Niagara Falls basketball legend Carlos Bradberry discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part two

“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.

AD: Did Hempstead play you a particular way?

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.

AD: Obviously, one of them was Niagara University. I remember going to Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium your freshman year and seeing you play against the University at Buffalo. Were there other Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) schools interested in you?

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.

AD: How did you end up deciding on Niagara University?

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: Where did you go after you left Niagara?

CB: I went to the University of New Hampshire which was in the “American East Conference” back then. I transferred there halfway through my sophomore season.

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.

AD: Did you guy’s make the Men’s NCAA Tournament any of those years?

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.

AD: Who was in that conference?

CB: Vermont, Boston University, Delaware, Drexel – all those guys. Hofstra had the “Speedy” Claxton kid who went to the NBA. The conference was just tough. Boston University had the Joey Beard kid who had just transferred from Duke and –.

AD: Didn’t Drexel have Malik Rose at that time?

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?

CB: Yes. Niagara-Catholic closed, so now he’s playing at 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.

AD: Interesting.

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:

Niagara Falls basketball legend Carlos Bradberry discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls basketball legend Time Winn discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls coaching legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site or add the link to RSS feed to your feedreader. 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.

Niagara Falls coaching legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part two

“It’s a great game. I love the game because there are so many facets to it – it’s so exciting and you’re teaching life skills in a sports-setting in my opinion.”

This is part two of my interview with legendary LaSalle Senior High School Head Basketball Coach Pat Monti. In part one, we discussed his background, and how he built the LaSalle basketball program. In part two, we discuss more aspects of coaching, memorable games, notable opposing players and coaches, and his coaching career after LaSalle closed. We end by acknowledging the hardworking staff of the Buffalo News who covered the Explorers and Section VI basketball throughout Coach Monti’s tenure as the Explorers’ leader on the bench.

The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Western New York basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Sections V and VI playoff programs, by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Tim Winn, and Coach Monti himself. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

Anwar Dunbar: In the late 1980s, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote a story saying that the Niagara Frontier League (NFL) officially had surpassed the Yale Cup as the best league in Western New York. Was that due to you guys or were the other teams in the NFL very competitive as well?

Pat Monti: No, I think it was just the great rivalries. Kenmore West had Dick Harvey who was a tremendous basketball coach (pictured to the left). I got into the New York Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, and I think Dick got in a little bit after me.

You had a couple of really, really good coaches at Lockport High School like Dick Crossett while I was still coaching. North Tonawanda always had a solid program. The NFL was really, really good. I don’t think it was just LaSalle. Niagara Falls always had talent. Kenmore West was the team we wanted to beat in the mid-1980s when we started getting really good.

AD: During that 10-year stretch when you guys consistently won the Section VI Class A championship, can you talk about the yearly matchups with the Rochester schools?

PM: Oh yeah. We went up against McQuaid a couple of times, East High School a couple of times – East was supposed to blow us out every time we played them because they had so much more size. The Greece-Athena matchup was really unfortunate. I wish New York State did what they do down here in Florida. In Florida, they don’t call them “Sectionals”, they call them “Districts”.

When you play in your District championship game, win or lose, you’re not out of the tournament. The winner hosts the loser from the District next to you, and your District loser goes to play the other winner so that the two teams could end up meeting again to see who advances to the Final Four. The game with Greece-Athena was unbelievable. We just had no answer for ‘DA MAN’, John Wallace (pictured to the left).

AD: Yes, I remember he actually did have that cut onto the back of his head for that game (laughing). Well it was close for first half and then it slowly slid away from you guys in the second half and –.

PM: No, it was close for three quarters! It was tied after three quarters, but we just had no answer for him. We kept the game under control as much as we could as a low scoring game, but we just couldn’t stop him inside. We were both undefeated at the time.

AD: Yes, they called the game “The Meeting of the Perfect Strangers” as you were both amazingly 23-0 going into that matchup.

PM: They not only won the Public School title easily, but they won the Federation also. Think about it – they struggled with us. Had we had another opportunity, you never know what would’ve happened. It was just a shame that the two teams had to meet each other before the Final Four. I went to the states that year as a spectator as I did most of the time when we didn’t make it ourselves.

The guys at the Glens Falls Civic Center loved us. We never had to get tickets or ribbons – we used to just go in where the players’ entrance was, and these guys would welcome us with open arms because the guys who ran the place just loved the style we played – the unselfish basketball and the way we played defense – we were always undersized, but we never, ever gave in. It could very well have been the state championship game – us vs. Greece-Athena. John Wallace obviously went on to have a great career at Syracuse and after that.

AD: Of LaSalle’s many berths to Glens Falls, are there any memories that stand out to you?

PM: We had some unbelievable runs in Glens. One year we played Hempstead – a powerhouse from Long Island – a much bigger school than us. It might’ve been the year after Jody Crymes and Terry Rich graduated – it might’ve been 1996, Timmy’s last year.

I was told by some people who had scouted them, ‘There’s no way that you can play this team man to man. I know that man is your dominant defense though you do play some zone, but if you play man against them, they’ll just kill you inside.’ They had two brothers that were going to play at Rhode Island – dunking machines – 6’8” guys, the Bell brothers.

