Sometimes things come together all at once and that is the case for this essay. As I was finishing up edits for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, I did a broadcast on my science and technology YouTube channel for Black History Month. It focused on the Physicist Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr. and his peers. I started the broadcast by noting that I struggled with Physics during my junior year of high school, an important part of the story arc in my book.
I further noted that having the right Physics teacher can make all the difference in the world. Dr. Gates stated the same thing in the interview with him I read during the broadcast. He shared that an early Physics teacher inspired him to start his storied journey using an intriguing physics demonstration/experiment for he and his classmates. The sum of all of this was the genesis for this essay discussing learning Physics, and the critical role teachers play when giving instruction on the Grandfather of all the sciences.
My Physics teacher at Hutch-Tech High School six years earlier was Mr. Kenneth Boudreau. As you can deduce from his name he was of French descent. He was a skinny man who typically wore a white button down shirt, fitted black slacks and black shoes. He had gray hair, a gray beard and wore glasses. He could have been your stereotypical government scientist at NASA or any observatory. Everyday he brought a thermos to class and seemed to be wired on caffeine. A classmate actually joked once that he never blinked. Finally I noticed that he frequently popped chewable antacids in his mouth. He was in fact robot-like and spoke in a monotone way.
Our Teacher’s Level of Effectiveness
“It is that simple folks!” Every time Mr. Boudreau explained something to us or showed us a calculation on the board, he ended by enthusiastically saying, “It is that simple!” I only remember a few things from that entire year under his instruction. I remember an initial lesson on scalars and vectors. I also remember hearing the word Mechanics which was the chapter dealing with the movement of objects, impulses and velocities. I am certain the Electrical Technology and Mechanical Technology majors at Hutch-Tech remember more. They had to as Physics was the basis of their majors. The Electrical Engineering majors particularly had to understand electrical potentials, currents and resistance.
“Is there a way you can make this more exciting and interesting?” I also recall a classmate asking our teacher potentially the most important part of learning Physics, especially for beginners. As described later, Physics is a calculation intensive science and unless you know why you are doing those calculations, it is easy to get lost. While our teacher knew his calculations and formulas, there were not many demonstrations so we could see their applications.
By the way I am not sharing these stories to beat up on Mr. Boudreau. As I will describe later, he did something very important for me towards the end of that year. That said, making classroom material interesting is a larger educational skill and transcends Physics. It goes for pretty much every subject.
I also struggled with Physical Science in the eighth grade at Campus West, the precursor to Physics. The teacher was also a little on the dry side. He shared the same last name as a famous singer from the group ‘The Rat Pack’ whose first name was Frank. Okay it was Dr. Sinatra. I excelled at Life Science the previous year under another teacher who brought a lot of enthusiasm and creativity to our classes. That was Mr. Radamacher. My undergraduate Physics professor at Johnson C. Smith University also did not make the subject particularly interesting either but at that point, I knew how to approach the class.
Early Struggles and Gradual Progress
My junior year was marked by a mysterious injury suffered when running cross-country, a basketball season that came off the rails, and struggles in both Course 3 Math and Physics. While I struggled early in Physics, my math grade was average but dipped during the adversity from my basketball season. After my basketball season came to its early finish, my math grade rebounded once I refocused.
“Physics is a different way of looking at the world,” my father said over the phone during my struggles. He majored in Physics in college but there was minimal help he could give from five hours away with no internet. I did not understand his riddle immediately but I eventually figured it out.
My progress in Physics was incremental after starting off with a grade in the high 60s after that first semester. As described in my essay entitled, The Keys To Learning College Level Physics, once I sat down and started going over the materials and the problems, things started making sense. I wrote a similar piece about Chemistry. Physics was a quantitative science and it was calculation intensive. There was a formula for most of the principles whether it was a car accelerating or a rocket jettisoning into space. Once you understood the principles you could identify which formula to use. You could then plug in the numbers given in the word problem. Oh yes, all of the problems were word problems, so reading comprehension was also critical. Afterwards it was simple Algebra as Mr. Boudreau stated.
Turning Things Around
“I want to congratulate you for turning things around this year! You have made a lot of progress!” Late in the year, Mr. Boudreau sought me out in one of our classes. I sat in the back of the room goofing off with some classmates. He watched me struggle in his class early that year. He further observed when the switch turned on for me and when I started to understand things. I did not become the top student in the class by any means, but I was no longer scraping the bottom either. His acknowledgement of my progress was his greatest gift to me from teacher to student. It was an encouragement that I never forgot. It was an important step for me academically and in my future education and career as a scientist.
Understanding the Applications of Physics
As I end this essay, I want to acknowledge that teaching is one of the hardest professions out there. It can be exponentially more difficult depending on the district you are in and the students you have. It is a profession I do not know if I have the patience for. There are several factors that go into how well a student performs in a particular class. The teacher is just one of them. In some instances outside factors can impact how students learn. In some instances like mine, the seeds are planted early but do not bloom until later.
Regardless, for a class like Physics, I think using real world applications is critical for learning it, especially for beginners. Years later while volunteering at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium, I saw firsthand why planetariums and fulldome shows are important, especially for young people. I further understood the advantages kids who attend them regularly have over those who do not. Planetariums and fulldome shows about outer space spark curiosity and the imagination. They also show how subjects like Physics are applied. They show that the calculations can be fun.
One such kid who got to attend a planetarium regularly was Raphael Perrino. I met Raphael through his father Ralph whose tutoring company I worked in for a little while. Eventually all three of us worked together while volunteering in the group, The Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium. After finishing his education, Raphael started working in the aerospace industry. He was gracious enough to agree to the interview on my science and technology YouTube channel below. Early in the discussion, he acknowledged his high school Physics teacher and trained actor Dean Howarth, another planetarium volunteer, for creatively, effectively and enthusiastically teaching him and his classmates.
Basketball, Physics and Life: What’s the Connection?
As discussed in the opening of this piece, my early struggles with Physics was a part of my early basketball journey chronicled in my two-part book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. As I went through my struggles, my coach at the time Ken Jones suggested tutoring by one of our team captains who also did not finish out that year. He will remain anonymous. Me and this captain were not particularly close and when I called him seeking his help, he did not respond in a way that encouraged me to further pursue his help. I thus took a risk and decided to figure it out on my own.
When I look back on the whole thing, a couple of things come to mind. The first thing I think about is my lack of mental toughness. Our basketball season hung in the balance and I should have done whatever I needed to do to keep myself academically eligible even if it meant a little bit of joking and ridicule. It was a two-way street though, and the second thing I thought about is that winning teams are cohesive units that stick together. Thus If a teammate is struggling, it is important for teammates who have the ability to help, to help them for the good of the team.
This concludes this piece. Thank you for reading it if you did. Some of the images used in this essay were lifted from an issue of Understanding Physics. If you have a child or know one who is struggling in a course like Physics, you might also consider getting a tutor. As described earlier, I worked in the tutoring world for a little while. It was fun coaching struggling students up and it generated some extra income for me. Also consider visiting your local planetarium or nearby science demonstrations. You might help that struggling student by doing so, and you may inspire the next great scientist! Best regards.
The Big Words LLC Newsletter
For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from my writer’s blog and this blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at email@example.com. Best regards.
“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.
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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 Western New York players and coaches 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 (pictured). 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.
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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.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. 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 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. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled Big Discussions76. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.
“Me, Jody, Shino and Fat Jack were all inseparable – we were always together. I wanted to see them do as well as, or better, than me or anybody else.”
This is the conclusion of my two-part interview with Niagara Falls LaSalle High School basketball legend, Carlos Bradberry. In part one, Carlos discussed his background, how he started playing basketball, and how he became one of the legendary point guards in the LaSalle basketball dynasty. In part two we talk about his senior year at LaSalle where he led the Explorers to Glens Falls, his college career, and then life after basketball.
The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball, carefully 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 Carlos himself, and his Head Coach at LaSalle Senior High School, Pat Monti. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.
Anwar Dunbar: After the season-ending loss to Greece-Athena your junior season, what was your mentality going into your senior year? Was it, ‘Glens Falls or bust?’
Carlos Bradberry: Yes, it was Glens Falls or bust. There was no other thought in our minds besides getting to Glens Falls. We weren’t thinking about local teams. Our biggest rival was Niagara Falls Senior High School, and everybody thought it was a huge game. It wasn’t for us at that time. Our whole goal was Glens Falls from day one.
AD: Well, I recall you guys having one shocker against Kenmore West in league play.
CB: It was almost two. They played us really close in the sectionals too. They were a good team. They had Rob Fitchlee, Shawn Bryan and Joe Thomas – they were stacked. I think we played them three times that year, and I’d say that all three games were close and none of them were blow outs. They were really good!
AD: Well you know that was the big story and it was like, ‘LaSalle lost!’ So, it sounds like they were legitimately talented, and you guys didn’t just overlook them.
CB: No. They were loaded. They would’ve gone to Glens Falls almost any other year. They ended our win streak. St. Joe’s had a ‘monster’ win streak of their own with Eric Eberz and Jeff Muszynski. Kenmore West ended theirs as well – both in the same year. That was Dick Harvey’s team.
AD: I was watching the 1993 Class B-1 sectional final between Amherst and Kenmore East once again at Alumni Arena. Towards the end of that game, you guys walked in as a group and sat right in front of me. I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh boy. LaSalle is here!’ Just as that game was ending, you got up in a business-like fashion and went on to defeat Hamburg and the rest is history.
So, your team beat Kenmore West in the Class A semifinal 61-51 and beat Hamburg 61-42 in the Class A final to win Section VI yet again. Did you feel confident matching up with Section V’s McQuaid? That game was at Rochester War Memorial Arena. Aside from losing Shino Ellis and Willie Cole, you basically returned with the same core group with the addition of Tim Winn.
CB: I’d say confident, but for me leery. My last memory of McQuaid was going out there and getting ‘stomped’ a few years earlier. I wondered how good these guys were and I knew that they had a big guy. I think his name was Jay Wandtke or something like that and he was 6’6” or 6’7”. Obviously, he wasn’t on John Wallace’s level, but I was thinking they had a big guy and I wondered how we were going to match up.
AD: So, it did end up being a close game. The Buffalo News reported that Todd hit a last second late shot and –.
CB: Yes. Todd hit a huge shot from the elbow to give us the 46-45 win.
AD: And you guys advanced to the Final Four in Glens Falls where you matched up with Hempstead from Long Island. You lost a close game to them, 70-67. What was it like getting there? Was it, ‘We’re here,’ and you were happy to just do that or –.
CB: No, we wanted to win. It was huge for us to get there, but as soon as we won that McQuaid game, our focus was, ‘Man you know what, let’s go down there and win this thing!’ I’d never heard of Hempstead before, but I’d always heard about how good Mount Vernon was. Our mentality was to go down there and beat Mount Vernon or whomever we were going to play. All of us were beyond happy to get to Glens Falls, but we weren’t settling for that.
AD: Obviously you want to win the whole thing, but the way it ended, were you satisfied with your senior season?
CB: I was satisfied, but I hate to lose so that last game wore on me for a long time. I probably sat there for a week or two and thought of every play I could’ve done differently. I still remember it to this day. We lost by three points and I missed five or six free throws. I said to myself, ‘If I’d made those six free throws, we would have won the game!’
For me it was bitter-sweet because we got there and showed well, but I thought we could have gone one step further. What made it worse was, I think Hempstead either won or had a very close game with Mount Vernon. I thought we could’ve been the state champs if I’d played a little bit better.
CB: I think we just came out and got into a hole. I think we feared their size and played zone against them. We didn’t really think they could shoot it, but they came out and shot it in the first half. We eventually went to our ‘pressure’ defense and they started turning the ball over left and right. Looking at them warmup, how athletic they were, and how quick they looked, that was one team I can say that I was intimidated by. But man, once we started playing and we got through that lull where they jumped on us, I thought from that point we could win. I thought they had some Division I players and some good guards, but I thought as a team we were better.
AD: Before we move on, how did Coach Monti pick his captains? Was it his best two players? Was it his most senior players?
CB: I’m pretty sure it was always upperclassmen. It wasn’t a team vote or anything. In my freshman year I want to say that it was Milo Small and Duke Davis, who were seniors. Sophomore year it probably fell to Modie, Scotty Rose and my brother. It was always your junior and senior guys who’d been through it. In my junior year I was a Co-Captain with Shino.
AD: Who was Co-Captain with you in your senior year?
CB: I believe it was myself, Chris Frank and maybe Curtis Ralands.
AD: When we played you guys in the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament, I remember you consistently ‘slashing’ to the basket. What was your game like by the time you graduated from LaSalle?
CB: I spent a lot of time over the summer shooting and I came back as a ‘respectable’ three-point shooter. I was hitting a couple of threes every game, so I was mixing it in more than my junior year when I was just getting to the basket. I knew for me I wanted to play at the college level. It was funny because we would go down to the YMCA and we used to have these unbelievable runs on Saturdays with guys who were in their 30s and 40s. I’d go to the basket every play and they would just ‘hammer’ me. They’d say, ‘Listen, you’re not going to be able to get to the basket on everybody! You’re going to have to learn how to shoot!’ Those guys had a point and it made you get in the gym and work on your jump shot.
AD: Do you remember what your best game was?
CB: One of the games that sticks out was against Lockport. It was probably my junior year. We were down 10-12 points in the third or fourth quarter of a sectional game. We were going to lose and that was huge because we hadn’t lost a game up to that point. They had a guy on their team named Calvin Shellman who was really good. I scored 17 of out of 30 points in the fourth quarter to help us come back and beat them. That’s probably the game that sticks out to me in high school, just off the top of my head.
Also, a game against Niagara Falls in my sophomore year sticks out. Modie had an ankle injury and no one thought we could win without him. I was scared out of my mind because Modie was our guy. I played shooting guard that season, but I had to play point guard in that game. It was a low scoring, tight game. I went to the free throw line with zero seconds on the clock and hit two free throws with all the Niagara Falls High School fans lined up under the basket to win the game. It was crazy because they stormed the court and thought they won the game. Then the court had to be cleared and I had to shoot two free throws with no one else on the court.
AD: Based upon the way that the players were brought up and the way Coach Monti ran the team, it sounds like your teams had good ‘chemistry’ together, and that you guys were a pretty tight group.
CB: The majority of us were always together doing something. It’s funny now because you see some kids and teams that are really disconnected. We were sort of like a family. There were always four guys over my house, or I was always over someone else’s house – nine out of your 11 guys were doing something together.
AD:Tim said that he was over at your place playing video games regularly. It’s strange. I don’t know if it’s organic, but on some teams if no one explains it to you, you don’t realize that chemistry off the court is important as well.
CB: It’s huge! It makes you trust people. It makes you like people more. It makes you want to make something happen for that next guy and they become more than just some guy you’re playing basketball with for two hours a day. They’re almost like you brother or your cousin. Me, Jody, Shino and Fat Jack were all inseparable – we were always together. I wanted to see them do as well as, or better, than me or anybody else.
AD: You said it was yourself, Jody, Shino and who else?
CB: It was me, Jody, and Fat Jack – Tim. (“Fat Jack” as we called him).
AD: Why did you guys call him Fat Jack?
CB: Oh, that’s his name. Everybody knows him as Fat Jack. If somebody calls him Tim, it’s rare. If you’re around Niagara Falls or Buffalo, he’s Fat Jack. That’s been his name since he was younger which was funny because he was the skinniest kid growing up. But those were the guys. Obviously, Shino is a year older than me, so he graduated a year earlier; and Curtis, obviously. That was our other guy. It was crazy how we were all close.
AD: Was there anyone you looked particularly forward to playing against?
CB: Definitely, Calvin Shellman. He was younger than me by a year and played at Lockport, but he was amazing. I don’t know if you remember Anthony Scott from Grand Island. He went on to play football at the University at Buffalo (UB). He was the biggest trash talker in Western New York, so I looked forward to playing against him. We were friends, but those were two of the guys who I looked forward to playing against.
Eric Eberz, from St. Joe’s, was a guy I looked forward to playing against, but never got to play against him in high school. We used to play on some ‘travel’ teams together, and we always used to talk about who was better between St. Joe’s and LaSalle. However, we never got a chance to play each other. So probably, it was those three guys.
AD: Now the Buffalo News captured how fierce the Niagara Falls High School-LaSalle rivalry was and your team owned it for the most part. I read in one of the clippings that at one point a fight broke out. What was the most surprising thing you saw when you played at LaSalle? Was it the fight? Was is someone getting cut? Was it playing against John Wallace? Was it something else?
