF: Yes, because we acquired Darcel Williams. That was huge for us, but now we had a big guy inside. He was grabbing all the boards and could score and –.
AD: Yes, to go along with Adrian Baugh and Lavar Frasier.
DF: Right. Absolutely. We looked around and said, ‘This is it! There’s no reason why we shouldn’t go all the way! This has got to be the year!’ It didn’t happen. We fell short.
AD: You ran into Mynderse Academy. Unfortunately, I didn’t go to that game, but I remember seeing some of the highlights on TV. I remember you ‘jawing’ at one of their players after hitting three-point (laughing). I went to basketball camp with some of those kids. They weren’t tall and athletic kids, so did they just ‘X and O’ you and slow the game down? Did they out rebound you?
DF: They broke the game down, slowed it down and did the Xs and Os. They were gunning for us. It wasn’t like they were better than us talent-wise, they just wanted it more. At the end of the day, their strategy worked. That was another year that was just lost. I felt that we were better than them.
AD: So, the next year I came home from college and saw you play my Hutch-Tech team at our gym and you beat them handily 111-88. It was very impressive as there were lots of dunks and three-pointers from you all. I remember Jimmy Birden having a good game, as well as he was hitting from long-distance. You guys looked like a ‘well-oiled machine’. What was the key to beating Lyons in the Far West Regional your junior year? Were you just more experienced? Were you bigger and stronger?
DF: Well, that was my junior year, so the summer after my sophomore year. After losing to Mynderse, that’s when things really started taking off outside of Buffalo Traditional. We started playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball and our team was strong that summer. Our AAU team was made up of players from Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Schenectady. From this area it was usually Jason (Rowe), Malik Campbell, Tim Winn, Antoine Sims and me. We’d drive up the I-90 to Syracuse to pick up two players, and we’d stop in Schenectady to pick up four players. I stayed away from Buffalo that whole summer.
My junior year, I was the only one from our area who got invited the ‘ABCD Basketball Camp’. I was in the top 50 in the country in my junior year. I’m at camp that summer with Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Felipe Lopez – all these guys and then at the Eastern Invitational Camp, and then throughout the tournaments we were playing in that summer. We played in lots of tournaments – thank God for Fajri Ansari for driving us up and down to these tournaments all summer.
We got a lot better and I took my game to the next level just from that summer alone and the experience I had going to camps. So, I think that helped me my junior year as far as beating Lyons and getting to Glens Falls. I felt like this is it. There’s no more losing and you feel like you’re the best. I was playing against the best up and down the east coast at that point. I could measure myself against other players and I said to myself, ‘When I get home, I’m going in!’ So that’s what it was for me. That summer was pivotal going into my junior year.
AD: Coach Fajri Ansari from Turner/Carroll took you to tournaments and camps?
DF: Fajri and Mickey Walker took us up and down the east coast all summer. We joined the AAU team in my freshman year (pictured above with Jason Rowe, Lackawanna’s O’ Tes Alston, and Turner/Carroll’s Malik Campbell and Antoine Sims). They took us to France, and we beat two of their professional teams that summer after my freshman year. We got lots of exposure away from the inner-city basketball. They were dedicated and drove us to Rhode Island, Boston, New York City – playing against the “Gauchos”, Stephon Marbury, Felipe (Lopez) and those guys. We played against them in AAU, and that was the exposure we needed to elevate our games to the next level, so that was huge.
AD: The two kids from Schenectady, was one of them Willie Deane, who went to Purdue?
DF: I know Willie Dean, but he didn’t play with me. It was Devonaire Deas who went to Florida State and then Antone Welsh who went to Notre Dame. Those were the two players from the “Schenectady Crew”.
AD: My Dad lives in Schenectady, so I went out there every summer, and that’s how I knew of Willie Dean. You beat Lyons and then Mechanicville in the state semifinal, and then you ran up against Peekskill in the state final. That game was within your reach, right?
DF: Yes, that game. Oh man, that game. That game was close. I could’ve put it away at the free throw line. I put a lot of blame on myself. I had two free throws to seal the deal. I missed the first free throw. I made the second free throw and I put the game into overtime. We couldn’t contain Elton Brand in overtime.
That game was so crucial for me because I really wanted to win the championship for LaVar Frasier, Adrian Baugh and our other seniors. I really wanted to see them go out with a ring and to win a state championship. Knowing that I had a chance to win the game, missing the first free throw, it just didn’t sit well with me. I just wish it could’ve been different. I know that I gave us a second chance in overtime, but I just wish the outcome could’ve been different. They worked hard.