Hempstead had us down by 15 points at the half, and I was playing zone because I was told that there was no way I’d be able to match up with them. I went against the voice in my head which said to go with what got us there, so I played my 1-3-1 matchup zone and they just got too many easy baskets and our pressure wasn’t good enough. At the start of the fourth quarter, we were down by 13 and I said, ‘Screw it. Let’s go back to our “Run and Jump” 1-2-2 full court press and see what happens.’ I believe we still hold the state record for points scored in a quarter in a finals championship game. We scored 39 points in an eight-minute quarter, turned them over, and over, and over again and we ended up beating them by 12 points.

AD: Wow.

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?

AD: What?

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.

AD: Wow.

PM: They had a kid who was averaging 23 points a game. Just the week before they were being touted in the newspapers here as “the best local high school basketball team”. The team I was coaching at Gulf Coast High School, we were pretty good – we had only lost one game locally. The other losses were to big teams out of Miami and Tampa. I had a week to put in my gimmick defense which held Lamar Odom to 7 points, and Stephon Marbury to 11 points. We put it in, and this kid from this Community School of Naples only scored 1 point. It’s effective if you don’t have too many monsters, but you can’t do it all the time.

AD: Would the LaSalle dynasty have gone on had the school not closed?

PM: Oh absolutely, and I probably would’ve gone on myself another five years or so. Who knows, some people say that if it were still open, I’d be coaching now at 71 going on 72 years of age. I ask them, ‘What are you crazy?’ I enjoy playing tennis or golf every morning. I go to basketball practice after school and just show up and teach without doing anything else.

I remember when I first started doing this down here, my former players and assistants would say to me, ‘Coach you can’t be somebody’s assistant! That’s impossible!’ I tell them, ‘You guys don’t understand. I’ve got the best of both worlds.’

Most of these teams I’ve been coaching, they buy into everything I teach, and it’s like watching LaSalle. As a matter of fact, Mark Simon, the outgoing St. Joe’s coach – he has a place here in Naples and he comes down in the winter once and while when he gets a break from work. He must’ve seen something on Facebook so he reached out to me and asked if he could come by a practice and pick my brain a little bit. He came by practice this winter and stayed the whole two hours of practice – watched our Gulf Coast High School team practice and picked up a few things.

AD: Now you may not know this, but the other Section VI Class A coaches – the Lancasters, the Williamsville Norths, the Lockports, the Hamburgs – did they all breathe a sigh of relief when they heard that LaSalle was closing?

PM: Well (laughing), the last year – the 1999-2000 season, that’s when Niagara Falls finally beat us. God, they had six to seven kids who were just tremendous basketball players, and all we had was Dewitt Doss and a cast of characters, and little munchkins. Believe it or not, that’s when they were still doing that crossover stuff where you had two divisions.

We won our side, and they won their side and we played them at North Tonawanda. We had a 7-point lead on them with about four minutes left in the game, and all we did was turn it over. We ended up losing them by two, and we ended up playing them again in the sectional finals, and they beat us on a buzzer beater. I’ll be honest with you in that we should’ve been blown out by 20 points, and we kept both games in the 40s.

Your kids have got to believe in you, and you’ve got to believe in them. I see too many screamers and yellers. Did I yell? Of course I yelled, but I yelled for a purpose and for a reason. If yesterday I put in an out of bounds play, and we went over it 20 times in row, and then we ran it tonight in the game, and you went the wrong way, you better believe you’re going to hear it from me. Right? I’m a teacher, and I taught you to do it this way and not that way.

I think people misconstrued me as a ‘win at all costs’ guy and it’s never how I’ve been. Am I a competitor? Absolutely. Do I like to win? Of course. I love to win. Show me someone who loves to lose and I’ll show you a loser, right? But you talk to my players and they’ll tell you that they learned more life lessons than they did the game of basketball. Talk to Modie Cox – do you know Modie?

AD: We met and spoke briefly a couple of years ago.

PM: Well you talk to Modie (pictured in the gold uniform below) and have him tell you some stories. He’s got a great program he runs now. It’s his business and it’s called “Winning Because I Tried”, and he speaks all over the place – all over the state at Boys Clubs and middle schools, and he’s just turned out to be one hell of a great and dynamic young man. He was a freshman I brought up from the JV on that 1987-88, 27-0 team. I’ll remember it until the day that I die. We still get together and every time I see him, and he still brings it up. He says, ‘Coach, that was the moment that changed my life.’

He didn’t play a lick in any of those games. If I had 11-12 Varsity players, I would always bring my three or four best JV players up to the Varsity team. They’d practice with us all through the Sectionals and all through the Far West Regionals. I’d take them to Glens Falls so they could see what it was like and want to do it themselves.

He was on that team, and after the game – he didn’t play a second and he was crying like a baby. He hugged me and said, ‘Coach this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in my life!’ And now he’s turned out to be doing the right things for the right reasons and is just a great young man. He had a nice career at UB. If you have a chance, you should talk to Modie and Timmy Winn.