CB: The rivalry with Niagara Falls was different than anything. A lot of things stuck out. You had hundreds of people outside the gym who couldn’t get in. You had guys looking through windows to try to watch games. That’s something you didn’t see every day around Western New York. Even though we had good crowds, that game was just different. To us it was crazy because we felt like we were never going to lose to Niagara Falls High School.
We had the confidence. We knew the guys and we played against them every day, so we knew we were the better team; but when you got into that environment it was just nuts. It was people on top of people. People stand on the baseline, and it sort of made a lot of the games ugly. We probably didn’t play some our best ‘LaSalle’ games, because at that point you hear everybody in the town screaming and yelling your name. and everyone was trying to make a name for themselves. That’s what sticks out – those Niagara Falls High School games for sure.
AD: Does that mean that during those games, you guys ‘freelanced’ a little bit more and broke from the structure?
CB: Yeah, and I’m sure that Coach Monti would agree. I don’t think he was happy with some of those games. Some of them were ugly and they were the one game out of the year where we didn’t follow the game plan to a ‘T’. The one we played during my sophomore year – that’s when we had Duke and Milo. Niagara Falls High School complained that we always played in our home gym just because it was so much bigger and could accommodate more fans. And they had a right to complain. Their coach at the time kept complaining and we finally played at Niagara Falls High School which is another one of the more meaningful games that sticks out.
We went there, and this was a team with Willie Cauley, who was unbelievably talented. We walked into their gym – the little ‘box’ that they had, and it was supposed to be a close game. We ended up beating them by 40 points. We just ran our offense to the T – everything we did was perfect and after that, they never asked to play there again. It was crazy.
AD:Coach Monti did say that their teams were bigger and more talented, but you guys still owned the rivalry/series.
CB: They were always bigger and had a few better athletes. Willie Cauley was on their team all our years and he was the best player on the court talent-wise every year. It was amazing.
AD: What kind of student were you when you were at LaSalle? It sounds like Coach Monti kept a tight rein on how his players performed in the classroom.
CB: There were progress reports every week that you had to turn in – even when it wasn’t basketball season.
AD: Really? Wow.
CB: You had to be on top of your grades and it wasn’t just your 65s, getting by and passing classes – it was basically to your ability. If you were a 70s kid, Coach Monti expected you to get 70s. If you were an 80s kid, he expected you to get 80s. I was an ‘80s kid’ in high school. I know Jody was a 90s kid and if he had brought in 80s, Coach Monti probably wouldn’t have been happy – do you know what I mean? There wasn’t one grade that everyone had to get. He knew what kids were capable of and that’s what he expected you to get.
AD: When did the colleges start recruiting you?
CB: I was a ‘late bloomer’ – it was the end of my junior year and really it coincided with the start of AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball. Mickey Walker used to run “Upstate Basketball” which was basically an AAU team. He took me on my first few tournaments going from my junior to my senior year. That’s when I really started to get interest from some schools.
I wasn’t heavily recruited. I had around seven interested schools. Most of them were from going out just that little time in the summer with Mickey. I know Fat Jack (Tim Winn) ended up playing later for him as AAU kept getting bigger and bigger. So basically, it was more the middle of eleventh grade.
CB: Locally it was Canisius College, where John Beilein coached, that showed me the most interest from day one. St. Bonaventure recruited me, but they didn’t make me an offer, and that’s where I wanted to go locally. I probably wasn’t an Atlantic 10 Conference-level kid, though I didn’t know it at the time.
I was more of a MAAC- level kid, which included both Niagara University and Canisius College. There were some teams from outside the MAAC like Marist and Maryland-Eastern Shore. Canisius and Marist were probably the earliest in terms of recruiting me.
CB: This is a great story as well. I loved Canisius, Coach Beilein and Coach McDonald who is now a local Head Coach at Daemen College, but I was young, and I was waiting for that big school to come, which was never coming. It was getting late, and Canisius had been recruiting me for my whole eleventh and twelfth grade years and I think it was around the time of the Final Four.
I talked to another one of the coaches and he said, ‘Hey, we’ve got another guy on hold for the whole year. You’re our No. 1 guy,’ but they wanted me to give them a commitment and it was halftime of that Final Four game and I kept going back and forth on them. I called Coach McDonald after the Final Four game the next day because I was going to go to Canisius. I told them, ‘Hey, how is everything going?’ He said, ‘We really didn’t think we were going to hear from you, so we signed another point guard.’ At that point they said, ‘Your offer is still here. We want you here,’ but then I called Niagara a minute later and just told them I was coming there.
And the other thing – the sticking point for me, which was just being young and dumb, was that Canisius had a good senior point guard that I knew I was going to have to play behind named Dana “Binky” Johnson. Coach Beilein let you know, ‘You’re going to come in and you’re going to learn as a freshman. You’re going to play under him, but we’re going to groom you to be our next point guard!’ Niagara University had just lost their point guard – a kid named Lloyd Walker and they told me, ‘Hey, you can come here and start right away!’
So that’s where I was torn. As a young kid all you want to hear is that you’re going to go to a college and start right away. So, while my heart sort of knew that Canisius was the right place and I loved Canisius, Niagara came into the picture later. With a coach coming and telling me that I would start my freshman year – I just went with it.
It was funny because guys like Coach Monti – he wouldn’t tell me what to do, but he told me, ‘Hey I think Canisius is a good fit for you.’ My Dad also said Canisius was a great fit and I thought it was a great fit too. It’s just that when you’re a kid turning 18 years old, you just want to play, and you don’t think about all the other stuff involved. I ended up leaving Niagara, but I loved the time that I was there and the guys I played with were great. I don’t regret anything about the way that it worked.
AD: Well, hey man, after talking to Jason Rowe and Tim Winn, it sounds like there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of things to consider when kids are getting recruited. Playing time was one thing you described as important, in addition to how much the schools seem to want you, while also recruiting other players at your position.
CB: Yes, it’s confusing especially for a kid – you sort of want someone to make that decision for you. My Dad told me what he wanted, but he said, ‘Listen, you’ve got to make this decision on your own! I’ll tell you what I think, but you’ve got to make your own decision!’ Sometimes when you’re 17 and 18, you’re not going to make the right decision.
AD: When you went to New Hampshire, you were obviously with another coaching staff. Were there major differences in playing at New Hampshire versus playing at Niagara?
CB: Oh yeah! It was just a whole different approach. I’m not saying one was better than the other, but it was two different systems. One was ‘night’ and one was ‘day’. It’s tough because I had a to sit out a year and when you sit out, you get ‘rusty’ because you don’t really play. You practice, but you don’t play in games for a whole year, and then you come in and you’re in a whole different system. It was a different role than I ever had to play before when I ended up at New Hampshire.
AD: Were you playing the ‘point guard’ position, or did you slide over to ‘shooting guard’?
CB: I played the point guard position at both Niagara and New Hampshire. At Niagara you’re young and dumb. You’re playing in front of your hometown and friends are telling you stuff. At Niagara I had a ‘long leash’ as a freshman and as a sophomore, but maybe I wasn’t doing as well as people thought I was as I wasn’t putting the numbers up. I thought I could and should be doing more so I wound up leaving and going to New Hampshire where the coach was more of a ‘You’re going to be more of a guy to set up our offense and get us into this spot,’’ -type of guy. I learned how to play it in two years and I don’t regret going there either.
CB: No. At Niagara University we were young. We would have been good if everyone had stayed. In my freshman year, we brought in seven freshman which was nuts. Three or four them ended up starting. I think if we could have stayed together until our junior year, we would’ve had a special group at Niagara, but four of the seven ended up leaving. At New Hampshire we just weren’t a very good team. The America East was just a really tough conference and we were a few games under 0.500, so we never got the chance to go to the NCAA Tournament.
CB: Yep. Malik Rose was Drexel’s big man and he was a ‘monster’, but yes, it was tough conference.
AD: Well, you know coincidentally, the first time I ever saw Malik Rose play was the opening round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament when Drexel matched up against John Wallace’s Syracuse team. What did you major in?
CB: Social Work.
AD: Did you have any aspirations of playing professional basketball the way Tim Winn and Jason Rowe did?
CB: No, I had no aspirations to play overseas at all. Nothing interested me about going to another country to play ball.
AD: Is Social Work what you got into once you graduated?
CB: No, I came back and started working in the school system in the Department of Special Education. Unless you get a Master’s Degree, you’re not making too much money in Social Work. My wife is also in the school system and it’s good for our family – to work for the school district and to have our kids come through it. We always have an eye on them and it’s been great.
AD: Okay, well I guess this is a good transition into your kids. We’re Facebook friends now and it looks like your son is following in your footsteps. Did you have expectations for him and put the ball in his hands as a baby? How did he start playing?
CB: So, Jalen is my middle child and he’s a ‘basketball nut’. He played in his first tournament at six years old, and he’s been playing ever since. I’ve got a daughter who is older. She was never really into sports. My younger son never really got into it. My things is that you can’t make kids do something or put them in something they don’t really want to do. My middle one just picked up on it early and loved it.
AD: I saw the video footage of you working him out, and I saw that you took him out to Syracuse for a camp I believe. Are you ‘hands off’ father, or are you ‘hands on’ and coaching him all the time?
CB: Well (laughing), I had an AAU team for years and I had the chance to coach a lot of really good kids who are mostly now juniors and sophomores in high school. I started the team probably when our kids were around fifth grade and I coached a group of really good kids from Niagara Falls and Buffalo. You know what, when you get to a certain point, you’ve got to let go of coaching your own kid, being the Head Coach and doing the whole thing.
My goal was to let that go once he became a freshman which was last year and have him go play for a bigger program that’s not a local program and not me coaching him. So, this last year he started playing with the “Albany City Rocks” which is our only Nike-sponsored team in the state other than teams in New York City. So, he started playing with those guys.
AD: And it looks like Jalen is playing for Niagara Falls High School?
AD: Does he know how good you were? Has he heard the legends of Coach Pat Monti, the LaSalle Explorers, Eric Gore, Michael Starks and the ten-year dynasty?
CB: He hears about it and I wouldn’t say that I’m hands off. We were in the gym just before you called. I’ll get him in and do his workouts. I’m basically his ‘rebounding machine’ – I’ll run around and chase his balls for him. I’ll do that, but other than that, at this point you want to get him around other people. He’s older and it’s time for me to turn it over to somebody else.
AD: On Monday, I saw you say that you had a game. Was that him playing or do you still play?
CB: For Niagara Falls High School, I’m going to be an assistant coach. A couple of kids are coming from Jalen’s old school and it’s good that we got them in a league so that they can start to mix in with the other players and get a feel for each other. Hopefully when November comes, everybody will know each other a little bit better. I was previously an Assistant Coach at Niagara Falls High School and I took a couple of years off when Jalen started middle school.
AD: Okay, Carlos, we’re almost done. I can see from Facebook that you still literally eat, sleep and breathe the game, and I see you frequently posting about today’s players, their skill level, and what kids don’t know how to do. How has the game changed since the early 1990s when we were out there playing? Is the game more about shooting like Steph Curry and the Warriors? What are you seeing? Are the kids less tough?
CB: It’s funny, because I get into arguments with guys about this because I say that I know that if I was in high school right now, with the same skill level I had in high school, I would’ve never been a Division I player today. These kids are so skilled at a young age now that it’s unbelievable. So, when I say that to the older guys and they start talking about Jordan and Bird – yeah, pros are pros – pros are going to be unbelievable – they’re all skilled and they’re all great.
I tell guys that, to me, this generation is so much more skilled than ours. Now the flipside, and I’ll probably get a knock for this, I think our generation was intellectually more ahead of these guys. I think so much time gets spent today on skill work and one-on-one training that it doesn’t translate into ‘team’ basketball. You’re individually always working with a trainer, working on your handle, and working on your shot. You’re working on all of these individual skills, whereas back in the day we were just playing, so we just learned how to play the game a little bit better.
So, I think they’re more skilled. They’re way stronger than we were – the athleticism is just ridiculous across the board and that’ my take on it. The younger kids’ skill level is just ridiculous compared to what we were back in the day.
CB: And just watching my son and other kids – we have a lot of other kids who are amazing. You go to some of these events and you have younger and older kids. I can tell you right now that we weren’t playing against kids that were doing some of the stuff these kids are doing now.
AD: In terms of athleticism and dunking?
CB: I’m talking about skill set. You’ve got 6’9” guys who can handle the ball like point guards. The post-game isn’t seen anymore, which I think is a bad sign, but I just think individual skills are way higher than they were back when we played in high school. I look at the teams we played on, the guys I played with, myself included – I couldn’t do half the stuff I see ninth and tenth graders doing now.
AD: Where were you when you heard LaSalle was going to be demolished and how did you feel about it?
CB: Ah man. When was that, 2000? I was back here from New Hampshire and I was devastated just because LaSalle was so much more than a basketball team. It was like a family and I don’t mean just your basketball guys. It was a family in terms of your friends and the people you grew up with. LaSalle was a tight knit school. There wasn’t much violence or fights or all that crazy stuff going on. When you heard that it was breaking up, you felt like things were going to change. I’m not just talking about basketball, but in general; it was just something that I felt was bad for our city.
AD: So, aside from the LaSalle basketball dynasty going away, has there been an effect on the city?
CB: When you’re relating it to sports, I look at it as having a negative effect. It’s funny, because every year you hear parents, friends and people who have issues and say, ‘Hey there’s a lot of favoritism going on at this high school because our kid didn’t make the team, or this kid didn’t make that team!’ They don’t realize that you combined these two schools (LaSalle and Niagara Falls Senior High Schools) so you used to have 24-26 spots, and now you can only grab 12 kids.
I think it has taken away from our kids from an athletic standpoint where you have a lot of kids walking around that high school now that are really good at some sports, but unfortunately, there are 12 guys better than them. Do you know what I mean? I think it’s just negatively impacted it in that way and I thought just having the option of two different schools was something that gave a lot of kids more options and a better chance than they have now.
AD: Okay. For any youngster aspiring to play basketball or to achieve any other life goal, what advice would you give them?
CB: The first one is that you must have the books over everything. Being from Buffalo and up in the Falls, you see so much talent wasted because kids aren’t there academically. There are a million stories of guys who didn’t get out (of the neighborhood) and were amazing in any sport, and my thing is that education must be first. You’ve got to get that education and you’ve got to work hard in the classroom.
Then obviously, with the sports part, you can’t cheat it. There are those rare guys who are born good at something, but you can’t cheat the process. You’ve got to get into the gym, and you’ve got to work at it. It’s a grind and you’ve got to be in there really working at whatever your goal is almost daily now. And really those are it. I think we’ve had a lot of guys from around here go off to college and play and it shows that if you really put your time in and you do your work in the classroom, you can get out of here.
AD: Is there anything you would change about your playing days?
CB: My playing days? No, nothing at all.
AD: Well, Carlos, unless you have any other comments or stories, we are at the end. I really appreciate this. One thing that will be evident from my interviews with you, Tim and Coach Monti, is that while you guys were the team that everyone was trying to beat, I developed a lot of respect for LaSalle basketball and what you all accomplished. I’ll also try to catch a Niagara Falls High School game when I’m back there over the Holidays.
CB: Okay, great, thanks.
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
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“Our whole family, including my cousins, was a basketball family and I just grew up watching basketball.”
The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key aspect 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 Section VI, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s western-most section, laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my career in science.
I’m currently working on a project chronicling my early basketball journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Section VI basketball players and coaches from my era. On September 26, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Carlos Bradberry – one of the many great guards in Coach Pat Monti’s LaSalle basketball dynasty. Carlos was the floor general for the Explorers following Michael Starks and Modie Cox, and then prior to the ascension of Tim Winn, Jody Crymes and Terry Rich.
In part one of this two-part interview Carlos discusses his background, how he started playing basketball, and how he became one of the legendary point guards in Section VI and the LaSalle basketball dynasty. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball, carefully 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 Carlos himself, and his Head Coach at LaSalle Senior High School, Pat Monti. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.
Anwar Dunbar: Hello, Carlos. First, thank you for telling your story. As you know I wrote some pieces on Coach Monti and Tim Winn. I’m a blogger and, as you may also know, I’m writing a book about my high school basketball experience and what that taught me about success and failure in life. The experience of high school basketball was my first attempt at effecting a personal goal and it set the stage for everything else.