AD: Well, hey man, that’s athletics, but Jason predicted that you would go back, and you did go back after reloading with some younger players. Losing players like, Adrian, LaVar and Jimmy, did you expect that you’d be able to reload? Or did you and Jason just do more the next year?
DF: That summer came, and we all got invited to the ABCD Camp at that point. We really worked on our games that summer. There was a lot of pressure building up. It was our last run, and we hadn’t won the states yet. You’re looking around and starting to question yourself. I just put it in my mind and determined that I was going to work my ass off. I’m going to do any and everything I must do to raise my game to that next level again. You’re just trying to get better. You’re trying to get better and you’re playing against the best competition in the off season.
So, the season came around and I had a conversation with Jason. I said, “You know this is it. This is legacy time in terms of what we’re going to leave on the table.” It was a focus like no other. We looked at the players on the team. We knew we had Darcel Williams. We had Darnell Beckham. We had the firepower to get there so it was just a matter of how we were going to do it, and that year for me, I remember telling myself that I was going to lead by example. That was the only way I could try to get everyone to be on the same page and that was to lead by example.
That year I said, “Jay, we’ve got to win everything! We’ve got to win the Yale Cup! We’ve got to win the states! We’ve got to win the federation! We’ve got to win everything!” And that was the mindset going into my senior year. That was the mindset the whole time and we went in and put in work, from day one. As soon as the season started, we gelled together as a team. We were in shape and we made sure guys were doing what they were supposed to be doing. We went in there and handled business. We won the Yale Cup. We won the states and I remember the pressure. You don’t want to let the school down – your peers, the teachers, faculty, staff – everybody that’s rooting for you. And you just don’t want to let them down.
At the state championship game against Mechanicville, I think I scored a record. I think it was 61 points over two games – something crazy. I think I broke a record. I was just trying to make sure we didn’t lose. I was just trying to leave it all out there. I said, “There is no way we’re losing this championship!” I won MVP for the state tournament. There’s something that just comes over you and you get that will power. You look deep into yourself and you try to wield that power. That’s what we did.
This discussion will continue in part two of the interview with Damien Foster. In the second part of our interview, Damien and I discuss his basketball career after being a Buffalo Traditional Bull. I want to thank Damien for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate.
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site or add the link to RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. Finally, please check out my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success and three key focuses are Athletics and Sports, General Education, Health and Wellness. Hobbies are critical to everyone’s health wellness both physically and mentally. They keep both our bodies and minds, youthful, stimulated and engaged. If you don’t currently have any hobbies, you should consider some for the new year. The following contributed post is entitled, Hobbies to Try in the New Year.
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Do you have time for hobbies? Most adults struggle to find the time to enjoy their hobbies around work, family life and other commitments. We go through life trying to fit everything in, struggling to make time for things that we love or even the people that we love. This is a shame. Having hobbies that you enjoy can improve your skills, boost your health and confidence, help you to find balance and peace and reduce stress. Hobbies can help you to make friends or improve existing relationships.
Unfortunately, however, when we fall out of practice, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things. Sometimes, it’s easier to try new hobbies, instead of attempting to get back into old ones. Here are some new hobbies that you might enjoy in 2020.
Golf can be a great hobby. It’s an excellent way to get your steps in and enjoy a workout without hitting the gym. It can be a fantastic way to meet new people or spend quality time with your existing friends, and a good way to see some beautiful landscapes. Oh, and it can be good fun. If you’ve never played golf, look at Golf Drivers Reviews for help with what you need.
Fishing is another great way to see more beautiful scenery. If you fish, you’ll travel to different locations and really get out there in nature. One of the most significant advantages of fishing is that it’s stress-relieving. You’ll spend time away from work and family commitments. It’s a great chance to take a bit of a digital detox and enjoy time by yourself. Even if you fish with friends or other people, you’ll spend long periods sat quietly with your own thoughts. Think of it as meditation, with fish. Or not fish, as the case may sometimes be.
Even those of us that were once keen readers often get out of the habit as busy adult life gets in the way. You might have started going to bed and scrolling through social media for an hour before going to sleep instead of reading.