AD: Okay that would be great. Well thank you Coach Monti. I think readers are really going to enjoy this interview – your players, the LaSalle alumni who I see have their own Facebook page, others who knew you, and basketball fans alike. I have some pictures and news clippings from the Buffalo News to go with what we’ve talked about here.

PM: Well the stuff you want to get is the stuff that Allen Wilson wrote up back in the day. Do you remember Allen Wilson? What a great guy. He loved, loved, loved my kids. He followed us as if he was our number one booster. That guy really, really liked our team. He came to a couple of our postseason banquets – great guy and it’s a shame what happened to him.

His wife Lisa who used to be the sports editor for the Buffalo News – sweet girl. He met her when she was doing sports for the Niagara Gazette when he was doing the Buffalo News, and I sort of introduced them.

AD: I moved away from Western New York in the mid-1990s. What happened to Allen Wilson?

PM: He died of Cancer after my retirement. I want to say that he’s been gone maybe 10 years now. Great guy. Tremendous guy. Great sports reporter. He loved high school basketball – a Carolina guy.

AD: I know Mike Harrington was writing most of the stuff and then Allen took over?

PM: Yes, Mike moved up to the big-time and Allen took over the high school beat. And after Allen, there was Keith McShea. Did you go to college after Hutch?

AD: Yes, but I didn’t play after high school. It was a bit of rocky road for me. I got injured my junior year and had some issues with my grades, and then the coach I started playing under retired. Then my senior season was a wash.

PM: Who did you have at Hutch?

AD: Ken Jones. His 1990-91 team won the Class B Sectional and advanced the Far West Regional where they lost to Newark my freshman year, and we just had a hard time getting back and making things work, and then he left.

PM: And you said one of my teams played you guys in one of the Christmas tournaments?

AD: Yes, it was the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament – my first year on the team. I remember the day before the game, following practice, one of my teammates said, ‘We’re not going to beat LaSalle!’ I wondered why he would say such a thing, but I was in large part unexposed to Section VI basketball at the time so I didn’t know who you guys were (laughing).

PM: Who did I have on that team?

AD: You had: Carlos Bradberry, Todd Guetta, Curtis Ralands, Chris Frank and Shino Ellis – those guys (pictured in the team photo above).

PM: Oh the team that played against John Wallace and Greece-Athena in the Regional.

AD: Now I hope my Coach and teammates don’t get upset with me for this, but from the opening tip, it was like a Lion jumping on a Deer where the two teams were playing at two different speeds, and you guys beat us handily, 72-42. I was hoping to get at least one basket in ‘garbage’ time, but Jody Crymes and the other reserves were still playing at full speed (laughing).

PM: Oh (laughing). Well towards the end there when we used to go into opposing gyms, people used to say, ‘Well it’s already 10-nothing LaSalle before you even come out of the locker room.’

Yeah so if there was ever a dynasty, for that one stretch, I think we were truly a dynasty. I know there was a lot of banter back and forth. Who was better? St. Joe’s or LaSalle? Traditional or LaSalle? Turner/Carroll or LaSalle? But, I don’t think there’s anyone who did what we did for that stretch of time.

It sounds cocky, but I’m very, very proud of that. We were able to do it year in and year out with a change in personnel every year. And it all goes back to what we talked about in the beginning – the system. It was the system!

To see the first part of my interview with Coach Monti and other basketball-related pieces on my blog, see the links below. There will be one more installment in addition to this ‘question and answer’ portion of my interview with Coach Monti. During our interview, Coach Monti told numerous stories from the LaSalle basketball dynasty which were quite substantial length-wise for a standard interview format, and were more appropriate as ‘standalone’ stories. Those stories are coming soon. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy:

Pat Monti discusses building, coaching, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Tim Winn discusses playing point guard in the LaSalle basketball dynasty and beyond part one
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on basketball camp
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp

“Basketball is our game and yours can be the same!”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014. 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’m working on an ambitious writing project chronicling my early basketball journey in Western New York.

Initially I thought that I would simply republish the original series and let it go, but I’ve decided to add onto it as I continue working on my book project and ideas keep coming to me. Heading into the summer months this particular follow up installment will discuss what I learned from the three years I attended basketball camp. See if you the reader can pick up on the universal themes which transcend the great game of basketball.

* * *

“Basketball is our game and yours can be the same,” was the signature quote of the Ken Jones Basketball Camp – the camp run by Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, my first high school basketball coach. He told us students more times than I can remember, “I’m a student of the game!” He ate, slept and breathed the great game of basketball. Our basketball program at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY was an extension of him and was unique in our league, the “Yale Cup”, during that sliver of time he coached there. He taught us the structure and fundamentals of the game which at that time were the hallmarks of only the area suburban and private schools. To learn some more about what the Yale Cup was like, see parts one and two of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Jason Rowe.