To make the story as authentic as possible I wanted talk to some of the other Section VI players from that era – teammates and opponents to see what their experiences were. This is relevant because LaSalle was the premiere program in Section VI for 10-12 years and for a stretch of that, you were the guy. Also, when I started this project, I actually said to myself, ‘It would be great to interview Carlos Bradberry,’ as you were a member of the ‘All-Western New Your First Team’ during my sophomore and junior seasons.
Before we start, I have a quick story. We played your team in the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament in the opening round. You guys handled us by about 30 points (laughing). My story is one of discovery, so I was literally figuring everything out as I went along. The day before the game, just after our Coach gave us the scouting report, one of my teammates said as we were leaving the gym, ‘We’re not going to beat LaSalle!’ I wondered how he could say such a thing. The next day as the game gradually unfolded, I saw his point (laughing). I remember you slashing to the basket repeatedly, and the announcer calling your name repeatedly. I developed a respect for you after that game and kept my eye on what you were doing.
With that, let’s start. Where is the Bradberry family from? Are you all from Niagara Falls or somewhere else?
Carlos Bradberry: My grandfather is from Alabama, but we’re for the most part, from here.
AD: Don’t you have an older brother named Cazzie?
CB: Yes. Cazzie is two years older than me. He graduated with Modie Cox, Scotty Rose, and Anthony Wallace – those guys.
AD: How old were you when you started playing basketball?
CB: I was eight or nine when I started playing in the Boys Club, which was a ‘rite of passage’ for everyone in Niagara Falls back then. It was the only thing going on. If you were anybody playing basketball, you came through the ‘Biddy Leagues’ or the Boys Club. I played for the actual Boys Club team.
AD: Was your Dad a basketball player? Did you see your older brother play and wanted to play as well, or did you just naturally want to play?
CB: I think my Dad was a good high school football and basketball player. My Dad’s playing days were done by the time I became interested in basketball. Our whole family, including my cousins, was a basketball family and I just grew up watching basketball.
My Dad used to take us to high school games when Trott-Vocational was really good back in the day. We’d go to see Trott and Niagara Falls play. That’s what really got me going and it was just a family thing. Basketball was it for my cousins and me. My cousins always played, so I was always playing with them.
AD: I think I saw in one of the Buffalo News stories that there was a Niagara Falls Senior High School player who also had the last name Bradberry. Did you have a cousin over there?
CB: I had two cousins over there – Darien and Cortez. They graduated the same year as my brother in 1991.
AD: This is fascinating because what I’m gathering is that Niagara Falls was a much smaller community compared to Buffalo which had 14 high schools and the city was bigger, so not everyone knew each other. It sounds like you guys all knew each other, and you were all playing together, even before you got to the high school level.
CB: Yes, everybody knew each other, and everybody played together. Growing up I didn’t know where I was going to play because of how they had the school districts sectioned off. I lived within walking distance to Niagara Falls Senior High School, but they bused us to LaSalle.
I was a LaSalle kid and it was miles and miles away from my house. I didn’t really know until I reached middle school – I went to LaSalle Middle School instead of Gaskill. Gaskill was the other middle school at the time, and it still is.
AD: What was it called?
CB: Gaskill. So primarily those kids went to Niagara Falls Senior High School, and the LaSalle Middle School kids obviously when to LaSalle Senior High School.
AD: I discussed the Biddy Leagues with Tim Winn. We had middle school teams in Buffalo, but it sounds like Niagara Falls did not have those. And so everyone played in the Biddy Leagues until you were ready to play in one of the two Junior Varsity (JV) programs. Were guys getting quality coaching in the Biddy Leagues or did they just throw the balls out there and let you run around?
CB: It’s funny. We always had the older guys who knew basketball. I know that Mike Hamilton, who is a referee now, coached me primarily when I was in the Biddy Leagues. He’s a real ‘basketball’ guy. There was the Boys Club, the Thirteenth Street Center, and there was another community center – so there were three to four centers and all of them basically had basketball guys in those positions. It wasn’t just guys showing up off the street and wanting to coach their kids or something.
AD: That’s fascinating, because I think the coaching, we had in Buffalo was really varied. Which players did you look up to in college or pro?
CB: I’m showing my age here but growing up I was a huge Dr. J guy when I started watching basketball, and then I was a Jordan guy obviously. Allen Iverson was more my age, so he was my favorite player once I got older. But at the time I didn’t know much about him because we were around the same age. I also have a weird one. My favorite college player was Greg Anthony. Most people would say, ‘Who?’ Greg Anthony was my favorite player back when the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) had those great college teams. I wore number 50 which was an odd number for a guard, but that’s why I wore that number in high school.
AD: Yes, I remember you wearing that number. So, you had your eyes on the college teams. That’s interesting because Tim told me that he had his eyes on the Niagara Falls high school basketball teams, for the most part.
CB: As far as when I was younger, Modie was a couple of years older than me, so he was more like a peer. There was a guy named Mike Starks who played for LaSalle – he was amazing and one of the best guards that no one ever talks about. When I started going to LaSalle games, I was in the sixth and seventh grades. Me and my buddies would just go to games. We wanted to be the next Mike Starks. He was the guy that I looked up to around here basketball-wise.
AD: What was special about Michael’s game? Could he do everything?
CB: Man, he could do everything. He was 6’3”. He could jump, he could shoot, and he could handle the ball. He was the point guard and his game was rare back then. Your point guard was the guy to set guys up, but man he could shoot, he could get to the basket, and he could jump – he had the whole package.
CB: Yes, Eric Gore, Frank and Michael Starks, Elon McCracken, and Modie (he was young).
AD: Well obviously, you had Christian Laettner in the Niagara Frontier League (NFL) then, but were you aware of any of the Buffalo guys like Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield?
CB: Ritchie and Marcus were the two guys I’d always hear about in seventh grade and that’s when I started to play for LaSalle. Those dudes were amazing!
AD: And the JV team – Coach Rotundo oversawthat?
AD: Early on, what kind of player were you? Coach Monti described you as a ‘scoring’ guard. Were you that right away or did you have to grow into that role?
CB: I always thought I was a scorer and that was always my mentality, ever since I was younger. In my freshman year, I started on the JV team and was moved up midway through the season to play on the Varsity team. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a bigtime scorer on the Varsity level as a freshman or as a sophomore, because we just had so many senior guys.
I was a starter, but Coach Monti let you know your role. It’s something that’s lost today. Kids don’t have roles today and everyone thinks they’re a scorer and a star. I had to earn my minutes and if I got an open shot, I was happy because I knew that it was Modie’s, Milo’s, and Duke’s team, and I was there to play my role.
AD: What was your role? Was it to play defense on the other team’s best guy?
CB: No, I wasn’t the greatest defender, especially when I was in the ninth grade (laughing). He brought me in for offense as a freshman and I may have averaged around nine points a game or something which was decent back then. He basically brought me in and let me know that, ‘Hey, you’re basically here to score when the chance comes,’ so more than anything I was there to help offensively.
AD: Talk about playing for Coach Monti. After talking with him, I got the impression that he was very, very intense.
CB: Oh yeah. Very intense. Intense, but giving great attention to detail was his greatest asset. You never went into a game unprepared. You knew what was going to happen and you were either prepared through game plans he spent a bunch of time on, or you were prepared because of what we practiced and worked on every day.
There were things that he did that had me college-ready that I know other high schools weren’t doing at that time like defensively, positioning off the ball, how you play ‘one pass away’ and ‘two passes away’. Coaches around here weren’t teaching that. Everything was tight. Again, not knocking any of the college coaches. I played at two Division I schools and I always say that Coach Monti was the most knowledgeable coach that I’ve ever played for!
AD: Wow. Well let’s talk some ‘Xs and Os’. You said that you were brought on as a freshman and your role was to score. Coach Monti described LaSalle’s offense as unselfish – everyone sharing the ball. Tim basically did too. From the outside looking in, you seemed to be the featured guy. Were you guys running a ‘motion’ offense or were you running an ‘isolation’ for someone?
CB: I know it changed during Tim’s years and he let those guys ‘freelance’ more. Basically, our main offense in my freshman through my senior years was called “Flex”, which is a ‘dinosaur’ offense now, as no one really runs it anymore. It’s about ball movement, body movement, setting picks for each other. You were working with each other and there wasn’t a lot of ‘one on one’ stuff. It was basically five guys working together, and it was weird when we wouldn’t get open looks. Flex was one offense, but there were a million different ‘wrinkles’ in it.
So, it wasn’t like, ‘Okay here’s this one offense and if this one thing doesn’t work we’re shutdown.’ It was more like, ‘Okay, they took this away, so here’s the next option…..’ There were always four to five options to that one set where something was going to be open. That was our base offense for four years. We did a little bit of some other things, but we spent a ton of time on Flex and its different options and it worked for us.
AD: Before we move on, you got moved up as a freshman. Were all the guys you graduated with in the same group? I’m referring to guys like Curtis Ralands, Chris Frank, Todd Guetta and O’Neal Barnett – all the guys who were on the Varsity team when you were a junior and a senior. Were all of you on the JV team and you got moved up first? Or was it a gradual thing?
CB: I went up in the ninth grade. I don’t think the other guys came up until the eleventh grade. Shino Ellis may have played on the Varsity team in the tenth grade if I’m not mistaken – he was a year older than me. Todd, Chris, Curtis and those guys all came up in the eleventh grade. Curtis came over from Niagara Falls Senior High School, which was a boost for us. He played JV there and then ended up at LaSalle in the eleventh grade.
AD: What was so special about Curtis coming over? I remember the goggles, the bald head, and the intensity, but what would you say was his major contribution?
CB: Curtis was like our ‘enforcer’. He brought toughness to our team. He didn’t care if he scored 1 point or 20. He was going to do all the dirty work: rebounding the ball, defending and taking charges. He was definitely a Dennis Rodman-type.
AD: So you had your role as a freshman. Was it the same as a sophomore or did Coach Monti give you more ‘leash’?
CB: As a tenth grader I started the whole year. I had more leash, but it still obviously wasn’t my team. That year Modie, Cazzie, Scotty Rose, Anthony Wallace and myself were the starting five I believe. I had a larger role on offense and I think I was depended upon more to score because Modie was our guy – he was great at distributing – he was a pure point guard. If you ran the floor, you were going to get a bucket. Scotty played a lot more ‘down low’ and was probably our second leading scorer after Modie. On the wing I think I was our next guy, so I had a much bigger role in my sophomore year within the offense.
AD: That’s awesome. So, you got a lot of quality minutes early on. Were you there against Lancaster, and in the Far West Regionals against schools like East and McQuaid?
CB: Our 86-57 loss to McQuaid was the worst I’d ever taken in high school.
AD: What was so bad about it? Did you guys just have an off day?
CB: We had an off day and they had the big 7’ kid – I think his name was McKinney or something. They had size, but they also had these guards who were coming down and pulling up a step beyond NBA range. We just weren’t seeing that in our area in Section VI. It almost seemed like the perfect game for them and the worst game for us. Anything they shot up went in and it just snowballed on us. It was the worst game I’d played in as far as taking a loss in high school.
AD: So that was your sophomore year. Before you talk about your junior year, what kinds of things were you guys doing in the offseason? I know that was before Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball got big.
CB: I can’t remember if I went to a camp that year or the next year. It was more so playing locally. There was the big travel-AAU type of thing. We’d go down to Philadelphia and play against Rasheed Wallace who went to North Carolina, and the Jason Lawson kid who went to Villanova. The Public Athletic League (PAL) tournaments used to be huge back then. The Head Coach at Niagara Falls High School now, Sal, was the one taking us on all the PAL trips back then. You played Division I guys from other cities, and that was sort of our AAU-thing back then.
AD: You said Sal?
CB: Yes, Sal Constantino. He was the PAL guy who took us on those trips to the big PAL tournaments back then which were huge.
AD: Going into your junior year, Modie and his fellow seniors graduated so it was basically your team. What was your mentality going into that year?
CB: I knew what we had, and not being cocky, but I thought we were going to be very good. A lot of people didn’t know what we had, but I knew. We had Shino, Todd, Curtis and Chris Frank – we had guys who could play basketball. But our Varsity program was so good that those guys didn’t get a chance to play yet. Our JV teams were awesome, they got awesome coaching and they came out of the system, so we had guys who could really play basketball. Now, we wound up losing only one game. I didn’t think we were going to be that good, but we had a good run until we played John Wallace.
AD: Okay, we’re going to get to John Wallace and Greece-Athena shortly (laughing). Your team ran mostly the Flex offense, but it seemed like you were the guy. You were LaSalle’s leading scorer. Was that just something the team understood – that you would be the number one option – or did Coach Monti make that explicitly clear from day one?
CB:Coach Monti made no reservations about letting guys know their roles. It was, ‘Shino and Carlos are going to be our two scorers and everyone else is going to fit in where we fit them in!’ We had a guy named O’Neal Barnett who knew that he was going to come in and defend our opponent’s best guy. Some nights he’d score 2 points and some nights he’s score 10 points, but he could care less. He knew that he was going to come in and lock down our next guy and he was fine with that.
We had Curtis who knew that he was going to come in and just grab every rebound. Coach Monti would have talks at the beginning of the year, and the middle of the year. There wasn’t any question of who was going to be doing what or what their role was. It was laid out and you knew what was going to happen.
AD: Wow. So everyone accepted their roles.
CB: Yes, everybody bought in and I think that’s just because of the success of the program. If you’re winning every year, it’s easy to sell that to kids. If he was losing every year, I don’t think it would’ve happened.
AD: So you guys went on to go 23-0. You beat us, and you started that year winning the Corning Cup in Albany, NY and, Carlos, I’ve got a funny story. Were you a trash-talker? The reason I’m asking is because in the Class B-1 quarterfinal in 1992, we matched up with the Niagara Falls Power Cats at LaSalle’s gym. In the lobby, the trophy case had individual polaroids of you and your teammates standing there posing in each of photos because you were undefeated at that point and riding a lot of momentum.
One of our seniors – this a true story – saw your picture in the case and he said, ‘Man. I can’t stand that Bleepedy-Bleep!’ I looked at your picture and I looked at him, and I said to myself, ‘This person must’ve have been guarding Carlos Bradberry when we played LaSalle, and maybe Carlos was jawing at him.’
CB: Yeah, (laughing) I was, and I forgot to mention that another one of my favorite players was Gary Payton. You watch him play and you’re going to pick up some things from him. It’s funny because Coach Monti used to say that I was this quiet and reserved guy, but once I got on the court it was different. I was a different animal and I’d consider myself a trash-talker for sure.
AD: Now, was that you or was Coach Monti rubbing off on you? I got the sense that he was very, very confident and I imagine that was contagious.
CB: I think it was just me. It was never predetermined or preplanned, and once you get into that moment you get so focused and lose yourself on the basketball court. I was raised with a bunch of uncles and cousins who were hard on me. We went to the basketball court and they’re talking junk to you, they’re beating up on you, and you learn how to be tough and not back down and that’s how it manifested itself for me.
AD: In the 1992 Class B-1 Sectional Final at UB’s Alumni Arena, we had just lost to Grand Island and as we were exiting the court, your team came charging out in a single-file line. You were at the front, and I remember reaching out and ‘dapping’ you up. You had the ball in one hand, saw me and we slapped hands and then you went into your pregame warmup before going on to defeat Williamsville North that night 62-52.
After defeating Williamsville North, your team advanced to the Far West Regional against Section V’s Class A Champion, Greece-Athena from the Rochester area. They were also 23-0 and they were calling the game the “Meeting of the Perfect Strangers”. Rochester is basically our ‘sister’ city and it’s only an hour away. Did you know about John Wallace ahead of time?
CB: I heard of him, but social media wasn’t big back then so I may have heard his name, but I didn’t know him like that until Coach Monti showed the video and we started to scout for them and I was like, ‘HOLY COW!’ It was ridiculous what you were watching. But no, I didn’t really have a beat on the Rochester and Syracuse guys. I just knew the Niagara Falls and Buffalo guys.
AD: So the team was able to watch the film before the game. What stood out to you?
CB: He was dunking on everybody. He was blocking everybody’s shot. For me it was exciting because I knew that we would get into it at some point during the game, because it was in my competitive nature and his. We did get into it at some point, but I hadn’t played against anything like that personally in our area. We didn’t have a guy like that, so seeing him on video – what he was doing at 6’9” was ridiculous. Back then, 6’9” guys weren’t popping out shooting jump shots like he was, and going ‘inside-out’. I just knew we were going to have our hands full.