But reading is better. Social media and screens keep you awake. Reading can help you to relax and unwind. It’s excellent escapism, a great way to keep your mind active and alert and a wonderful way to get away from the stresses of life. Try to read for at least a few minutes every day, taking back some time for yourself in the process.
Drawing or Painting
Having a creative hobby is great. It can help you to think more creatively in other areas of life, boosting your problem-solving skills. It can give you a new way to express yourself, and help you to unwind. It’s also good fun.
If you don’t feel particularly skilled when it comes to art, try adult coloring or scrapbooking instead of freehand painting or drawing. There’s a creative hobby out there for everyone, regardless of your skillset.
If you are looking for a hobby that boosts your fitness without pushing you to your limits or getting sweaty, swimming might be a good choice. Swimming is easy on your joints but works your whole body. You can go with friends or alone, and there’s no pressure to be fast. Swimming is an active, yet restful hobby, that lets you go at your own pace.
Overtime looks inside the Michigan Football Program under the leadership of Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh, who took over its reins in 2015. As with many of Mr. Bacon’s books, it discusses the nuances and challenges in competing in big-time college football for the coaching staffs, the players and the institutions themselves. Overtime specifically chronicles the Wolverines’ 2018 season starting with their opener at Notre Dame and then through to their crushing 2018 loss to Ohio State; and then finally their season ending loss to Florida in the 2019 Peach Bowl.
In Overtime Mr. Bacon discusses the challenges of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure in which he has yet to beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten Conference and qualify for the College Football Playoff. He gives a look into Jim Harbaugh’s life and upbringing and the many events that made him who he is today. The book further tells the stories of players within the program including: Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, Karan Higdon, Noah Furbush and Shea Patterson.
I arrived at the signing after Mr. Bacon started his discussion. I walked in as he was discussing former offensive tackle, Grant Newsome, whose parents, Leon and Kim, were in attendance. Newsome was one of Jim Harbaugh’s most promising prospects, a ‘game changer’ whose mere presence on the field would’ve likely changed the fortunes of his teammates and the coaching staff were it not for a career-ending leg injury early in the 2016 season. I won’t give the entire story away, but I will share that Coach Harbaugh honored Newsome’s scholarship who continues to be involved with the football program, highlighting two of the greatest pillars of the program which are its integrity and loyalty to its student athletes.
I received Overtime as a birthday present from my mother (pictured below) and it’s been a joy to read. At the end of his talk, Mr. Bacon acknowledged his audience for supporting his work over the years. When he took questions, I asked him how likely Athletic Director, Warde Manuel, was to fire Coach Harbaugh to placate half of our rabid fanbase. Mr. Bacon responded that the it was unlikely as the program itself is healthier than it’s ever been (see Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football).
“Harvard doesn’t care if their team wins! Alabama doesn’t care how their team wins!” Mr. Bacon uttered the same words he used when he released Endzone three years earlier regarding how the football program is run and the ‘Michigan way’. What I gathered from Mr. Bacon at the end of the night was that despite the angst surrounding the football program on the field, the best thing would be for the Michigan fans to sit tight and let things play out. In doing so, we will likely ultimately get what we want, and it will come without scandals or violations of any kind, keeping with the values of the program and the school.
“I’m hoping this will be my last book on Michigan Football,” Mr. Bacon said afterwards while signing my copy.
“Well John, you must have at least one more left as the story isn’t over yet,” I said to him.
“You know what? You’re right,” he replied, laughing.
I first heard about John U. Bacon as a graduate student at the University of Michigan from 1999 to 2005. There I regularly listened to the “Ticket 1050 AM-WTKA” where I heard all the latest news and commentaries on Michigan sports while working in my graduate research lab. It was lots of fun listening to it all, especially during football season. The knowledge of the on-air personalities and the passion of the callers, many of whom called daily was unlike anything I’d heard before.
I later found that John was a fixture at the University. In addition to his coverage of Michigan Football as a member of the media, he also served as a faculty member, sometimes teaching some of the student-athletes in his classes. As an Ann Arbor native, he had a deep knowledge of the history of the University of Michigan’s athletics – particularly its storied football program.
John U. Bacon has become the official historian of Michigan football. He has authored numerous books, many capturing the history of the University of Michigan’s storied football program, and the current state of college football including:
• Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football; • Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football; • Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football and; • Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership.