What was also unique about our program at Hutch-Tech was that our coach ran his own basketball camp – the first and only one I’d ever attend. I first heard about the Ken Jones Basketball Camp as a freshman. Towards the end of the 1990-91 school year, a highly successful season for Hutch-Tech’s basketball program, Coach Jones posted fliers for the camp on the bulletin board near the coaches’ offices. I knew very few fundamentals of basketball as most of my play consisted of games of “Twenty-One”, also known as “Rochester”, and ‘pickup’ games on Buffalo’s playgrounds and at the William-Emslie YMCA. I thought attending the camp would not only teach me more about the game, but it would also give me an ‘in’ going into tryouts the next year – something it may have in fact done.

I’ll point out here that my perception of attending the camp as an ‘in’ to get on the Varsity team was a flawed way of thinking. There were several peers who attended the camp and didn’t make the team during those years. For any prospective players or parents reading this, it’s very important for kids with aspirations of playing sports to understand that spots on their school’s roster should be, and must be, earned. Spots on the roster should be awarded based on skills and preparation – not some form of favoritism or partiality – both of which do happen in the real world at workplaces later in life.

I was blessed that my mother and father were able to come up with the $300 to $400 fee to attend the Ken Jones Basketball Camp, as not all of my peers could afford to go. Keep in mind that I went three of my four years in high school – again a blessing. Also keep in mind that there were several local camps in and around the city of Buffalo which I didn’t know much about; which in hindsight, I also wish I had attended. Later in life I learned that no matter what your craft is, learning from multiple teachers only makes you stronger and more formidable. Each year the Buffalo News actually advertised all of the area camps, and neither I, nor anyone in my immediate family ecosystem at the time, knew to look for them.

At this point I’ll distinguish between the two types of camps and if I’ve misspoken here, please do leave a comment below this blog post. According to what I’ve learned, there were two types of basketball camps; ‘Teaching’ camps which were designed to impart the fundamentals of the game, and also what I’ll call ‘All-Star’ camps – showcases for the nation’s top talent. These included the: Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and ABCD camps. These camps drew your future Division I and NBA talent. The documentary Hoop Dreams shows a snippet of the Nike Camp in the early 1990s where in that particular year, players like Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, and Alan Henderson attended. They were scouted by high-level college coaches like P.J. Carlissimo, Mike Kryzewski, John Chaney, Kevin O’Neil and others.

The Ken Jones Basketball Camp was a ‘teaching’ camp. In the early 1990s it was held at Hamilton College in north-central New York State. It drew kids from all over the state – some from the Buffalo area, and many from the Rochester area where Coach Jones used to coach before moving to Buffalo. There were also kids from the middle of the state and the Hudson River Valley. That was true for the coaches on staff too. Coach Jones had an entire lineup of coaches he’d either coached with, coached against, or in many cases had simply befriended along the way. In a way they were like a group of ‘Mob Bosses’ like in the movie Casino. Instead of organized crime though, they were all passionate about basketball. You could hear and feel it in the workshops they taught in addition to how they coached us.

“It’s a season of basketball in a session,” was one of the other signature quote from the camp’s brochure and it was true. It was one week packed with: workshops, drills, and competition. I’d never seen anything like it before. Towards the end of the camp there was a ‘playoff’ for each age group and an All-Star game for the camp’s best players. It was literally like a basketball boot camp. We had to be up at 6-7 am for calisthenics and stretching, and then breakfast to start our day full of games and drills/workshops. We were also supposed to be in bed at a certain hour each night. As promised, our muscles and joints were aching by Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was a very ‘organized’ style of basketball they taught us there – very different than the ‘street-style’ we played in Buffalo which involved mostly, “going up strong to the ‘hole’,” and usually watching your teammates dominate the ball on offense while everyone else stood around watching – ‘isolation’ basketball. As I was going into the camp looking to become a much better offensive player, I was very much surprised by the amount of time we spent on defensive principles and fundamentals.

I also noticed that some of the other kids my age were much more developed than I was in terms of their offensive skill sets and their overall ‘basketball-IQs’ – their basic knowledge of the game allowing them to know what plays to make offensively and defensively – instinctually in some instances. One teammate from my first year at the camp who was from Palmyra-Macedon (Pal-Mac) High School in the Rochester area stands out to me. We were the same age and similar height, but he had already developed a reliable 15-foot jump shot – something I hadn’t developed at that point as no one had emphasized it back home.

Interestingly, the best basketball I ever played was probably at that camp my second year. I think it was largely due to the players I got to play with. They weren’t selfish, ‘me first’ players. The guards were disciplined and they looked to share the ball. At the camp going into my junior year of high school, I remember regularly touching the ball on my team, and making the All-Star game at the end.

What I’m going to say next is probably the most important part of this piece. I didn’t know how to actually harness what I had learned from the camp, and make myself a better player. That is, I didn’t understand that simply going to the camp by itself wouldn’t make methe best player I could be.

Afterwards, it would take hours and hours perfecting those fundamentals, and then learning how to use them in actual competition. This is the actual “development” – something that takes time, focus and commitment. When I look back on those years, I also realize that I was also developing on my own. In a game like basketball, if you want to play at the highest levels, you have to not only develop yourself personally, but you also have to figure out how to coalesce and build chemistry with the group of players you’re going to be playing with in competition.