AD: Yes, there weren’t any big men like that here. Well actually, weren’t Kevin Sanford and Eric Eberz at that level?
CB: Yes, Kevin was close. Maybe I played against him in a few leagues, but I never played against him in a real high school basketball game and didn’t see him much. So it was just different seeing that.
AD: Leading up to the game, did you have ‘butterflies’? Or did it feel like this was just another game?
CB: I think our whole team was confident, but we all had butterflies every single game. That game was no different and I think we all went in thinking that we had the game plan and that we would win it. Somehow someway we were going to make it happen. We did for a half (laughing).
AD: When you guys went out for the jump ball, you saw that he had “DA MAN” cut on the back of his head (laughing). You know what’s funny, is that both Coach Monti and Tim Winn mentioned that with a bit of snark. So the fact that he cut that on the back of his head, even 25 years later, really seemed to stick with them. In general, did that strike you as being arrogant?
CB: Oh, I was pissed off and Coach Monti made a point of it too. He’d play mind games with us to piss us off. He’d say, ‘Look at this guy. He’s got DA MAN on the back of his head!’ I was ready to go nuts just when I saw him. I was thinking this dude thinks he’s really that guy. I got enraged before the game because we were all sitting in the stands watching the game before ours and he’s laying down sleeping in the stands! I’m going nuts saying, ‘Look at this dude, he’s over there sleeping, and he’s got play us!’ Everything he did made me go sort of nuts, but he backed everything up though.
AD: One last question about the game. As Coach Monti pointed out, you guys were right there with Greece-Athena for three quarters and it was close. What happened?
CB: As I remember it, and Coach Monti probably has a better memory than me, I think we were either down two or tied at the half and I know that at that time Greece-Athena was playing us in a regular “man to man” defense. If they had done that for the rest of the game they would’ve lost. At the half, I think we had 27 points. I had 10 points and Shino had 15, so we had 25 of our 27 points.
Their Coach did a great job and came out in a “Triangle and Two” on Shino and me, so we didn’t score a point in the second half; they basically took us away. Our other guys got the open looks and shots we wanted, but they just didn’t fall. Their Coach wasn’t going to let Shino or me win that game that night. I kicked myself numerous times afterwards wondering what I could’ve done to be more aggressive and if Shino and I could’ve done more. But the fact of the matter is that it was a good move for their Coach and it worked out for them that night.
AD: You know, I taped that game. I watched it at home and, unfortunately, didn’t go. After watching it and thinking about how you guys beat us handily all summer long, I thought about how I wanted to get on the court and play against you the next year. First, I got injured and secondly, they flipped the brackets. So we opened against Niagara Falls Senior High School in the Festival of Lights Tournament. They narrowly beat us and you played them again while we played in the consolation game again against Bennett. I’m not sure how much of a difference I would’ve made (laughing), but I was at least looking forward to getting on the court with you.
In part two of this interview, Carlos talks about his senior year at LaSalle, his college career, and then life after basketball. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:
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“People probably don’t know this, but Coach Monti is a better classroom teacher than he is a basketball coach.”
The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. As a part of a writing project I’m working on regarding my high school basketball experience and what it taught me about life, success and failure, I was granted an interview with Western New York coaching legend, Pat Monti who was the Architect of the LaSalle basketball dynasty. I’ve already published parts one and two of the interview, but Coach Monti blessed me with enough material for one more piece. His was unlike any interview that I’ve done up this point, in that during the interview, he told numerous ‘stand-alone’ stories in addition to the question and answer portion of our interview.
The following are the numerous stories Coach Monti told about his coaching career and the LaSalle basketball program – stories which were too long to publish in parts one and two of our interview, but which also were too valuable to not share. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Western New York basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Sections V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Coach Pat Monti himself. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.
The Syracuse Parochial Schools
Back in Syracuse we had what we called the “Parochial” league which were ten small Catholic schools. You went to school and right across the street was a church. All we had was basketball and baseball as our sports. It was an unbelievable basketball league – phenomenal. We used to beat up on all the public schools. I went to St. Patrick’s High School in Syracuse, but there was also St. John the Baptist, the Evangelist, St. Lucy’s, Cathedral, Assumption – there were ten and none of them exist anymore obviously – they just got devoured and private education was taken over by a couple of bigger Catholic schools.
The 1975-76 Explorers – Coach Monti’s First LaSalle Varsity Team
First off, a little background how I landed the Varsity job. As you know I graduated from Niagara University in 1968 but being from Syracuse and not being local, there were politics like everywhere else, and I was unable to get my foot in the door as a coach even though I was teaching in the district. So, in 1968-69 I landed the Freshman job at St. John Neumann under Johnny McCarthy, former Buffalo Braves and Canisius College Coach. I did that for one year, and then the late Bob Laurrie who was the Varsity Coach at Bishop Duffy which became gave me a job as his Junior Varsity (JV) Coach for the next three years from 1969-72 which was great because I was close to home and LaSalle where I taught. By the way Niagara Catholic just closed its doors this summer.
Finally, after applying for years, I got hired as the LaSalle JV Coach from the 1972-73 season thru the 1974-75 season. At 29 years of age, I then landed the Varsity job at LaSalle replacing legendary coach Matt Mazza for the 1975-76 season. After coaching those previous three years as the JV coach, if memory serves me we had records of 15-3, 12-4, and 16-2. The Varsity team with most of those kids I coached on the JV were struggling big time. They lost their last seven games of the 1973-74 season and then went 0-18 in 74-75. I guess the administration had had enough after the 25-game losing streak and hired me for the 1975-76 season from a pool of quality applicants.
So obviously going into my first season I had nothing to lose, and we went 8-10 and became fairly competitive. Our starters on that first team were led by: Co-Captain Edwin Keith Ridgeway and “Buckwheat” Harris at the guards, Kevin Downey and Keith Taylor at the forwards, and Wayne Gould at center. Co-Captain Mike Roberts was the ‘sixth man’ and became the starter with Ridgeway when we lost Harris to grades. The rest of the squad was comprised of: Chris Hyla, Ricky Williams, Dan Ciszek, Mike Amato, Dan Coombs, and Alan Valentine!
We went 8-10 that first season and almost made the Sectionals under the leadership of seniors Ridgeway and Roberts – two very solid players and really great kids who almost immediately bought into what I was trying to accomplish with the program. With Downey and Taylor, two outstanding very strong forwards returning and many of the returning players who were juniors that first year, we went 9-8 the following season including going 8-7 in the regular season, and then winning in an upset at Amherst – the first sectional win for a LaSalle team in many years! Back then you had to qualify for Sectionals with a 0.500 or better record! We beat Amherst on the road in that 1976-77 season on a buzzer beater from Alan Valentine on a great pass from Billy Clingersmith who had come over from Niagara Falls High School that year.
It was a HUGE upset and the kids went crazy it was as if we won the Sectional Title instead of simply a first-round game! Well that was the start of it all, and the players the following years started understanding that it was all about: fundamentals, no nonsense and structure. Things at LaSalle turned around and by the 1979-80, and the 1980-81 Michael Freeney-teams, we won consecutive Niagara Frontier League (NFL) titles – the first and second of our 13 league championships. LaSalle High School basketball had arrived on the scene in Western New York after many years of mediocrity!
LaSalle’s late 1980s matchups with Christian Laettner and the NicholsSchool
During Christian Laettner’s (pictured) junior year which was 1986-87 – they beat us twice – both times were single digits – six to seven points, and we hung right there with them. After not losing a game his junior year, they won the Class C state title. The next year 1987-88 was his senior year. We went to Nichols’ little dingy gym in late December and I don’t know if they took us for granted which would’ve been crazy because we had everyone back, and they lost their point guard, even though they still had Laettner.
You can look back at my teams, especially when we got really good starting in the early 1980s all of the way up until the school closed – my teams were really run and dominated by guard play. We never had any size to speak of, and that year Eric Gore was probably our best player. I had to use him inside at 6’4” though he ended up playing the two-guard position in college down in Texas. We went down to their gym and blew them out. We turned their guards over and took Laettner out of the equation because their guys couldn’t get him the ball the way they needed to and I think we beat them by 17 points.
We then went on a run where we were 19-0 and they were 18-1 – we were ranked the top ‘Large School’ and they were ranked the top ‘Small School’ in the Buffalo News, and they came into our gym for the last regular season game in the Niagara Frontier League. It was unbelievable – a zoo. If you were a Junior Varsity (JV) player, you had to be crapping in your pants. The JV game started at 6 pm, and if you didn’t get into the gym at quarter to five, you didn’t get a seat – our gym held well over 2,000 people.
Everyone was there – Mike Kryzewski (Duke) and Digger Phelps (Notre Dame) – all the bigtime coaches. It was a game for the ages. I can still see it as if it was yesterday, and it was 1988. Nobody led by more than four – they didn’t take us for granted this time – they were very well coached.
It was back and forth, back and forth – just an incredible high school basketball game. I think that with about a minute or so left, we might’ve been up four. They came down, scored, called time out and cut it to two. I only had one time out left and I’ve always taught my young coaches to save your time outs for the fourth quarter. If you know, you’re going to be in a tight ballgame, don’t waste time outs. It’s amazing how simple it sounds and how important it is in coaching.
They obviously knew us inside and out, and I should have been smart enough to change our ‘press-breaker’ but I didn’t, and they pressed us. They double teamed my point guard Michael Starks – great player – 6’1” or 6’2” – really smart with the ball – a good decision maker. His brother Frank was a 6’2” 210 lb. rebounding machine but didn’t handle or shoot the ball very well. They took Michael away and Frank had the ball coming up the right side of the court across from the benches. I couldn’t get my timeout fast enough and it was so loud that the referees couldn’t hear me. I could see it coming but it was too late.
Laettner left Gore and Frank Starks is dribbling the ball above his waist – it looked like he was dribbling a beach ball. Laettner stripped him clean and went in for what would have been a thunderous dunk which would have sent the game into overtime – there were 20 seconds left at the time. He was the only guy across half court now. He looked up just as he crossed near the foul line – I think to see where he was with relation to the basket, and he kicked the ball out of bounds believe it or not.
So, I called my final timeout and drew up a different press-breaker. At the time I didn’t give it a name, but since then I called it my “One-Breaker” where my point guard takes the ball out of bounds. Because we’re leading the game, they must go trap the ball. We got the ball back into Michael Starks’ hands. He got fouled and made both shots – we beat them by four 61-57 – we went on and went 20-0, we won the Class B Sectional pretty easily, went to Rochester and won that pretty easily, and then we went to Glens Falls and beat some really, really good teams – the state’s ‘Public School’ part of it.
The 27-0 1988 Class B State and Federation Championship Team
We beat a local team out of Gloversville that had two brothers – stars and both great basketball players – one was a quarterback who I think went on to play at Boston College – one of the Boston schools for football. But they were local – right outside of Albany in the Glens Falls area. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Glens Falls to watch basketball, but the Civic Center is a beautiful venue for watching basketball – very unencumbered, no pillars in your way. It holds about 7,000 people and the place was a sea of red – Gloversville fans galore and the game went back and forth, back and forth. We ended up beating them in a tightly fought contest in overtime.
It was funny because we used to play the semifinals on Friday nights and the finals on Sunday – later in my career it was Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, our kids would go and watch the Cs, the Ds and the As, and the talk all over the Civic Center, and even the local newspapers was, “How is little LaSalle going to handle this Nottingham team out of Syracuse with Dorsey Levens?” – the great running back who would go on to star for the Green Bay Packers. He was a tremendous basketball player.
Jason Buchanan went on to star at St. John’s as a point guard. They had won something like 45 straight games, they were the defending state champions, and they were undefeated as we were so you had two great teams. We ended up beating them and people were talking as though they were going to blow us out of the gym by 30 because we barely beat Gloversville 61-60 who was good, and they crushed a team from Section XI on Long Island by 35 points.
But what they didn’t see was the real Eric Gore because he was scoring 27 points a game, and I hate to say it but against Gloversville it was a ‘home job’ – a setup, and the poor kid couldn’t breathe without being called for a foul – it was ridiculous. He finished the semifinal game zero points. He got his third foul at the start of the second quarter. I joke with my old assistant coach who is still works in the Niagara Falls school system Frank Rotundo, who coached for a while at Niagara County Community College.
Frank came down to me with about five minutes left in the game and we were up by six against this great Nottingham team out of Syracuse coached by the legendary Jim McGrath. Coach Rotundo said, “Look at Eric. His head is down at the end of the bench.” I said, “We’re doing okay.” We had Elon McCraken who played at Niagara who stepped in as a junior at Eric’s spot for me and we were handling them with no problem.
Coach Rotundo asked, “Would we be here without Eric?” It gnawed at me and gnawed at me, so I put him in. We had the game basically won. We had no shot clock back then and I ran a really good “delay and strike” game back then where we could kill the clock and surprise you with a back-door layup every once and a while.
I shouldn’t have put him back in, but I listened to my assistant whom to this day I jokingly say to Frank, “You know that’s the last time I ever listen to an assistant.” Eric having such a bad performance got in the game, turned it over, took a couple of bad shots and before you know it, here we are tied in a game that never should have been like that. It ended up going into overtime and Eric fouled out in regulation anyway.
We were down three to Nottingham with ten seconds play in regulation. We had just fouled Dorsey Levens. It was a ‘one and one’, and I called one of my timeouts. I told my players, “Okay remember the power of positive thinking,” hoping it happens but never expecting it to.
They had just instituted the three-point line. If Dorsey missed his shot, we’ll fire up the court and if we don’t get a good shot, we’ll call a time out, draw up a play and get the ball in Michael Starks’ hands. He misses it, and Frank Starks his brother gets the rebound – the player who turned it over against Laettner and Nichols. We never let him shoot it beyond eight feet because he has no touch at all. He pulls up right in front of our bench – it was almost an NBA three – nothing but net, we go into overtime and we win the game going away. It was an incredible game.
The closing of LaSalle Senior High School and retiring
Don’t get me wrong, Niagara Falls High School was built in the 1920s and it needed to be replaced, but if it were up to me, I would’ve built Niagara Falls a new high school downtown somewhere on Main Street to try to revitalize the inner-city area there. Leave us alone and let us have the 1,200-1,250 kids like we had. That was another amazing thing in New York State – you had some of these Class A schools who had 3,000 to 4,000 students, and we had 1,250 kids when we would go to Glens Falls and play some of these schools from around the state, and some of the New York City schools.
To me building that one big mega-school with the four towers was crazy. You had teachers who didn’t like each other. You had students who didn’t like each other because of the rivalry and that’s when I retired. Niagara Falls High School has only won one New York State title in 18 years with twice the enrollment since the two schools combined in 2001. That was the year they had Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn amongst other Division I players.
Coaching at Niagara Catholic after the closing of LaSalle Senior High School
“Coach I know you’re not going to the new high school. Would you be interested in helping us out at Niagara-Catholic?” When they tore LaSalle down in 2000, that was it for me, and because my wife was still working, the President of the Board of Trustees at Niagara Catholic Judge Bobby Restino reached out to me. I was down here vacationing in my condo in Naples, FL at the time during Easter when LaSalle was closing.
“You just hired a young guy who graduated from Niagara last year, and he did an okay job for the amount of talent that he had,” I said.
“Well if we can get a Pat Monti, we’d love to have you come in,” he replied.
“You know what, when I get back from Naples Judge, I’ll sit down and talk with you,” I said.
“Your gym is atrocious. You have to renovate it,” I told him – I had some demands.
“It’s in the budget for next year,” he said.
“Well if it can be done this year, I might consider it. Plus, I’d have to bring my assistant Frank Rotundo with me, and Modie Cox,” who was helping us at the time I continued.
“Let me bring it up to the board’s attention,” he said and did, and they agreed.
We were the little guy and I’ll never forget our first time playing St. Joe’s. We had some great run ins with St. Joe’s when I was at LaSalle, but I didn’t have that kind of talent when I was at Niagara Catholic. The year before I want to say that St. Joe’s beat Niagara-Catholic by 54 points. My first year at Niagara Catholic, we lost by two and it was like we had won the freaking NCAA championship and we lost the game.
I coached there three years while my wife was still working and had a lot of fun building up the Niagara Catholic program. Matty Clingersmith who is the really good Baseball Coach at Niagara Community College now. He’s taken them to the National Junior College Tournament just about every year – last year they lost in the National Championships. He was a junior the year before I arrived and sitting the bench at Niagara Catholic. We turned him into an All-Western New Yorker his senior year – he led us in points and rebounds and I want to say that we probably went 15-5 – the year before they might’ve gone 6-14.