Mr. Bacon’s previous two books are: Playing Hurt, which was co-written with ESPN’s John Saunders; and The Great Halifax Explosion in which the story’s main hero is the University of Michigan’s first hockey coach. To learn more about John U. Bacon, his books, and speaking engagements, go to: www.johnubacon.com.
A special thank you is extended to the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, DC for allowing me to cover John U. Bacon’s 2019 visit. Thank you also to John U. Bacon for chronicling the vast and notable history of Michigan’s Football Program.
The University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, DC hosts many events throughout the year for its alumni, in addition to its sports game watches, for which the University and its alumni are well known. If you are a University of Michigan alumnus in the Washington, DC metro area and would like to keep up with the club’s events, please go to www.umdc.org. GO BLUE!!!!
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76 and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. Lastly, please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76 where I discuss Michigan Football in addition to a host of other topics. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
“The coaches at some of the other Yale Cup schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech!”
The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014 and have subsequently began adding to it. As a teen I dreamt of being a basketball player just like a lot of kids – a dream for which one must have lots of ability, drive, and luck to achieve. My experience turned out to be quite the adventure, and I didn’t formally play basketball beyond high school. The lessons I learned there however, not all of them happy and pleasant, helped me as I progressed into adulthood and into my Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. As mentioned, when I began reposting this series, I’ve started working on an ambitious writing project chronicling my early basketball journey in Western New York.
If I’m able to get my project published, one of the things that will be special about it is that it’s a story involving real people. The project has required me to do multiple interviews. It has been both an interesting and fun experience. As noted by well-established authors like John U. Bacon, who has written numerous books on Michigan Football, some people are open to being interviewed and being characters in book projects, while others are reluctant. Some agree and then drop out of contact, while others are difficult to contact. As a writer I now understand why some names must be changed in the final story.
I consider my breakthrough interview to be that of Jason Rowe, which led to interviews with others, and I want to thank everyone who participated; some of whom I’ve never met personally. My interview with Jason was followed by an interview with Coach Pat Monti and then his star guards, Carlos Bradberry and Tim Winn. It’s been a fun ride with at least one more big interview on the way, so stay tuned.
One of the key figures in my story is Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, who was the Head Coach of the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team during my freshman, sophomore and junior years. Before he passed away at the end of 2018, Coach Jones told me that he was okay with being a character in my story. In my piece about his basketball camp, I discussed Coach Jones, what I learned from him and what he meant to me.
That was just my perspective though and I discovered many other points of view on Coach Jones in my research. I actually started learning of other peoples’ views of Coach Jones in my junior season where I hit some personal adversities. My struggles, in part, contributed to our team’s struggling and spiraling out of control that season. During my personal storm one classmate sought me out one day and told me that he disliked Coach Jones because he had ‘cut’ his brother years earlier. It was then that I realized that there were many backstories to Coach’s tenure at Hutch-Tech in addition to the successes he experienced my freshman year.
“Most of the time, when somebody is giving you orders and instructions, if you’re not emotionally ready – if you’ve got your mind on the wrong part, you’re not going to try as hard. You’re not going to be into it. You’re not going to absorb as much,” said a player I’ll call “Curtis” about Coach Jones in my interview with him. Curtis was the ‘engine’ that powered Coach Jones’ 1990-91 city and sectional championship team. He said a lot of powerful things during our interview, but this quote very much applies to the relationship between coaches and players, much which I experienced myself, or witnessed with teammates.
One of the cool things about working on a project where you’re interviewing multiple people is that you get to hear multiple points of view. Amazingly, my interviews for The Engineers revealed that Coach Jones was multiple things to multiple people. While there was a group of us who held him in high reverence, appreciated his teachings and the mentoring he gave us, he had several detractors as well. Again, he was multiple things to multiple people. His detractors fell into three groups, some of which might surprise you.
The first group consisted of some of the other coaches in our league called the “Yale Cup”, which was the league for all the Buffalo Public Schools. For those readers unfamiliar with the Yale Cup in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it consisted of fourteen schools. Three schools that no longer exist today are: Buffalo Traditional, Kensington and Seneca Vocational High School.
The Yale Cup was a poorly funded league which lacked a Junior Varsity (JV) program at all its schools to properly prepare its players for Varsity competition. Coach Jones and the Buffalo News called this a “feeder system”. The result was a 14-team league where all of the teams were run differently, and where all the coaches had varying levels of experience and interest. This led to drastically different levels of coaching and attention to detail. Some of the Varsity coaches (Coach Jones included), ran an informal JV program for no extra pay simply because there was a need for it.