What I didn’t understand at the time was how to break out of my ‘comfort zone’. As you might imagine, the majority of the kids at the camp weren’t black, and as an inner-city kid I didn’t know how to blend with kids who didn’t look like me – befriending them and asking them to show me what they knew – also learning about their basketball and life experiences. Making new friends was encouraged, but I just didn’t know how to do it. This was also prior to the cell phones, social media, and the technology we have today, so I didn’t think to try to befriend and stay in contact with the other kids long-term.

Probably the last important principle I didn’t understand was that becoming a great basketball player involved combining the ‘organized’ and ‘street’ styles. The reason I played my best basketball at the camp was because I had become used to playing the ‘organized’ style. A teammate at Hutch-Tech likewise told me later that my game was ‘basic’, meaning that it was very technically sound and very ‘textbook’.

I thought he was picking on me as per usual, but he was right. It turned out that the great and transcendent players at any level could play within an organized team structure, but could also play off of pure instinct when necessary – creating shots for themselves or teammates, or creating key turnovers on defense – again all off of instinct. All of this takes any player time, effort and focus, and it should come from within the individual in order for it to truly bear fruit.

“Damn Anwar. You spent all of that money to go to basketball camp,” a classmate said to me as my junior year season fell apart due to injuries and grades. He was pitying me, and or gloating – I couldn’t tell which at the time. I wasn’t originally going to put this quote into this piece, but it’s a critical aspect of my book project because it underscores how peers view you when you’re setting out to do something of meaning and value. Some are happy for you, while some are waiting for you to fail.

And again, not every family had the money to send their kids to camp which probably created some envy. Some kids wanted to play on the basketball team and didn’t for whatever reason.   When you’re a player on a team, you don’t know how your classmates and peers are viewing you and your opportunities until you yourself are going through a hardship of some sort. This also underscores the importance of having the mental strength I discussed in part three of this series.

And I think I’ll wrap this up here. As I’m working on my book project, all of the things I didn’t know from that time are coming to me – things those in my own immediate familial ecosystem didn’t necessarily know to stress to me at the time – things which the highly successful players are and were taught at those critical stages of their development. This piece is thus highly valuable of young players in those stages. I have a cousin like that right now who thinks she wants to be a basketball player. This piece is very much for players like her who are good on defense for example, but need to develop their offensive games to go to that next level.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Niagara Falls basketball legend Tim Winn discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls basketball legend Carlos Bradberry discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls coaching legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. 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.

Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching

“Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the moment and take it seriously. Understand that every decision you make affects the next thing that you do.”

This interview is the second part of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Jason Rowe. In the first part of our interview 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 our city league, the ‘Yale Cup’ and postseason play. In the second part of the interview we discussed his basketball career after Buffalo Traditional – college, the professional level, and now his current experiences coaching in Western New York. The pictures in this post were shared courtesy of Jason himself.

Anwar Dunbar: It’s been documented that academics prevented some Yale Cup players from going to big time Division 1 schools. What kind of student were you at Buffalo Traditional?

Jason Rowe: I was a ‘Merit’ and ‘Honor Roll’ student. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to play. My parents instilled education in me from day one. My mother and father were constantly on me about grades. If my grades weren’t above a certain GPA, then I wasn’t allowed to play basketball. My father actually took me off the ‘Modified’ team at Traditional for half the season because my average was an 87% and not a 90% or better. So in no way shape or form would I say that Buffalo Traditional didn’t prepare me. No!!! My parents prepared me and instilled how important my education was.

AD: That’s actually a big deal. I saw that happen to a couple of players at Hutch-Tech. It seems that if your parents don’t set that high standard, you’ll do just enough to stay eligible to play and, in some instances, just walk that line of eligibility as I did in some classes.

When did the colleges start recruiting you? Were you a sophomore or a junior? Or were they looking at you as a freshman?

JR: I was a sophomore and it just blew up out of nowhere. I remember my first two letters were from Duke University and the University of Michigan. They were ‘generics’, but you couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t being recruited by Duke and Michigan.

AD: How did it feel?

JR: I thought I was the king of the world. Even though they were questionnaires, these were the guys that were on TV. These were Coach Steve Fisher’s (Michigan) and Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s (Duke) signatures right there so it was a big deal.

AD: Where did you end up going?

JR: Loyola of Maryland.

AD: Why did you choose that school?

JR: It felt like home. I got injured at the ‘ABCD Camp’ and a lot of teams didn’t know how serious it was. My back was just ruined. A lot of schools wanted me to sign ‘late’, but I didn’t want to sign late. My mentality is if you want me, you want me now. I didn’t want to wait for them to figure out if another kid was going to sign. I was second or third on a number of college’s boards, but if you say you want me then I felt like, let’s get this thing done. Let’s figure it out. I wanted to focus on my grades and winning the state championship, so I didn’t want to go the whole season with phone calls and distractions.

AD: So signing late is something colleges want you to do when they’re unsure of your health?

JR: All schools have a list of about five to ten people at your position, and it’s in order of how much they want them. I was two, three, or four on a couple of lists, and I wanted to be their number one. If they wanted me, I wanted to make it happen. I didn’t want to wait for someone else to not sign for them to want me. In my brain, that meant they didn’t want me.