The only schools we lost to were the big schools. That was the last head coaching I ever did. Even though in name I’m not the Head Coach, I’ve really called a lot of the shots most of the years I’ve been coaching down here. My system is in place – a lot of the ‘gimmick’ defenses I used to use to shut down big-time scorers, we still use down here. So, I did that at Niagara Catholic and I see this year they had a really good year.
Coach Monti on what should’ve been his first State Final Four team
I’ll be honest with you, what I thought should’ve been our first Final Four team in Glens Falls was our 1983-84 LaSalle team. I had an unbelievable team I thought – no tremendous size. Joe Etopio played at the University at Buffalo (UB) – a 6’4” kid with monster hands (pictured to the left in the middle). If you got him the ball inside, he either got a layup and got fouled, or he just got fouled. I had a really good point guard, “Rockin” Rodney Ingram (pictured above to Joe Etopio’s right). That should’ve been a Final Four team but unfortunately, we just had a bad break.
We played in “The Aud’” (Buffalo Memorial Auditorium) and we were leading South Park who was heavily favored by 15 points in the third quarter. Joe Etopio goes down with a horrendous “charley horse” cramp where he couldn’t even bend his leg so obviously I couldn’t play him. So, they worked on him, and worked on him, and little by little, South Park whittled the down the lead and towards the end they started fouling us – we missed so any freaking front ends of one and ones. It ended up becoming a one-point game with 15 seconds to go. I called a time out, and I asked Joe, “Do you think you can go back in and just throw a pass?” He said, “Yeah Coach I can do that.”
So just inside half court, I drew up an unbelievable ‘big box’ play with some ‘misdirects’. One of our non-scorers was Darnell Bones – a tremendous rebounder on that team and the least likely scorer out of the five starters. I ran a middle misdirect where they thought my guard was going to get the ball, but my guard basically threw a screen while my two big guys cleared out underneath. I had Joe Etopio throw a baseball pass from half court right to the rim to Darnell Bones.
To this day I can see this because there was no three-point shot at the time and I knew that if we got the ball in the backcourt they would foul us, and I didn’t want that the way we were shooting one and ones. I decided to get the three-point lead and the game would be over. With about 15 seconds to go, Joe threw a beautiful pass, the lane was totally cleared out – Rodney threw a beautiful screen on Bones who curls around, catches the ball and goes up.
Back in the day the expansions came off the floor – they’re not bolted to the ceilings the way we do it high school – they’re a little ‘loosey-goosey’. Darnell goes up and who knows why to this day – he was a strong kid at 6’2” – but instead of just laying the ball up, he slaps the backboard and the ball rolls arooound the rim and comes out. One of South Park’s many big guys – they had a big team, threw a full court pass down the left side, and this kid from South Park, their best player catches the ball on the left corner, fires it up on the buzzer and it freaking banks in and we lost by one! That should’ve been the first team to go.
On when the program became successful and point guard Tim Winn
Little by little each year, the persona of the team changed – everything was built around all of our point guards, and it culminated in the last two with Timmy Winn – he’s one of the kids we brought up as a seventh grader, an eighth grader, and then halfway through his ninth-grade season he was on the Varsity team. We went to Glens Falls all four years he played Varsity ball – I don’t know if anybody has ever done that. He played in Glens Falls four years in a row, and he was the MVP of the state tournament his junior and senior years.
He was a tremendous ‘lock down’ defender, and a scorer. His scoring was overshadowed by his defense, and he had a phenomenal career at St. Bonaventure. People think that he went to a little school – St. Bonaventure was a big-time basketball school. He was recruited by a lot of big schools. Bobby Cremins from Georgia Tech at the time which I called ‘Point Guard U’, they wanted him badly and that’s where I wanted him to go because I thought it would give him a better opportunity to play at the next level. He opted to go to St. Bonaventure because of Rob Lanier who played back in the day in Buffalo – Bob Lanier’s cousin – he’s the top assistant for Rick Barnes at Tennessee now.
He used to be with him at Texas, and I think Rob might’ve had a little coaching stint at Siena, but Timmy fell in love with him after he recruited him for Jim Barron who ended up going to Rhode Island. Timmy just like the proximity and being close to home – people could come and see him play in the “Atlantic 10 Conference” which is a good league, and Tim is now in their St. Bonaventure Hall of Fame. He played overseas, and in the old Continental Basketball Association and now he’s in Charlotte with a nice job at Wells-Fargo he’s got a nice family and is doing well.
As a matter of fact, I got inducted in my sixth Hall of Fame last December. I never even knew that Section VI had started a Hall of Fame, but somebody contacted me and said, “You know you’ve been nominated for the Section VI Hall of Fame.” I said, “What the hell are you talking about?” The person replied, “Oh about two to three years ago, they started a sports Hall of Fame and you’re going to be inducted on December 8, 2017.”
I couldn’t believe it, but Timmy drove up that morning from Charlotte to be there. Several of my former players showed up. The last year before the school closed, Dewitt Doss who starred at Canisius – a former gym teacher and now the Athletic Director in the Baltimore Public School System now – he also drove up from Baltimore to be there.
If I had my choice, I’d say give me a great point guard over a big man any day of the week at the high school level and you’ll win. That’s your coach on the floor. Point guards just step up and do the job! I saw in your article with Jason Rowe that we played Buffalo Traditional, but Timmy came up with a severely sprained ankle, and we still gave Traditional a heck of a game because of Jody Crymes and Terry Rich. I think they ended up beating us by three. At that time, those two kids were by far the two premier point guards in the area – Tim and Jason.
On Coaching and Teaching
There’s so much talent down here in Florida and I watch it and there’s no shot clock, but you can put in a 10 second shot clock the way that some of these teams play. It’s like being at the YMCA, it’s crazy – there’s hardly any real coaching going on – they just let them do what they want to do. I never allowed that. We did drills every day in practice – drill, drill, drill and drill again.
Whatever offenses or defenses we ran, we did it again, again, again and again until it became second nature. It was homework and I’d tell the kids, ‘This is what you need for tomorrow. This is your homework.’ I always used to say, ‘This is my classroom – the classroom after the classroom!’
I teared up at one of the hall of fames I got into – it might’ve been the Niagara Falls Sports Hall of Fame – one of my buddies who has since passed away, he was my presenter and the last thing he said before he called me up for my award was, ‘People probably don’t know this, but Coach Monti is a better classroom teacher than he is a basketball coach.’ That really resonated with me – it gave me goosebumps honest to God.
That’s probably why I never went to coach at college where I had some other coaching opportunities – nothing to blow your socks off, but I enjoyed the class room as much as I did the court from a teaching standpoint and that’s why I’m still doing it 50 years later – because I really enjoy sharing what I’ve learned and what I’ve been taught with these young coaches and these young players – teaching them the right way to play the game.
A special thank you is extended to Coach Pat Monti for taking the time out to discuss his story and the LaSalle basketball program. I’d also like to thank Coach Monti’s Wife Kathleen for proofreading this three-part series and polishing it up for us. In case you’ve missed them, see parts one and two of my interview with Coach Monti. Also see my interviews with legendary LaSalle point guard Tim Winn, legendary Buffalo Traditional point guard Jason Rowe, some of my personal basketball stories surrounding my book project, and a piece I wrote up regarding former college and professional basketball player Chris Herren who now tours and speaks about substance abuse and wellness for teens:
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This is part two of my interview with legendary LaSalle Senior High School point guard Tim Winn. The interview was a part of the research for my two-part book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. In part one, we discussed his background, how he started playing basketball and how he became a LaSalle Explorer. In part two, we talk more about playing in the LaSalle basketball program, where Tim played college basketball, the closing of LaSalle Senior High School, and finally, how basketball has changed.
The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Western New York basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Sections V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Tim himself, and his Head Coach at LaSalle Senior High School, Pat Monti. Click on any of the images to enlarge them. Links follow up video interviews with Tim, Modie Cox and other LaSalle coaches and players are at the end of this interview.
Anwar Dunbar: So, with your team having its eyes on Glens Falls the entire time, it sounds like even though you were getting everyone’s best shot every night, you weren’t very concerned with any of the other Section VI teams.
Tim Winn: Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of tough teams in Western New York, but there wasn’t one game there that was going to take us up too high, or take us down too low no matter what the results were, because our goal every year was Glens Falls. It’s like the Cleveland Cavaliers right now. Yes, Boston is tough, but for the Cavs it’s championship or bust. Once you get to Glens Falls a couple of times, you’re not accepting anything else. No matter what the ups and downs are during the year, your eyes are still on that prize, and it’s all that really matters to you.
AD: Were there any games in Section VI that you had circled? Niagara Falls High School, for example. That was a ‘rivalry’ game wasn’t it?
TW: It was a rivalry game. It was great for the community. You can compare it to St. Joe’s, Canisius. For us it was a great game. It brought the community together. You might be playing some of the most intense basketball against one of your cousins. You had family at both schools and everyone came out.
It was probably one of the best traditions our city doesn’t have anymore. We looked forward to playing against St. Joe’s. Obviously Buffalo Traditional, the team played them my senior year, but I didn’t because I sprained my ankle working on my jump shot in an open gym. Everyone in the world was waiting to see that game.
AD: So, Tim, what was your game? Were you a penetrator? Could you eventually do everything offensively?
TW: By my senior year, I could do everything. My staple though was defense. I would lock anybody up – that’s just how I felt. I was 5’9” and 165 pounds, but my heart was as big as Isaiah Thomas’. Coach Monti put me on anybody and it didn’t matter their size – I was locking them down. That was my greatest skill set by far, and it was probably the most aggressive part of my game for my entire career. I didn’t develop what I would call a ‘well-rounded’ offensive game until my senior year in high school, and that’s with me averaging 23 points a game as a junior. At that point I could get to the basket and I could shoot; whatever the game presented to me.
AD: What kind of student were you while you were playing for LaSalle?
TW: At LaSalle you didn’t have any choice but to be a good student. I talked about not being able to play if you didn’t defend, but also if you didn’t go to class you couldn’t play. Coach Monti had a program that really set you up for life and for me that was a really big deal. From the start I was wondering what I would have to do to get into college. From the start it was like, ‘You’re going to take this level of classes, we’re going to have progress reports every five weeks for everybody, and if you don’t perform academically, you can forget about it.’
It didn’t matter who you were, you were held to these standards and there was no favoritism. You were going to walk a certain way, and you were going to carry yourself a certain way in the classroom. School was going to be more important than any state championship, and if not, then it may not have been the program for you.
AD: So Coach Monti was actively monitoring your grades then?
TW: Everything. He monitored how many steps you took down one hallway. It was the best thing that ever happened to me – to have someone care about your development that much as a young man. It wasn’t just about basketball – he treated all of his players like family – like his sons.
AD: Was there a particular quote he used to tell the team regularly?
TW: No, there wasn’t necessarily a quote as much as it was a philosophy. You just knew when you were dealing with him, you had no choice but to walk the straight and narrow. There is a lot of structure that young men need that a lot of them don’t get these days. You knew that if you weren’t handling your business in the classroom, you had a problem on your hands and you did not want to make it to his classroom. That type of program for me and my teammates was everything. You still hear guys talking about it right now, ‘If Coach Monti was here, if Coach Monti was in the Falls,’ just because of what it did for us.
AD: When did the colleges start recruiting you?
TW: I think I started getting recruited in my sophomore year. During my sophomore year all the local schools started recruiting me. The summer after my sophomore year, after we made it back to Glens Falls, it picked up because I went to a couple of camps where I did pretty well. I’d say beginning to mid-sophomore year and onward.
AD: Which schools came calling?
TW: I turned down Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Amongst my circle, we still talk about it all the time. I was ‘signed, sealed and delivered to Syracuse,’ but the young and naïve me not having anyone else in my family who went through the experience, I pulled out of it at the last minute. I remember being at the State Fair in Syracuse and I was supposed to go verbally commit. My friend, Romell Lloyd, went the next year and Malik Campbell (Turner/Carroll, pictured below in the All-Western New York photos) was at the Fair at the same time. We were all supposed to go, but I pulled out at the last minute.
AD: Why didn’t you go?
TW: It was a last-minute change of heart. Rob Lanier had watched some of my games at the ABCD Camp and I told him that I was still open, and then St. Bonaventure started recruiting me.
TW: I didn’t and that was the young me. I didn’t tell anybody about it. He’s from Syracuse and I know for a fact he wouldn’t have let me pull out of going to Syracuse. It’s one of those things. I don’t have regrets now, but as an older man, sometimes I think about it.
AD: So you went to St. Bonaventure. I remember seeing you on TV. What was it like playing at St. Bonaventure?
TW: Anytime you go to college and away from home, there’s going to be an adjustment. I sold my family on my not going to Syracuse and going to St. Bonaventure instead by telling them that, ‘I can go to Syracuse and be expected to win 20 games every year, right? I can win 20 games there and go the NCAA Tournament and I’m just one of the guys. St. Bonaventure hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 30 years, and if I can get them there, I’ll be a legend.’ It meant more to me to leave that type of legacy behind.
AD: Did you play all four years? And did you make it into the NCAA Tournament?
TW: We made it my senior year. We played Kentucky in the opening round. It went into double overtime.
AD: By the time you were a senior were you leading the Bonnies in scoring or assists?
TW: I think my junior and senior years I was leading my team in scoring, assists and steals. In my junior year, I was second in the nation in steals behind a guy named Shante Rogers from George Washington University.
AD: So you said you learned the most basketball at LaSalle. Was it an easy transition to go play for Jim Baron at St. Bonaventure?
TW: It was. The only adjustment was getting ‘college-strong’, getting my body on the level. There wasn’t anything that I wasn’t prepared for, so it was just a matter of getting up under one of those weight programs and getting my body to catch up with my mind.
AD: I know a highlight for Jason was playing against Allen Iverson. Were there any particular matchups that stand out to you?
TW: Tim Hardaway and I were teammates for an All-Star game in the ABA. For me, Tim Hardaway is a pretty big deal. I’ve played with Olden Polynice. I’ve also played with Keith Claus. I’ve played a bunch of guys who played in the NBA, who came down to the minor leagues.
AD: How many years did you play Pro-ball?
TW: I stopped playing in 2007, so about seven years. I could’ve kept playing, but I chose a ‘regular’ life to put that degree to work.
AD: Were you getting tired of all the travel? The sleeping in hotels?
TW: It’s very tiring. The minor leagues are a year-round job and there’s really no offseason. It gets tiring after a while. You don’t have the NBA’s budget to take care of your body so it got taxing after a while.
AD: What career did you settle into when you left basketball?
TW: I was the Vice-Principal in a school in Buffalo called “Sankofa Charter School”. That came through a basketball connection. I did an appearance at the school. The kids liked it, and I was asked to become the Dean of Students which was the equivalent of being the Vice-Principal in the charter school environment. I did that for a couple of years and the school closed. Then I moved my family to Charlotte, NC.
AD: Are you still involved in the game in any way? Are you coaching an AAU team? Do you still compete in any way?
TW: It’s crazy. I’m cold turkey. I’ve been asked on numerous occasions to help coach AAU. Jeff Bishop is down here and he’s asked me on several different occasions to help him out with his AAU program. My son plays baseball and is nine years old, so I really don’t have the time to dedicate to something on that level. I wouldn’t want to cheat a group of kids by me not being there consistently. I don’t play at all and all I have left are old stories (laughing).
TW: And I’m cool with it.
AD: Yes, it sounds like you’ve done just about everything with basketball. Going back to the LaSalle days, do you remember what your best game was? Was it one of the state tournament games? Was it one of the Niagara Falls games?
TW: It was a bunch of games. Locally, I gave Turner/Carroll 39 points, and that’s a big deal because Antoine Sims was always a great competitor and to have a great game against Turner/Carroll and that caliber of player, it’s going to stay with you for a while. I had 52 points in a game which broke Carlos Bradberry’s record; regarding records that was a big deal. My senior year in Glens Falls in the semifinal game, I scored 35 points. We were down big in the fourth quarter and then scored 39 points as a team to come back and win to advance. It was a big stage and that was against Hempstead who beat us when Carlos was a senior, so it was a little bit of payback.
AD: Of all four of your years, was there one that was your favorite?
TW: Easily. It was my junior year by far. We had a three-guard lineup and as humble as I can be in saying this, there was not another guard combination in Western New York who could stop us. You don’t really feel it when you’re in it, but now that I’m older and I’m watching the tapes, it’s just unreal to watch that team and those three guards – me being one of them.