We also played in outdated and antiquated facilities. Many of the gyms in the Yale Cup league looked like antiquated factory storage rooms with peeling paint and old industrial smells. Most of our gyms had solid white backboards without ‘break away’ rims. Only a few of the courts, like those at Grover Cleveland and McKinley for example, had ‘regulation-size’ courts with the proper dimensions. Our old little gym at Hutch-Tech was more of a small box than anything. Someone I interviewed recently jokingly said that Performing Arts’ gym resembled a bit of a bowling alley.
“The coaches at the other schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech,” Coach Jones said during one of our interviews. He shared a lot of things with me that I didn’t know as a teen and probably wouldn’t have understood. There were so many layers – so many things happening at once surrounding the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team in plain sight and behind the scenes. The same is true for Coach Jones’ two immediate successors who I’ll keep anonymous at this time.
One of the hallmarks of Coach Jones’ tenure at Hutch-Tech was his intramural program. The program was for all the boys in the school so that everyone could get taste of competition and where a champion was crowned. More specifically, it allowed Coach Jones to scout the talent in each class. It wasn’t something he was doing for extra pay, but instead it was something for the students and for the school.
“Some of Jones’ players played angry,” a former player also from Coach Jones’ city and sectional championship team who I’ll call “Pep”, said jokingly. My interview with Pep might be my favorite of all of the interviews I’ve done simply because I could hear that he was having so much fun talking about his playing days. In any case, Coach Jones’ second group of detractors were surprisingly on some of his rosters.
Before getting to Hutch-Tech, the program looked like a utopia from the outside. My research though revealed that there were several conflicts and perpetually hurt feelings involving some of Coach Jones’ players. In some instances, there were personality conflicts. In other instances, there were players who felt they had to prove themselves repeatedly and in general felt unappreciated. Some players felt that they didn’t play enough, and others didn’t play at all though they were given roster spots.
The third group of detractors were outside of the team, but in the student body. The individual who stands out the most for this group is the classmate described above, but there were others. The reality in life is that there are winners and losers, and there usually isn’t enough of everything to go around. This particularly applies to a basketball team where a coach can realistically keep up to 18 players, while only being able to play 8-10 regularly.
In short, not every kid at my school who wanted a roster spot got one, and there are any number of reasons for that. I may write another teaser-piece just on the criteria Coach Jones presented on his ‘invite list’. That’s right, during his tenure, you couldn’t just come out for the basketball team, you had to be invited. This cut a lot of kids out of the picture from the start even before having a chance to show him they could dribble the ball, make baskets, play defense or even run one of his offenses.
Why does this all matter? Like the entire story, it was a sample of what was to come throughout the rest of my life in college and then in the adult world. For some of us who earned roster spots and submitted to his coaching, Coach was father figure, a mentor and a leader. Others on his teams felt like his whipping boys and even underappreciated. Other students didn’t feel like they were given a fair chance to play. Some didn’t like his fundamentals-based way of teaching the game. Some of the other coaches in our Yale Cup league thought he was cheating.
This is why interscholastic sports are good teachers going forward in life. Two of the things you learn about in addition to your sport, are people and leadership – neither of which are easy aspects to manage. As a leader, whether it’s a coach, a college professor, a clergyman or a supervisor, not everyone sees you the same way. Depending on our backgrounds, our values, our individual natures, and where our minds are in seasons of our lives, our experiences with that person will vary, and in many instances, vary greatly. It’s also true that because we may see a given person differently, our truths may be different.
Whether it was the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team, my research lab in graduate school, or now within the government agency I work in everyday, there were always individuals charged with leading larger groups or teams. Some people within those teams possess different levels and proficiencies at their crafts. All possess different levels of emotional intelligence. Some are better communicators than others, and some are just better team players than others.
“If I could go back, I would be just as demanding, but more understanding,” Coach Jones said to me several times during our talks. He knew that he drove his players hard and demanded a lot from us. He also concluded that he could’ve been a little more understanding of each player and what they were going through as each of us came from different homes and had different life struggles in our teens.
“If you look at that team that almost made it to Glens Falls, Coach Jones let that team do a lot, but that was all earned. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll let you shoot a three-pointer or a long jump shot outside the offense because I know that we’re playing good enough defense that we’re going to get a possession back,” said a former teammate named “Chris” who played under Coach Jones for four years. Chris was a captain on our team in my sophomore year and a true leader. Some of Coach Jones’ critics thought he was too restrictive and controlling of his teams, particularly on offense.