AD: So it’s kind of like dating (laughing).

JR: Exactly (laughing).

AD: What were the biggest adjustments you had to make from playing at Buffalo Traditional to playing on the college level and being away from home?

JR: I had family in Maryland so being away from home wasn’t an issue for me. The biggest issue for me was learning the point guard position because in high school we didn’t have any plays. In college now it was about game management – knowing what’s a ‘good’ shot, knowing what’s a ‘bad’ shot, and how to keep your teammates happy. There were so many things that I was lacking that I had to pick up very fast.

AD: Interesting. So when you were at Buffalo Traditional and an opponent threw up a ‘2-3’ or a ‘3-2’ zone defense against you, how would you all approach that if you didn’t have plays?

JR: We knew what to do whether it was running a ‘Motion’ play or a ‘Pick and Roll’. We felt like we were so talented that we could figure it out anyway. We had athletes, ball handlers, big men, and shooters. We had everything so we could chuck up a shot, and with Adrian, LaVar, and Damien – someone was going to get the rebound (see part one of this interview). We could get a three-pointer if we needed it – enough of us could shoot three-pointers. It was sort of like ‘fool’s gold’ because you could get away with it at the high school level, but at the college level, that’s not how it works.

AD: So in college you had to learn how to play the point guard position from more of an Xs and Os standpoint.

JR: Yes, I had to learn how to play basketball.

AD: Did you play all four years?

JR: I played three and a half. I left halfway through my senior year due to grades.

AD: When I was an undergraduate, I do remember sitting in my dorm room one day and seeing Loyola of Maryland on ESPN, and seeing you suited up in your green and white uniform. What did you major in?

JR: Elementary Education.

AD: Did you just encounter a hard series of classes, or was it just juggling being a Division 1 student-athlete?

JR: There was a lot going on in my personal life and I didn’t know how to handle things.

AD: At any point did you dream of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA)?

JR: Yes, for a very long time. For anyone who plays basketball long enough, that’ s going to be a dream – especially someone who studied it, watched it, and idolized players in the NBA.

AD: In any of your years at Loyola, did you guys make the ‘Big Dance’ (the NCAA’s Men’s College Basketball Tournament)?

JR: The one basketball thing that drives me crazy to this day is not experiencing the Big Dance. Anything else that goes on in basketball is fine, but not playing in the Big Dance drives me insane.

AD: How did you go from playing at Loyola of Maryland to playing professional basketball overseas?

JR: It was through an agency. My college coach gave me a ton of agent letters – dozens and dozens of them and I literally went through all of them, researched them, and figured out which one worked best for me. I literally had an interview process with a couple of agencies and picked an agent that would best help me to further my career overseas and further my basketball career in general.

AD: So you must have done exceptionally well at Loyola for agents to have wanted to sign you.

JR: Prior to my leaving school, I was actually projected late first round and late second round going into my senior year in the NBA Draft. When word gets around, you’ll have agencies calling.

AD: What kind of numbers were you putting up? Were you putting up ‘Triple Doubles’?

JR: I’m trying to remember – my senior year, I was around 25th in the country in scoring, 15th in assists, and 3rd in steals. In my junior year I was 2nd or 3rd in steals, and in my sophomore and senior years it was similar.

AD: What was it like playing professional basketball overseas? Which club or franchise did you play for?

JR: I played in 11 countries for 18 teams. I played 15 years and I don’t regret a thing. It was beautiful.

AD: Wow. So this was all over Europe?

JR: I’m going to try to do it in order. I played in: Cyprus, Israel, Poland, Argentina, France, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Ukraine, and Morocco.

AD: So you were playing against home-grown European players, as well as players from the United States too? Which names come to mind?

JR: Yes. When I was in Turkey, I played against Allen Iverson. In Italy, I played against Danilo Gallinari and Khalid El-Amin. In France, I played against Hollis Price. C.C. Harrison had a big name. I played against Rudy Fernandez when I was in Spain. Lamar Odom signed to a team in Spain, but he didn’t play that night. Manu Ginobli, Marco Bellinelli – I played against those guys. I played against Troy Bell who I’m still friends with. I played against a lot of people.

AD: I remember you posting a picture of you playing against Allen Iverson, also known as ‘The Answer’ on Facebook. What was it like playing against ‘A.I.’?

JR: There’s two sides to it. There’s the ‘wow-factor’, and there’s the competitive part. The wow-factor lasts about five seconds. I walked on the court and I remember looking at him. He’s not bigger than me – maybe an inch taller. His arms are super long and I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘Wow, this was once the best player in the NBA.’ He was for sure one of the best players in the world, and he was no bigger than me. And then it was like, ‘Alright jump ball let’s go.’ It literally happened that fast. You’re in competition mode and you don’t ever want to let your opponent see a weakness. While it was a blessing to be able to share the floor with a Hall of Famer and an icon, the competitiveness kicks in and it’s like, ‘Okay you’ve got to go to work.’