You couldn’t key on me because Jody Crymes would give you 20 points. You couldn’t key on Jody because Terry Rich would give you 20 points. We were a well-oiled machine, and I think all three of us had over 100 steals apiece that season. It was a lot easier than my senior year.
AD: And you guys were able to nullify any height advantage your opponents had?
TW: That was our thing. You might have height, but could you run? And then, can your guards get you the ball? We didn’t lose sleep playing guys who had players 6’8” because the chances of them getting the ball over half court were slim to none.
AD: Was there anything that surprised you during your time at LaSalle?
TW: I didn’t really know how to score until I played alongside Carlos Bradberry (pictured to the left). Prior to that, all I did was steal a bunch of different skill sets from a bunch of different players who came before me. I put my attitude and personality behind me, figured out where I still had weaknesses and worked on it. Playing with Carlos my freshman year, taught me how to score; just watching how he would get buckets.
I may be the all-time leading scorer in LaSalle’s history, but I had 500 steals. Carlos had at least 1,600 points, but they were straight buckets. I keep mentioning Modie Cox – knowing that he’s in the program and living a couple of houses down from me as well – being able to watch that and watch him lead a team as a young kid meant a lot. In my junior year, we were in the semifinals in Glens Falls. Jody Crymes came down on four different possessions and scored. I’ve never been in a game where someone else besides me said, ‘We’re not losing today.’ It was one of the ‘awe-moments’ for me.
AD: I remember trying out for the Empire State Games in my sophomore year. Jody (pictured to the left) showed up with Curtis Ralands. I was on Jody’s team before the first cut.
He was lightening quick, and on one play he penetrated down the lane and I followed him down the lane looking to get a potential offensive rebound. He threw a no-look pass behind his head to me, and I didn’t expect it so it sailed right passed me. He turned around and looked me with an expression like, ‘What happened?’ I wasn’t used to playing with that caliber of player, and you guys played at that high level, and I can only imagine the three of you on the floor at once.
You went to Glens Falls all four years. For kids who never went, what’s the experience like?
TW: I guess when you win a lot, you don’t know what it’s like to not be in the environment that you’re in. I never experienced a down-time or a losing situation. To not know what it’s like to be in front of a packed house, to not be in the hotels, to not go to Glens Falls, I’ve never experienced that. Not going would’ve been a failure for us. So, for me it was what we were supposed to do, and it was how we were supposed to be treated. The message was, when you win, this is how it’s supposed to go.
AD: That’s fascinating because there were many kids who were happy just to qualify for the sectionals, but for you and your team it was getting to and winning in Glens Falls. Otherwise, it wasn’t a successful season. So, there’s something here about where you set your sights and what you shoot for.
TW: If we had lost in the sectionals it would’ve been the biggest tragedy for our program ever. Once we beat the Rochester team my freshman year (McQuaid Jesuit) in the Far West Regional, it moved to that, and I felt like we were never not going to play in this game. We knew what it felt like to win that game, and we knew what defeat felt like because John Wallace’s team (Greece-Athena) beat us the year before. Being an eighth-grader and being exposed to that game, I felt like one day I would be the guy to lead us.
AD: There are whole generations of kids who know nothing of the LaSalle Explorers except in legends and old wive’s-tales. Where were you when you heard that they were going to close and demolish LaSalle Senior High School? How did you feel when you heard it?
TW: I’m still in disbelief. So much tradition came through there, and so many success stories; not just basketball, but in general. Imagine that you buy a house and it’s in your family for 30-40 years and then you come home and the house is torn down. It felt like they tore down the house that’s been passed down for generations in our family.
I’m also bothered by the fact that when they combined the schools, Pat Monti wasn’t named the Head Coach of the Varsity program. That let me know that there is a gift and a curse to winning all the time.
AD: Okay, we’re speculating here, but does that mean there was some sort of conspiracy to keep Coach Monti out?
TW: It’s all politics. How does the best basketball coach in Niagara Falls history not get that job? He was the best coach to come through the city, one of the best coaches in Western New York. He’s in four to five different halls of fame. It’s one thing to close the school down, but to bring politics into the equation and not give him the next job? It wouldn’t have hurt as much if he had gotten the next job because the tradition would have still been in the city. Since LaSalle closed, there’s only been on state champion out of Niagara Falls, and that’s when my little cousin Paul Harris and those guys won it.
That’s the only state championship since we closed. But if you look at the rosters at Niagara Falls High School since LaSalle closed, they should have at least six or seven state championships.
AD: We can keep this off the record, but do you think there were parties that were looking at all of Coach Monti’s success and felt that you all had an unfair advantage, or were they just ready to see the brown and gold go away?
TW: As great as Coach Monti was, the people he beat up on all the time didn’t like him. Imagine being beat for years. Just think about our rivalry with Niagara Falls High School. I think we won 40 or more straight games from the late 1980s until the school closed. All of the coaches and superintendents who are responsible for the new school opening were not going to let him be the coach after kicking their asses for all of those years.
AD: Well I did ask Coach Monti that – were all the other coaches happy to see you go once word got out? He laughed. We have a few more questions, Tim. How have players changed since the days you were at LaSalle. I hear they have ‘trainers’ now, and Jason Rowe said everything is on social media. How has basketball changed?
TW: Winning has taken a backseat to stats. It no longer dominates the emotion and I don’t know when it went out of style. Your stat-line dictates everything nowadays.
In the past, winning dictated everything. You see a ton of players who don’t know how to play the game. Because winning doesn’t dominate the emotion anymore, it’s hard to call a kid on it. When winning doesn’t come first, it’s hard to complain about anything a kid does in a game. To me, that’s the biggest difference between now and back then.
Jason and I spent a lot of time together back then. I knew what it meant to him to win. Triple-doubles aside, to not win – we’re from that era where winning was everything. Yes, I had 40 points, but we won. That dominated everything for us. You worked on your jump shot so you could win. You worked on your handle so you could win. Everything was set up so you could be better placed to win the following year.
When Jason and his team weren’t winning the Rochester game, I know that he and “Mush” (Damien Foster, pictured below) went to work in the summer so they could win that game. They didn’t go to work so they could come back and average 25 and 30 points – it was time to win a state championship. There’s enough talent back home where they should be winning on a high level, but you can’t make kids approach it like that.
AD: You know they say kids today are softer, they don’t communicate the same way.
TW: Everyone is friends and that’s one of my biggest pet peeves. I love Jason and he’s my guy. We’ve been friends since he was little. I swear to you that when it came to “checking the ball up”, he was my worst enemy. There’s something missing in competition these days.
If you put Jason and me in this era, I don’t think we would be as good. I’m talking about mentally, because we would’ve been too cool with each other. Talent-wise we would’ve killed this day and age, but I think one of the best things we had in us was that we were fierce competitors, would go to war with each other and literally go get a burger later.
AD: So, Tim, is this kind of a LeBron James–Kevin Durant type of thing where it’s okay to go make a team versus building your own?
TW: Yep, it is. It always starts at the top. The players these kids look up to are all friends. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are really, really good friends. For me, I could never be that good a friend with someone to where it would impact my approach on the court. It didn’t matter who you were, I wanted to go through you on the court; family included, friends included. It didn’t matter; my mother couldn’t get a bucket on me.
Again, it’s different eras, and just like Jason (pictured with Tim to the left) said, with the impact of social media, it’s required for you to have personality. Everyone wants to be cool now and it’s just completely different than when we were young. At that time your game spoke for you. You didn’t need social media. You didn’t have to talk anywhere else. When you were on the court, it was ‘Check it up. Check ball!’ There was no greater voice than ‘Check ball!’
AD: Alright, two more. For youngsters aspiring to play basketball or to pursue any other life goal, what advice would you give them?
TW: If you’re serious about it, treat it like a job. Go to work every day. There’s a ton of kids who have trainers, and to me that work ethic is missing in today’s kids. You know which kids are working from a mile away. If it’s something that you’re serious about dive in, dive all the way in. Don’t dive halfway in and want all the results. There are a lot of kids who will give you 15% effort, but want 120% back in terms of the results. It doesn’t work that way and this is a game you really, really must go to work for.
AD: So do you think it’s unusual that they would need trainers?
TW: I think it all depends on whose hands you’re in. To me that’s everything. There are a million trainers now, a million guys like Jason Rowe and Mark Price. I would send my kids to them because I know where they’re from. I know them personally and I know their games and their resumes, so I don’t have to question what they’ll do for my kid.
One of my biggest pet peeves is kids can’t workout unless they have a trainer. Whatever happened to dribbling the ball down the street to the park? Kids won’t just go to the gym and play pickup ball anymore and that’s the era that we live in.
AD: Wow. That is strange.
TW: I’ll ask kids, ‘Are you working out?’ They’ll say, ‘I’m trying to get a trainer.’ No! Whatever happened to just getting your ball and dribbling down the middle of the street? One, two, three between the legs. One, two, three between the legs and crossover. I’m all for trainers getting their money, but I must know that it’s on the level of a Jason or Mark training them.
AD: Okay, the last question. What did playing at LaSalle for St. Bonaventure and then playing professionally teach you about life and success?
TW: For me it was one thing playing in that program. It taught me how to be a young man, and the success of the program made me feel like I could do anything. I don’t know losing, so I approach everything the same way I approached those games back then. I expected to go to Glens Falls, so when I’m in a job interview now, I expect to win.
I’m currently at Wells Fargo on the technology side and I expect to win. Playing for LaSalle, I’ve carried myself a certain way all my life because of that experience. It’s confidence, it’s borderline cockiness sometimes.
I always believe that if I approach it with the right work ethic, then it’s game over. It doesn’t matter what sport it is. It doesn’t matter what realm of life it is. If I approach it with same approach I used on the court at LaSalle, I’m going to win. Period.
And you can ask any of the teammates that I’ve had. It’s just something that’s in you. It just did something to us as kids. We just always believe that we’re going to be alright.
AD: Well Tim, that’s all I’ve got, unless you have any other comments or stories, thank you for telling your story.
TW: It’s been an honor to speak on this.
A special thank you is extended to Tim Winn for taking the time out to discuss his story and the LaSalle basketball program. In case you missed it, see part one of our interview. Also see parts one and two of my interview with legendary LaSalle Head Coach Pat Monti, my interview with legendary Buffalo Traditional point guard Jason Rowe, some of my personal basketball stories surrounding my book project, and a piece I wrote up regarding former college and professionals basketball player Chris Herren, who now tours and speaks about substance and wellness for teens:
I intend to create more promotional/teaser pieces for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, both via print and video as I journey through the final steps of completing the book. I created a page on Big Words Authors for the purpose of giving a background of the book and grouping all the promotional pieces, such as this in one, for interested readers.
The Big Words LLC Newsletter
For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Yours in good sports. Best Regards.
“It’s a great game. I love the game because there are so many facets to it – it’s so exciting and you’re teaching life skills in a sports-setting in my opinion.”
This is part two of my interview with legendary LaSalle Senior High School Head Basketball Coach Pat Monti. In part one, we discussed his background, and how he built the LaSalle basketball program. In part two, we discuss more aspects of coaching, memorable games, notable opposing players and coaches, and his coaching career after LaSalle closed. We end by acknowledging the hardworking staff of the Buffalo News who covered the Explorers and Section VI basketball throughout Coach Monti’s tenure as the Explorers’ leader on the bench.
Anwar Dunbar: In the late 1980s, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote a story saying that the Niagara Frontier League (NFL) officially had surpassed the Yale Cup as the best league in Western New York. Was that due to you guys or were the other teams in the NFL very competitive as well?
You had a couple of really, really good coaches at Lockport High School like Dick Crossett while I was still coaching. North Tonawanda always had a solid program. The NFL was really, really good. I don’t think it was just LaSalle. Niagara Falls always had talent. Kenmore West was the team we wanted to beat in the mid-1980s when we started getting really good.
AD: During that 10-year stretch when you guys consistently won the Section VI Class A championship, can you talk about the yearly matchups with the Rochester schools?
PM: Oh yeah. We went up against McQuaid a couple of times, East High School a couple of times – East was supposed to blow us out every time we played them because they had so much more size. The Greece-Athena matchup was really unfortunate. I wish New York State did what they do down here in Florida. In Florida, they don’t call them “Sectionals”, they call them “Districts”.
When you play in your District championship game, win or lose, you’re not out of the tournament. The winner hosts the loser from the District next to you, and your District loser goes to play the other winner so that the two teams could end up meeting again to see who advances to the Final Four. The game with Greece-Athena was unbelievable. We just had no answer for ‘DA MAN’, John Wallace (pictured to the left).
AD: Yes, I remember he actually did have that cut onto the back of his head for that game (laughing). Well it was close for first half and then it slowly slid away from you guys in the second half and –.
PM: No, it was close for three quarters! It was tied after three quarters, but we just had no answer for him. We kept the game under control as much as we could as a low scoring game, but we just couldn’t stop him inside. We were both undefeated at the time.
AD: Yes, they called the game “The Meeting of the Perfect Strangers” as you were both amazingly 23-0 going into that matchup.
PM: They not only won the Public School title easily, but they won the Federation also. Think about it – they struggled with us. Had we had another opportunity, you never know what would’ve happened. It was just a shame that the two teams had to meet each other before the Final Four. I went to the states that year as a spectator as I did most of the time when we didn’t make it ourselves.
The guys at the Glens Falls Civic Center loved us. We never had to get tickets or ribbons – we used to just go in where the players’ entrance was, and these guys would welcome us with open arms because the guys who ran the place just loved the style we played – the unselfish basketball and the way we played defense – we were always undersized, but we never, ever gave in. It could very well have been the state championship game – us vs. Greece-Athena. John Wallace obviously went on to have a great career at Syracuse and after that.
AD: Of LaSalle’s many berths to Glens Falls, are there any memories that stand out to you?
PM: We had some unbelievable runs in Glens. One year we played Hempstead – a powerhouse from Long Island – a much bigger school than us. It might’ve been the year after Jody Crymes and Terry Rich graduated – it might’ve been 1996, Timmy’s last year.
I was told by some people who had scouted them, ‘There’s no way that you can play this team man to man. I know that man is your dominant defense though you do play some zone, but if you play man against them, they’ll just kill you inside.’ They had two brothers that were going to play at Rhode Island – dunking machines – 6’8” guys, the Bell brothers.
Hempstead had us down by 15 points at the half, and I was playing zone because I was told that there was no way I’d be able to match up with them. I went against the voice in my head which said to go with what got us there, so I played my 1-3-1 matchup zone and they just got too many easy baskets and our pressure wasn’t good enough. At the start of the fourth quarter, we were down by 13 and I said, ‘Screw it. Let’s go back to our “Run and Jump” 1-2-2 full court press and see what happens.’ I believe we still hold the state record for points scored in a quarter in a finals championship game. We scored 39 points in an eight-minute quarter, turned them over, and over, and over again and we ended up beating them by 12 points.
PM: In hindsight you say, ‘Dammit I wish I hadn’t listened to those people who gave me all of that scouting information. I should’ve just gone with what got us there, but you live and learn. And that’s the thing as a coach, anyone who tells you it’s their thing is crazy because we all steal from each other, or we all share with each other. Even after 50 years of coaching, if I see something I’ll say, ‘Hey that’s going to work with the team we’ve got this year at Gulf Coast High School or Naples High School,’ the two places I’ve coached down here.
That’s what you’ve got to do as a coach, you’ve got to give your kids the opportunity to win, by putting them in position to win, depending on who your opponent is. So, do I prefer man to man? Of course. But do I play a lot of zone? Sure. If I think a team is going to run up and down the court and jump over the top of me, and I don’t think I can match up with them athletically, I’m going to zone them. It’s just the way of life.
Maybe the best example of that is after we won the states in 1988. We weren’t supposed to win the Niagara Frontier League in 1989, but Elon McCracken (pictured to the left) – the experience he had helping us with the state title in 1988 and the cast of characters around him – we not only won the NFL, but we won Section VI again, and then a supposed upset over McQuaid. We then won our first game in the state semifinals against Long Island-Lutheran that had this Vasil Eftimov that played at the University of North Carolina. The guy was a beast – he still owns the record for rebounding in the state tournament, but he was 6’11”.
I played a ‘slowdown’, very smart game and we beat them by a couple of points and kept it in the 40s. The year after that, we were supposedly an even lesser team and we won the league again, and we won the section again. We played East High School out of Rochester with their old coach Sal Rizzo. Our biggest kid was 6’3” who came over from Bishop Duffy/Niagara Catholic, Duke Davis. Who else was on that team? Milo Small? I think Modie, maybe Carlos Bradberry, a really good guard –.