“When I went to college, I played Division III at the Coast Guard Academy. I didn’t play Varsity, but instead played on the equivalent of our JV squad. We played against a bunch of junior colleges and prep schools. I’ll say that I was able to shoot the ball a lot more,” Chris said. “I look back though, and I think if we were able to play defense like we did in high school, we would’ve been able to keep up with a bunch of those teams. So, shooting the ball wasn’t always the best policy.”
I’ll probably write another teaser-piece just talking about the program Coach Jones created at Hutch-Tech, but for now I’ll just say that if done right, while it can be rewarding, coaching isn’t easy. You must not only have to know your sport and its evolving nuances, but you must also assemble a team of players, develop them and get them to buy into a common goal. That isn’t easy as coaches must also play psychologist, in addition to a quasi-parent in some instances, especially for kids who don’t have fathers or who come from tumultuous homes.
This piece isn’t unique to Coach Jones. He was my coach. If you read my interview with Jason Rowe, Jason stated that while his Coach, Joe Cardinal, was highly scrutinized, his players loved him. Ironically, even though Coach Cardinal was highly criticized, his Bulls coincidentally made deep runs in the post-season play most years. The same is true for Coach Pat Monti who led the LaSalle basketball dynasty. During his 10-year run of dominance leading the LaSalle Explorers, there were numerous critiques about him and his program from the outside. Talking to him and his players on the inside was completely different though.
The first picture used for this post is the schedule for the 1989-90 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pepsi-Cola of Western New York used to create cardboard schedules for the area high school teams in addition to hosting the Al Pastor Memorial Basketball Tournament for a select number of schools. It was Coach Jones’ second season at Hutch-Tech. I was an eighth grader looking to go into high school and was learning about Coach and his teams through my brother Amahl who was a sophomore that year and his Hutch-Tech yearbooks.
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Two of the key focuses of my blog are Athletics/Sports and Health/Wellness. Often times the hobbies we have can affect our qualities of life. Some of them can contribute to creating a much healthier quality of life. The following contributed post is entitled, 4 Relaxing Hobbies You May Not Have Tried Yet!
You’ll know that if you want to look after your wellbeing, your exercise regime should be a top priority. With ample benefits for our physical and mental health, you won’t want to skip out on your get active fix! Sometimes, the gym can get a little boring, especially in the summer when it’s all stuffy and you just want to get outside! In addition to this, when you’ve had a hard week, pounding away on the treadmill doesn’t always feel so calming. If you’re looking for a new sporting hobby that promotes relaxation, you should consider some of these options.
If you are serious about relaxation, yoga is just about the most calming exercise that you can do. You will learn about breathing techniques, meditation, and mindfulness to help calm your mind and focus on the present moment. Yoga is often practiced to relaxing music or accompanied with incense and candles to ease your senses. Yoga also provides so many excellent benefits for the body, from improving your core strength to your posture and flexibility. You can find a local yoga studio, or self-teach via online videos if you would prefer.
Activities which we can do on the water can be largely therapeutic. SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) is relaxing because you have to use lots of concentration and focus to balance and move across the water. Paddleboarding is another excellent activity to work on your core strength and tone your muscles. Be warned it’s not in fact as simple as it looks, but with a little practice, you could soon become a pro!
Archery is an excellent sport to destress because, like yoga, it focuses on your ability to stay with the present moment, focus, and persist. Many people find that aiming and hitting a target with precision allows them to expel tension from their bodies and minds. You can play archery outdoors so you’ll be boosting your endorphins with both nature and the sunlight. When you are starting out, you will need to figure out what kind of equipment you will need. As a beginner, you’ll need to find the right kind of bow. Some people also like to add a bow stabilizer, to help them to perfect their archery skills.
Taking up hiking is an excellent way to relax and experience some beautiful places. You will destress, burn calories, and connect with nature. What’s more, hiking has a huge social aspect as you can hike with friends or join a local hikers group if you don’t have any takers! If you don’t have any worthy hiking destinations near you, why not find one further afield, hop on a train and make a day of it!
Sometimes it can be hard to know how to destress after a long week at work, but before you reach for the TV remote why not give one of these a try and see if you learn some new skills and relax in the process!