AD: There was always some controversy about whether or not he was 6’.

JR: He’s not 6’ (laughing).

AD: Okay, we’re almost done Jason. One of the common themes in my interviews with some of the former Yale Cup players is wasted and underdeveloped talent. The Buffalo News actually wrote a series of stories on this during your junior year at Buffalo Traditional. With players like you and Damien Foster taking your basketball careers beyond the Yale Cup, what are your thoughts on the challenges of our city league and that era? We didn’t have a solid Junior Varsity program like the suburban and private schools, and most of our ‘league’ games were immediately after school. There were just so many differences between what we had versus the suburban and private schools. Talk about that.

JR: I think that’s a valid argument. Our games at Traditional got moved to 7:30 pm because they were so popular. Being a coach now myself, I do think the development is completely different. I’m in a private school right now – Bishop Timon. The things that I have access to, public schools don’t have access to, and what you said was perfect regarding the development of a Junior Varsity team. Having access to the gym and being able to develop my kids in a particular type of way that public schools don’t have access to – I think it’s unfair, and because of that I think you see the difference between public schools and private schools. One is structured and one doesn’t necessarily have the same structure, because they’re not allowed to do certain things. Because of insurance or whatever the reason is, you see this big difference immediately, and in terms of athletics, I think something needs to be done about that.

AD: Is that something the School Board would have to address?

JR: Yes, because from my understanding, the biggest issue is insurance. That’s what I was told. I’ve always wondered why some schools have access and other schools don’t. It’s unfortunate because for a lot of these kids, athletics is their way out of their toxic situations. So why not have things in place for them to look forward to? If they know that there is an adult or adults who are there in the gym to help develop their minds and bodies to give them a place of peace and tranquility, why not do that? Why not develop these everyday life skills, instead of having these kids with nowhere to go, and no access to anything, and now they’re doing something they don’t need to be doing? I would love to sit in on one of the meetings and get to the bottom of why these things aren’t happening.

AD: I’ve heard you DJ at Dennis Wilson’s Oak Room, but you’re coaching now yourself at Bishop Timon. After your long playing career, how are you enjoying coaching?

JR: I love it. To be honest, coaching wasn’t something I was looking forward to – I just wasn’t into it. I don’t like stress – the yelling and the screaming. I’m actually a calm coach, and my kids think it’s hilarious. I don’t yell and I don’t scream and yet I know how to get my point across without demeaning or belittling the kids. That works for me, and I relate to my kids the best way that I can and it’s working for our team. We’re having huge success this year. I’ve tried to take my experience from playing for four different coaches and meshing everything together to come up with my own coaching style.

AD: So you’re not a ‘yeller’?

JR: No, not at all, and I get that from my mother. I just give the kids a look and they know when I’m serious or something wasn’t done right. I also demonstrate – I get in the practices and in the drills because I think it’s pointless to tell the kids they did something wrong and not show them the right way. That works for me, and now the kid doesn’t make the same mistake twice. I’m very, very hands on.

AD: How are the kids today different from 20 years ago?

JR: I do training as well, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of hardworking kids. I think the era as a whole is more concerned about how people view them as opposed to actually getting into the gym and working. I think kids are worried about rankings and social media ‘likes’. Granted it’s a 20-year difference. We didn’t have a phone to let the world know we were in the gym working out, so their mentality is different because they have access to different things. My kids know that when it’s time for practice and training, they have to shut their phones off. When it’s training time give me an hour, and when it’s practice time, give me two hours. After that you can do you what you want to do, but lock into this and we’re fine.

AD: That’s true. We didn’t have Facebook or YouTube twenty years ago.

JR: In the first week of practice I told the kids, ‘Do not worry about polls. Do not worry about rankings. They don’t mean anything. Polls are just a bunch of people’s opinions of who you are. Being ranked No. 1 in November doesn’t mean we’re state championship material.’

AD: Does that mean when you are at Buffalo Traditional, you guys didn’t look at the Buffalo News weekly ‘News Cage Poll’ to see if you were ranked over Cardinal O’Hara, Burgard or John F. Kennedy?

JR: Of course, but as a retired player, a coach and a trainer, I understand that those don’t mean anything. You still have to go out and perform, and do what you need to do.

AD: Is there a difference between the kids you have at Timon versus what you would have if you coached in the Buffalo Public School system (BPS)?

JR: No. I was doing training and I had BPS kids. What works for me is that I respect them and they respect me. Fortunately, I played basketball a long time and I can help them get to where they want to be in terms of this game. Because of that I’m able to keep their attention for an exceptional amount of time. I’ve gone where they want to go, so if was in the BPS I don’t think it would be a big issue.

AD: Is there anything you would change about your playing days?

JR: I would say not failing out of school, finishing my degree and my senior year at Loyola of Maryland. Otherwise, I enjoyed every single time I stepped onto the basketball court – high school, college, rec-center, international – every good game and bad game – I wouldn’t change a thing in terms of my basketball career.

AD: For youngsters aspiring to play basketball or to achieve any other life goal, what advice would you give them?