AD: Did Carlos have an older brother named Cazzie?
PM: Yeah Cazzie was a year older than Carlos (pictured to the left). Cazzie was a forward, a solid player who played for me. Carlos was younger – more of a ballhandler and a big guard and could score. As a matter of fact, Carlos was the school’s leading scorer until Timmy came along. Timmy ended up being the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Anyway, we were playing East High and they had six guys 6’6” or bigger. We had one 6’3” guy – chunky Duke Davis (pictured in the gold shirt below). I had one week to prepare for the Far West Regionals and I put in “delay and strike” game – I said I’m going to keep this game in the 40s and it’s the only chance we’re going to have to win because if we run up and down with this team, we won’t have a chance because they had good guards too. That’s why I said you’ve got to do what’s best for your team and not be hard headed and knuckleheaded and think, ‘This is the only way that we play.’ To me you’re doing your kids a disservice. But that game with East High, do you know what the final score was?
PM: It was 36-33 in triple overtime (laughing).
AD: So, you guys did really slow it down.
PM: Well what was great was that Sal Rizzo who was the nicest guy you’ll ever want to meet, God rest his soul – I honestly don’t think he knew a lick about the game of basketball. He had so much talent year in and year out – he should’ve been in the Far West Regionals every year – that’s how talented East High was. He got so ticked off because the score at halftime was something like 17-15. He came out at halftime and came over to me and said, ‘What are you doing? This isn’t basketball!’ I said, ‘Coach, I’m doing the only thing I can do to give our team a chance to win!’ He said, ‘Well two can play that game Coach!’ And guess what he started doing –.
AD: He started delaying the ball?
PM: He started delaying the ball! (laughing). I said to my assistants, ‘Oh my God. Can you believe this? He’s playing right into our hands!’
So, it’s a great game. I love the game because there are so many facets to it and it’s so exciting. You’re teaching life skills in a sports setting in my opinion. If you looked at my contacts in my phone, probably more than half of them are our former players. It’s those relationships you make – I mean some of them still call me, ‘Dad.’ My wife and I weren’t fortunate enough to have children, and it’s funny when people ask, how many grandchildren we have, my wife will say, ‘Oh we don’t have any children or grandchildren, but we have hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of sons and daughters,’ from my teaching and coaching.
AD: When your LaSalle teams advanced to the Far West Regionals, how were you able to scout your opponent from Rochester, if at all? Your Final Four opponents?
PM: We usually got to see our opponent one way or another. Sometimes my staff and I would head to Rochester for their semifinal games when and if they were being played on different nights than ours. Also, sometimes their Finals were on different nights than ours – either Friday or Saturday. There were sometimes when we had to send someone to scout for us if we were playing our Semifinals or Finals at the same time as the Section V schools were out in Rochester.
One way or the other I always made sure that we had adequate information on whomever we were to play. I was and still am a firm believer in deep and thorough scouting of any of our opponents no matter how strong or weak I thought they may be! There’s a very old adage which says, ‘leave no stone unturned,’ and it was a real belief of mine in preparing our team for battle!
AD: What did the LaSalle players do in the offseason? Did they play in camps? Did they play in leagues?
PM: Back in the day there was nothing like there is today with this crazy traveling all over the country – this AAU stuff. They have this great thing down here in Florida. Do you know how in college football they have spring practice and they have a spring inter-squad game? Unless you’re Michigan and you go to Rome or Paris (laughing).
In Florida, football rules and basketball takes a second seat unfortunately. Several years ago, they let them start practicing in May – right now they’re practicing – real football. The first week, no pads, just a helmet, and they walk through stuff and do cardiovascular training. The last three weeks they have full equipment, tackling and everything and then by the end of the month they play a game against another high school that they won’t be playing in the regular season.
I guess the basketball coaches approached the state and said, ‘Hey, we know that we’re second class citizens but we’re a pretty important sport too. Can we do something like that?’ So down here in June, you can coach your own kids in your own gym with your own gear, and then every weekend, there’s a tournament somewhere around the state.
They usually have 16 teams and they break you up into pools of eight. Over the weekend if you make it to the championship, you can play as many as four games on the last day which you play from Friday to Sunday where No. 1 from this side will play No. 8 from that side and so on, so you can play as many as 6-7 games on a weekend. So that’s what’s big down here even though they also still do the AAU thing which is going on right now. Come June, there’ll be actual basketball practice going on which is really great.
Back in my day there was no AAU though there was ‘traveling’ basketball and my better players played on what I would call more ‘All-Star’ teams. There was a guy – Mickey something out of Syracuse – he picked up Timmy one year and he picked up Modie another year. They’d travel around Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York in probably what is now AAU basketball. I myself used to put our team in summer leagues. Based upon the rules I couldn’t coach them, so I’d have one of my unpaid assistants – a player or a parent who knew the game and I would come and watch.
You wanted them to be thinking the game 24-7, 12 months a year but I was a firm believer in pushing my kids to play another sport. Down here in Florida it’s a shame. There are really good baseball players would could be good basketball players. There are some tremendous football athletes who would be phenomenal basketball players. But down here the coaches don’t get along with each other and they have the tendency to almost threaten their players saying things like a, ‘Well if you do that, then you’re not going to do this,’ type of thing.
I was the opposite. I wanted my kids to play a second sport for two reasons. Most of them were inner-city kids and I knew where they were – they weren’t running the streets if you know what I mean. It also kept their grades up because you had to have a certain average to stay eligible.
So, I used to push my basketball players and say, ‘If you want to play football, go play football. Go run track.’ A couple of them used to run Cross Country to get into cardiovascular shape in the fall for basketball. So, I always pushed them to do another sport, and they don’t do that enough anymore. They get them too isolated into the one thing and I personally don’t like that myself, but it is what it is.
AD: Are the kids different today than they were 20-30 years ago?
PM: Oh God. Are you kidding me? Of course. Absolutely.
AD: Are they less tough?
PM: There’s a lot more entitlement. I don’t know why. Maybe not up there, I haven’t been up there in a while – maybe 15 years. I hear from people about how bad the NFL is now. I hear about how bad the Catholic league is except for a couple of schools. Ritchie Jacobs used to be one of my assistants. He called me before he was playing Canisius the second and third time – I guess they got throttled by them the first time they played this year.
He called me and picked my brain for a good 40 minutes asking, ‘Coach what do I do about this? How do I do this? I’ve got this guy who can do this –.’ Over the phone I said, ‘Get your white board out – this is what I think you should do –.’ Then he turns around and wins the whole thing.
My tree has grown exponentially and it’s fun to have these young guys still contacting me. One of our LaSalle super fan’s brother coaches his son’s 10-year old team – they live in Mississippi or Alabama or something. He said, ‘Coach, my brother wants to contact you. Is it okay if I give him your number? He’s got this pretty good little 10-year old team but there’s this one team they can’t beat because they have one kid who scores three quarters of their points and you always run that gimmick defense. Do you think 10-year olds can do that?’
‘Anybody can do it if it’s taught properly,’ I said. So the brother of Dave Universal, this super fan and one of my former students, Dan Universal calls me and with pen and paper out, and I explained to him what I do when I want to, ‘chop the head off of the monster,’ so to speak. He got a hold of me a week later and said, ‘Yeah we beat them. We held that kid to six points,’ and he was so excited. He says, ‘Your thing works.’
‘It’s amazing more people don’t do it. You can’t do it if you’ve got a team that’s got two or three monsters. But if you’ve got one guy who’s primarily the ballhandler and also a scorer-facilitator and kind of the team leader – if you can take him away the right way, the rest of the guys get rattled, they don’t know what to do, and they shoot the ball differently than if he were involved,’ I said. I’ve proved it down here twice. We played two private schools down here – ritzy schools kind of like Nichols is or was. One of them called the “Community School of Naples” costs $22,000 a year to go there believe it or not.
PM: They had a kid who was averaging 23 points a game. Just the week before they were being touted in the newspapers here as “the best local high school basketball team”. The team I was coaching at Gulf Coast High School, we were pretty good – we had only lost one game locally. The other losses were to big teams out of Miami and Tampa. I had a week to put in my gimmick defense which held Lamar Odom to 7 points, and Stephon Marbury to 11 points. We put it in, and this kid from this Community School of Naples only scored 1 point. It’s effective if you don’t have too many monsters, but you can’t do it all the time.
AD: Would the LaSalle dynasty have gone on had the school not closed?
PM: Oh absolutely, and I probably would’ve gone on myself another five years or so. Who knows, some people say that if it were still open, I’d be coaching now at 71 going on 72 years of age. I ask them, ‘What are you crazy?’ I enjoy playing tennis or golf every morning. I go to basketball practice after school and just show up and teach without doing anything else.
I remember when I first started doing this down here, my former players and assistants would say to me, ‘Coach you can’t be somebody’s assistant! That’s impossible!’ I tell them, ‘You guys don’t understand. I’ve got the best of both worlds.’
Most of these teams I’ve been coaching, they buy into everything I teach, and it’s like watching LaSalle. As a matter of fact, Mark Simon, the outgoing St. Joe’s coach – he has a place here in Naples and he comes down in the winter once and while when he gets a break from work. He must’ve seen something on Facebook so he reached out to me and asked if he could come by a practice and pick my brain a little bit. He came by practice this winter and stayed the whole two hours of practice – watched our Gulf Coast High School team practice and picked up a few things.
PM: Well (laughing), the last year – the 1999-2000 season, that’s when Niagara Falls finally beat us. God, they had six to seven kids who were just tremendous basketball players, and all we had was Dewitt Doss and a cast of characters, and little munchkins. Believe it or not, that’s when they were still doing that crossover stuff where you had two divisions.
We won our side, and they won their side and we played them at North Tonawanda. We had a 7-point lead on them with about four minutes left in the game, and all we did was turn it over. We ended up losing them by two, and we ended up playing them again in the sectional finals, and they beat us on a buzzer beater. I’ll be honest with you in that we should’ve been blown out by 20 points, and we kept both games in the 40s.
Your kids have got to believe in you, and you’ve got to believe in them. I see too many screamers and yellers. Did I yell? Of course I yelled, but I yelled for a purpose and for a reason. If yesterday I put in an out of bounds play, and we went over it 20 times in row, and then we ran it tonight in the game, and you went the wrong way, you better believe you’re going to hear it from me. Right? I’m a teacher, and I taught you to do it this way and not that way.
I think people misconstrued me as a ‘win at all costs’ guy and it’s never how I’ve been. Am I a competitor? Absolutely. Do I like to win? Of course. I love to win. Show me someone who loves to lose and I’ll show you a loser, right? But you talk to my players and they’ll tell you that they learned more life lessons than they did the game of basketball. Talk to Modie Cox – do you know Modie?
AD: We met and spoke briefly a couple of years ago.
PM: Well you talk to Modie (pictured in the gold uniform below) and have him tell you some stories. He’s got a great program he runs now. It’s his business and it’s called “Winning Because I Tried”, and he speaks all over the place – all over the state at Boys Clubs and middle schools, and he’s just turned out to be one hell of a great and dynamic young man. He was a freshman I brought up from the JV on that 1987-88, 27-0 team. I’ll remember it until the day that I die. We still get together and every time I see him, and he still brings it up. He says, ‘Coach, that was the moment that changed my life.’
He didn’t play a lick in any of those games. If I had 11-12 Varsity players, I would always bring my three or four best JV players up to the Varsity team. They’d practice with us all through the Sectionals and all through the Far West Regionals. I’d take them to Glens Falls so they could see what it was like and want to do it themselves.
He was on that team, and after the game – he didn’t play a second and he was crying like a baby. He hugged me and said, ‘Coach this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in my life!’ And now he’s turned out to be doing the right things for the right reasons and is just a great young man. He had a nice career at UB. If you have a chance, you should talk to Modie and Timmy Winn.
AD: Okay that would be great. Well thank you Coach Monti. I think readers are really going to enjoy this interview – your players, the LaSalle alumni who I see have their own Facebook page, others who knew you, and basketball fans alike. I have some pictures and news clippings from the Buffalo News to go with what we’ve talked about here.
PM: Well the stuff you want to get is the stuff that Allen Wilson wrote up back in the day. Do you remember Allen Wilson? What a great guy. He loved, loved, loved my kids. He followed us as if he was our number one booster. That guy really, really liked our team. He came to a couple of our postseason banquets – great guy and it’s a shame what happened to him.
His wife Lisa who used to be the sports editor for the Buffalo News – sweet girl. He met her when she was doing sports for the Niagara Gazette when he was doing the Buffalo News, and I sort of introduced them.
AD: I moved away from Western New York in the mid-1990s. What happened to Allen Wilson?
PM: He died of Cancer after my retirement. I want to say that he’s been gone maybe 10 years now. Great guy. Tremendous guy. Great sports reporter. He loved high school basketball – a Carolina guy.
AD: I know Mike Harrington was writing most of the stuff and then Allen took over?
PM: Yes, Mike moved up to the big-time and Allen took over the high school beat. And after Allen, there was Keith McShea. Did you go to college after Hutch?
AD: Yes, but I didn’t play after high school. It was a bit of rocky road for me. I got injured my junior year and had some issues with my grades, and then the coach I started playing under retired. Then my senior season was a wash.
AD: Ken Jones. His 1990-91 team won the Class B Sectional and advanced the Far West Regional where they lost to Newark my freshman year, and we just had a hard time getting back and making things work, and then he left.
PM: And you said one of my teams played you guys in one of the Christmas tournaments?
AD: Yes, it was the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament – my first year on the team. I remember the day before the game, following practice, one of my teammates said, ‘We’re not going to beat LaSalle!’ I wondered why he would say such a thing, but I was in large part unexposed to Section VI basketball at the time so I didn’t know who you guys were (laughing).
PM: Who did I have on that team?
AD: You had: Carlos Bradberry, Todd Guetta, Curtis Ralands, Chris Frank and Shino Ellis – those guys (pictured in the team photo above).
AD: Now I hope my Coach and teammates don’t get upset with me for this, but from the opening tip, it was like a Lion jumping on a Deer where the two teams were playing at two different speeds, and you guys beat us handily, 72-42. I was hoping to get at least one basket in ‘garbage’ time, but Jody Crymes and the other reserves were still playing at full speed (laughing).
PM: Oh (laughing). Well towards the end there when we used to go into opposing gyms, people used to say, ‘Well it’s already 10-nothing LaSalle before you even come out of the locker room.’
Yeah so if there was ever a dynasty, for that one stretch, I think we were truly a dynasty. I know there was a lot of banter back and forth. Who was better? St. Joe’s or LaSalle? Traditional or LaSalle? Turner/Carroll or LaSalle? But, I don’t think there’s anyone who did what we did for that stretch of time.
It sounds cocky, but I’m very, very proud of that. We were able to do it year in and year out with a change in personnel every year. And it all goes back to what we talked about in the beginning – the system. It was the system!
To see the first part of my interview with Coach Monti and other basketball-related pieces on my blog, see the links below. There will be one more installment in addition to this ‘question and answer’ portion of my interview with Coach Monti. During our interview, Coach Monti told numerous stories from the LaSalle basketball dynasty which were quite substantial length-wise for a standard interview format, and were more appropriate as ‘standalone’ stories. Those stories are coming soon. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy:
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“When you have so many great teams that have been there before you, you’re not competing against the best in Western New York, you’re competing against history. We didn’t care about beating St. Joe’s or Buffalo Traditional. Could we be better than the team we were on last year?”
The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success. A key aspect 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 Section VI, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s western-most section, laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.
In part one of this two-part interview, Tim discusses his background, how he started playing basketball, and how he became one of the legendary point guards in the LaSalle basketball dynasty. 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 Sections V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Tim himself, and his Head Coach at LaSalle Senior High School, Pat Monti. Click on any of the images to enlarge them. Links follow up video interviews with Tim, Modie Cox and other LaSalle coaches and players are at the end of this interview.
Anwar Dunbar: First Tim, I want to say that I really appreciate your willingness to talk about your playing days and LaSalle basketball. This really, really means a lot.
Tim Winn: No problem. The older you get, the only thing you’ve got left are your stories.
AD: I’ll tell you a little bit about me and then we’ll jump in. I’m a blogger/writer and a native Western New Yorker just like yourself. One of the things I write about on my blog is success and failure, and my first major success and failure lesson in life was my high school basketball experience at Hutch-Tech in Buffalo. I didn’t go on and do anything as spectacular as you and Jason (Rowe) did, but that was my first time dreaming about doing something, and then feeling some disappointment. That served as a template for the rest of my life also. It’s a story I always wanted to tell, and that’s what I’m doing now.
The way that I wrote this up, it’s about my journey, but it also ends up being about Section VI as well, and you can’t tell that story without discussing the power programs – LaSalle, Buffalo Traditional and all of the teams that made their championship runs in that era. Traditional made deep runs in postseason play most years, but your teams at LaSalle were there at the end pretty much every year – for 10 straight years according to what Coach Monti said. Everyone was gunning for you guys so again, it means a lot to be able to talk about the brown and gold.
I’m going to start at the very beginning. While I knew about some of the ballplayers from Niagara Falls in the 1990s, I didn’t know any of you guys personally. Where is your family from?
TW: My grandfather is from Alabama and my grandmother is from Columbia, SC. They migrated up north way back in the day. I grew up on the east side of Niagara Falls.
AD: They came for the industry jobs?
TW: Yes, exactly.
AD: When did you start playing basketball?
TW: I was about five years old. There was a “Biddy Basketball” league in Niagara Falls. They had two age groups – 12 and under and then 12-14 years old. At five years old you were old enough to play.
AD: You know, the first time I heard of the Biddy leagues was in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on Benji Wilson. When Common mentioned it, I had no idea what he was referring to. Were those held at playgrounds or at community centers?
TW: I played for a team called the “Thirteenth Street Center”, but all of the games were held at the Boys and Girls Club in Niagara Falls on Saturday mornings.
AD: Your Dad, uncles, or any older brothers – were they basketball players too?
TW: My Dad was a great athlete. Rumor has it that he could’ve gone pro in football, baseball, or basketball, but he chose the street life – a typical story where we’re from, you know? It ate him up and it never panned out.
AD: So you must have played for your middle school team?
TW: We didn’t do that in Niagara Falls. We played in the Biddy leagues and that was pretty much it. You played for your neighborhood club – the Boys and Girls Club – I played at the Thirteenth Street Center.
There were different community centers throughout Niagara Falls, and you played for the community center within your neighborhood. There are eight or nine different community centers in Niagara Falls that are spread out in the different neighborhoods. The kids migrated to each center, joined the basketball team. There were also games at the Boys and Girls Club.
AD: That’s very different than what we had in Buffalo. Does that mean your middle schools didn’t have teams at all?
TW: Elementary school? No. You either still played in the Biddy leagues or you tried out for one of the Junior Varsity (JV) teams in the sixth or seventh grades.
AD: Okay, I’m just trying to put everything together because your Coach at LaSalle, Pat Monti, shared with me that the LaSalle players were exposed to the program prior to the ninth grade.
TW: I played JV in the seventh grade. When you have a historic program like LaSalle’s with such a rich tradition, the conversation is always amongst you and your peers. How long are you going to play in the Biddy league? When are you going to try out for the JV? It was really common for guys in the seventh grade to go try out for the JV teams. Obviously, everyone wasn’t going to have success, but it was common. The best players in the Biddy league were presented with the opportunity to try out. Coach Monti’s program had been around for a million years for those of us who lived there.
AD: Did you guys have the option of going to LaSalle or Niagara Falls Senior High Schools? How did that work?
TW: It was all based on your address. I lived right next door to someone who went to Niagara Falls High School. The city broke it down in a weird way where it was strictly addressed-based. For me it was the ‘luck of the draw’. If I lived one more house over, it would have been Niagara Falls High School instead of LaSalle.
AD: Which college and professional players did you look up to? Was it Michael Jordan? Was it someone else?
AD: Was it because of his ‘handle’? Was it because he could shoot it as well?
TW: All of it. It was his handle, his competitive nature – just that fight. Where I’m from, if you didn’t’ have that fight in you, you couldn’t play. He was an easy guy to look up to because at his height, you could see his heartbeat before you could see his handle.
AD: Does that mean you guys were taught how to compete early?
TW: Yes. The side of town I’m from – you either competed or your never played. That’s just how it was. It was a really tough environment. The community raised the kids, so you never played with your age group. At five years old, it was common for me to be on the court with guys 10 and 11 years old – it was very common.
TW: No, not at a young age. It sounds crazy, but you looked up to guys in your neighborhood – the guys at LaSalle Senior High School, for example. Basketball was so big in our city that the teams I liked watching the most were the high schools – Niagara Falls and LaSalle.
Modie Cox (pictured) lived right in my neighborhood, just two houses down. He was a hero in my neighborhood. At five and six years old he was the guy that I watched. In terms of the colleges, I didn’t have a favorite team until I got older and then it was Syracuse.
AD: Now were you familiar with any of the other big-time Section VI players like Ritchie Campbell or Marcus Whitfield? Or was Buffalo just that far away a place to the point where your neighborhood was it?
TW: You heard about it, but it was never up close and personal. I remember Ritchie Campbell coming to Niagara Falls to play against Modie in an All-Star game. That was the first time ever seeing him play. I was in awe because he was one of those rare talents that you never see come through your area. From that point it made me pay attention. I wondered, what else was happening in Buffalo? It made you start paying attention to things outside of your neighborhood.
AD: How was Ritchie’s game different than Modie’s?
TW: Modie was a pure point guard – a pure leader, and I thought Ritchie was the kind of player who could just do anything. I don’t think there wasn’t anything Ritchie (pictured) couldn’t do as a basketball player. He could shoot and make it from half court, and his ability to get assists was just as effective. If you needed someone to start your engine and get your car going, Modie was that motor.
AD: I never got to see either of them play, but you always heard of their legends.
TW: They were definitely both legends.
AD: How did you get over to LaSalle?
TW: Again, it was all neighborhood based and I just happened to be one of the lucky kids who lived in that area that sent you to LaSalle and not Niagara Falls High School.
AD: Did Coach Monti start to know you in the seventh grade?
TW: It wasn’t so much that he got to know me. His program was already there and established. A lot of great talent had already come through it. I was in the seventh grade and wanted to give it a shot and try out for the JV. Once I made that JV team, he became familiar with me. It wasn’t really before that. He may have seen me play in the Biddy leagues, but at that age there are a lot of talented kids in Niagara Falls. I pretty much made JV in the seventh grade and it started from there in terms of our relationship.
AD: Was it a big adjustment for you going from the Biddy league to the JV team?
TW: It wasn’t, because I had been playing with older guys all of my life. You grew up getting beat up by Modie Cox, so going to the JV was not that much of a transition. For me it wasn’t a big transition because the JV program was an extension of the Varsity program. It had such a rich tradition that you walked into a ‘well-oiled’ machine.
AD: Who was coaching the JV team? Was it Coach Rotundo?
TW: Yes, it was Coach Frank Rotundo.
AD: So, you played JV in the seventh and eighth grades?
TW: Yes, and in the eighth grade I was called up to the Varsity team.
AD: In the eighth grade – how about that. Does that mean you were on the roster when the Carlos Bradberry-led LaSalle team played the John Wallace-led Greece-Athena team in March of 1992 in the Class A Far West Regional?
TW: Yes – John Wallace – ‘DA MAN’.
AD: Yes, he had that cut on the back of his head in fat letters. That 1991-92 season was my first year on our Varsity team at Hutch-Tech and you all beat us decisively in the Festival of Lights Tournament. From that point on I kept my eyes on what LaSalle was doing. I taped that Far West Regional game, and I watched it most of the summertime.
I was thinking that the next year I would get to play against Carlos Bradberry, Curtis Ralands, Todd Guetta, Chris Frank, and the rest of the guys on that team. I was sidelined by an injury the next season. We opened up the Festival of Lights Tournament the next season against the Niagara Falls Power Cats and lost to them. We didn’t advance to play you guys anyway, but you always wonder what if.
Once Shino Ellis graduated I thought Jody Crymes – also very talented and lightening quick- would be the next guard up to start alongside Carlos in the backcourt, but suddenly I started hearing about a player named Tim Winn. I was wondering, ‘Who is Tim Winn?’ Describe your freshman season.
TW: It was a rollercoaster ride for me. As you said, Jody was coming into his sophomore year, and with me coming up onto the Varsity team I didn’t know what kind of a role I’d have. I knew that it would be small at first because we had a lot of seniors coming back – Carlos Bradberry was the man. For me, I just wanted to soak it all up, to ‘get in where I fit in,’ as they say.
Coach Monti has a way of just throwing you into the fire. If he’s keeping you on the team, he’s keeping you for a reason. We played Olean High School the first game of that season and I scored 14 points off the bench. To be honest it was a shock to me, because I didn’t think that I was ready on that level to come off the bench and contribute. The opportunity was there, and I took advantage of it.
That was Coach Monti’s genius. He throws you in the fire and expects you to be ready. He allowed you to ‘hide’ behind the system.
AD: Okay, since we’re on Coach Monti, what was it like inside the LaSalle basketball program? I remember you guys played suffocating defense, created a lot of turnovers – a lot of pressing, some zone, and then boom you guys were immediately down at the other basket, laying it up or dunking it.
TW: For me, the blessing was that the program was already established. There was a way of going about your business and there were expectations that the program already had. It also just so happened to meet my skill set somewhere in the middle. It was a ‘no nonsense’ program, and it wasn’t a program where you could just come to practice, roll out the balls and start playing.
Coach Monti is a huge stickler on drills, drills, drills. I learned more at LaSalle than I learned in my whole career when you include college and the pros – just knowing how to play the game. It’s not even close. That experience had me super prepared for anything after that. Coach Monti took the time to teach you how to play, and then he demanded that you play the right way.
AD: What was playing the ‘right’ way for Coach Monti? Was it running his offense? Was it boxing out on defense?
TW: If you didn’t play defense at LaSalle, you didn’t play! His defensive tradition was unreal. It didn’t matter how good you were on offense. It started there. That’s how you win a state championship with four guys my height and a center who was 6’1”. You had to defend – that was the staple of our tradition. We didn’t care who you were playing with or who you had. We were coming in and shutting everything down, and then the offense just fell where it fell.
After the defense it was just being unselfish. You’re a team. We didn’t play for stats. The only stats we cared about was the win. That was our bragging point. If there was any arrogance from us, it was based upon getting victories – not me getting 40 points or Jody Crymes (pictured with Tim) getting 20 assists – it was never about that. Those things just came along with it. If we beat you, then we would walk around with our chests poked out a little bit.
AD: Does that mean no one was looking to get on ESPN (laughing)?
TW: Not at all and this is the thing – when you have so many great teams who have been there before you, you’re not really competing against Western New York. We never came into a season saying, ‘We’ve got to be as good as Buffalo Traditional.’ We were trying to beat history.
I’ll give you a prime example. After Carlos Bradberry’s senior year, we graduated eight or nine seniors. No one gave us a chance to come back the next year, and to do any work. It was the perfect opportunity for guys like me entering my sophomore year, and Jody entering his junior year to take our claim.
We didn’t care about being better than St. Joe’s or Buffalo Traditional. Could we be better than the team we were on last year? The only way you would get props in our city and our program, was if you were one of the best teams within that program, and that was our motivation. Could we be better than Carlos’s team the year before who had the Player of the Year on it? Could we get back to Glens Falls?
For us, Glens Falls was the standard. It wasn’t winning the NFL. It wasn’t winning Section VI. Could you get to Glens Falls and win a State Championship? So when the standards are that and you have complete buy in from all of the players involved, it at least sets you up for an opportunity to come close every year. You’re not satisfied with beating Lew-Port. You could care less about beating Traditional, which was one of the best teams to ever come out of Western New York. I’m just saying that for us, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get to Stephon Marbury and Glens Falls. We were never satisfied with anything local.
AD: Before we move on, what were those guys like – Carlos Bradberry and his class? Did they welcome you on the team? Did they make you have to prove yourself?
TW: We all grew up playing in the Biddy league, so you were already cool with these guys. So the transition to being their teammate on the Varsity was seamless, because we were already like brothers. I lived two houses down from Carlos when I was in high school. Before I became a Varsity player, I was at his house everyday playing video games.
That’s the environment we were in – most of the guys who played Varsity hung out together. You grew up playing against the older kids, and a lot of those guys were the older kids. So to become their teammate was almost expected, and that we would all eventually play together.
AD: What did the LaSalle players do in the offseason? Did you guys go to camps? AAU? What were the guys doing?
TW: It was different for every player. I went away to the “Five Star Camp”, the “Eastern Invitational”, the “Empire State Games“. For me it was different. Jody did a lot of the same, but there was also a league back home that allowed your team to play in it together. We spent a lot of time together playing in high school basketball leagues, but we also played in “Father Bell” as well in Buffalo. We played together a lot.
It’s one thing to stay in your own neighborhood and to compete and succeed, but we also took our show on the road. Once you got to Buffalo in the summertime, and you have guys who may not play together in high school, you might get Jason Rowe and Mark Price on the same team, or Jason and Antoine Sims on the same team. You’re not going to get that staying in Niagara Falls. We felt that if we could find a way to compete against teams that were loaded in the summertime, we knew that we would be better off once the season started.
AD:Coach Monti pointed out that you made the State Tournament all four years which is astounding because, as you remember, many of the Section VI teams were struggling to beat the Section V teams from the Rochester area. When Carlos and his class graduated were you just trying to beat history like you said? What was it like stepping up and doing it yourself 100% of the time?
TW: Do you know what it’s like to get a taste of something? I was young at the time. Me and Jody rode Carlos’s coattails to Glens Falls. As much as we may have contributed, it wasn’t our team. His talent was on a different level. No one in Western New York could deal with him and that carried us.
As a young kid, I didn’t know anything else except going to Glens Falls. We got close to winning the year before, but lost to John Wallace’s team. At worst I thought that I was supposed to be in the Far West Regional against a Rochester team. To beat the Rochester team the next year to go to Glens Falls felt like it was where we were supposed to be. It didn’t take much for Coach Monti to sell us at all. He told us, ‘Look. I’m going to watch the games no matter what. You guys can play well enough to join me or you can stay at home.’
For us it wasn’t a hard sell. Once you get a smell of Glens Falls, there’s nothing else you’d rather have outside of winning it. After riding Carlos’s coattails as a freshman, I wanted my own. The next year I got there as a sophomore and we were immature. No one expected us to be there and the games really took us by storm. We were young kids jumping in the pool at night; just super happy to be in Glens Falls.
The maturity showed up in the offseason because we said, ‘Just going to Glens Falls is kind of whack now.’ Afterwards we were coming to win it and that’s what happened my junior year – to me. If my teammate Terry Rich didn’t get hurt, we would’ve beaten Stephon Marbury’s Lincoln team in the Federation Championship. We didn’t have a full team, but we won the State Championship that year.
AD: So your sophomore year, you guys lost in the state semifinal?
TW: Yes, we lost to a well-coached team with lots of shooters. We were just immature. We finished 22-4.
AD: Talk about matching up with Stephon Marbury in your junior year. He was the No. 1 high school player in the nation that year, right?
TW: You come into it and you know his reputation. You see all of the highlights. He was a McDonald’s All-American, the top point guard in the country. For me there was going to be no better test to let me know what level I was on than to go up against this guy. I was going to try it all. Whoever I thought I was, I was going to try it in that game, and playing against the best, would expose what I needed to work on.
We locked him down. He was averaging 30 points a game, and I think we held him to 12 points. That was a springboard for me in my high school career. I felt like if Stephon Marbury couldn’t score on me, nobody was scoring. I didn’t care who you were. I carried that with me for that entire summer – ABCD Basketball Camp – everywhere I went. It carried into my senior year when we lost two of my favorite players of all time that I played with, Jody Crymes and Terry Rich. Nobody was expecting me to go back to Glens Falls my senior year.
AD: After losing Jody and Terry, how did you reload? Who filled in for them? Or did you just go up another level?
TW: It was a combination of things. For me individually, my game went ten notches up from going to ABCD Camp and playing against the best point guards. I put a lot of work into my game, so I was a lot better than in my junior year.
We also had guys like Roddy Gayle and Carlos Davis who had small roles with us the year before (both pictured to the left). They stepped up big time. For the first time in a long time, it wasn’t just a guard-led team. These guys were my center and my forward even though they were both just 6’. So they really stepped up!
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. In part two, Tim talks more about playing in the LaSalle basketball program, where he played college basketball, the closing of LaSalle Senior High School, and finally how basketball has changed. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:
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