JR: Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the moment and take it seriously. Understand that every decision you make affects the next thing that you do. When I left school, it affected me possibly not being drafted which led to me going overseas. And I’m grateful to have gone overseas and to have played in fifteen countries, learned so many things, played against so many people. I was able to accomplish so many things and see the world with a basketball which is something I never thought would happen.

But I didn’t understand the effects of decision making. You’re a kid and you think you’re invincible. You leave school, but you don’t understand how much of a domino effect it is, and how one decision affects everything that you do afterwards. It can alter everything in your life, so my advice to youngsters is to really understand the decisions that you’re making with everything you do in life.

AD: Yes, one injury, a violent crime – anything can change your future. I’m sure you saw ESPN’s 30 for 30 about Benji Wilson’s life. He was the No. 1 high school player in the United States in 1984, was on his way to being a college star and then a professional basketball player. And it was all taken away just like that over a stupid argument with two guys on the street he didn’t know, and who had nothing to lose themselves.

JR: When I was in high school I didn’t go out. When I was at Loyola, I didn’t go out to a club until maybe my junior year. I was afraid of losing my scholarship due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I went to dorm parties, but I didn’t want the club scene. I didn’t want it.

AD: Well Jason, 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 Jason Rowe, Damien Foster, and the Buffalo Traditional Bulls (click on the image below to enlarge it).

JR: You just said something very important, which was that we touched lives. At the time you don’t understand that, but that’s why I also said for the youngsters to be mindful of their every decision because you never know who is watching. That was something that I learned later on in my career – to be mindful, to be in the moment, and to appreciate each moment. There is nothing wrong with stepping outside, smelling the air and saying, ‘Thank you.’ Don’t get caught up in getting flashy rings, a Range Rover and all of those things, because all of that can be taken away from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Niagara Falls basketball legend Time Winn discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls Coaching Legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp
Lasting Lessons basketball taught me: An introduction

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site or add the link to RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments

“Our goal was the win the State Championship. It was my personal goal and the team’s goal as well. When you have that goal, you get that ‘tunnel vision’.” 

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 actually working on a project chronicling my early journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Yale Cup players from my era. On February 2, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Jason Rowe – a Buffalo basketball legend who sits on the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of Yale Cup players with the likes of: Trevor Ruffin, Ritchie Campbell, Marcus Whitfield, Curtis Aiken, Ray Hall and Cliff Robinson. Jason spearheaded Buffalo Traditional High School’s ascension to the top of ‘Section VI’ basketball, leading his Bulls to the ‘Far West Regional’ each of his four years, and then to State Tournament in Glens Falls, his final two before winning it in his 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 by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones.

Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you, Jason. I’m working 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 guys 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 to what it was like playing at Bennett, City Honors, Kensington, Riverside, and others. But to talk to you is like talking to Jordan (laughing).

Jason Rowe: That’s a lot of pressure (laughing), but I’m happy to help out.

AD: Okay, so let’s start. As you know, the Buffalo News wrote extensively about you in the early to mid 1990s. They particularly talked about your father, Jerry, and your Uncle Lester being very influential in your development as a basketball player. At what age did you start playing basketball? Did they put a basketball in your crib as a baby?

JR: It’s funny you should say that because that’s literally the story I was told. When I came home as a baby, there was a basketball hoop on the wall in my crib and my father used to pick me up and have me dunk the basketball as a kid.

AD: Was your father a basketball player?

JR: Yes. He played locally, but he didn’t pursue it at a higher level. My uncle and I were the ones who were fortunate to go on to play in college, and to make some money from it.

AD: So you would describe your upbringing as being similar to that of a Stephon Marbury where basketball was literally in your family?

JR: Yes. All of the males in my family – myself, my uncle, my father, and James Rowe my cousin, who was an athlete at Lafayette High School. He played football, basketball, and I believe he ran track too. My brother, Jeremy, played football, basketball, and he ran cross country at Buffalo Traditional. My whole family was athletic.

AD: When you were playing middle school basketball, were you already in camps and clinics?

JR: I went to the University of West Virginia’s basketball camp as a kid. I went to the local camps at Canisius and the University at Buffalo. I was actually at Georgia Tech’s camp the moment Kenny Anderson got drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA). As a kid I was a huge Kenny Anderson fan, and that’s why I wore number 12 in high school.

AD: Were there any other college and professional players that you looked up to?

JR: Jordan, Isaiah and Magic were the guys that I idolized in the NBA. In college I looked up to Kenny Anderson, Jason Kidd and Chris Jackson. Locally, I looked up to my uncle, Trevor Ruffin  (pictured to the left), and Ritchie Campbell. I looked at them and felt like I could do something. They were guys I could watch every day in a ‘hands on’ type of way. Trevor grew up across the street from me and he was like a ‘big brother’. He played at the University of Hawaii and he went on to the NBA, but I didn’t look at him that way. This was the guy who, when he was in the NBA, would pick me up to go work out with him. We had that type of relationship where he was my big brother, and I was going in the house and watching TV with him.

AD: Were you familiar with some of the other Yale Cup and Section VI stars who came before you like Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield?

JR: I grew up watching those guys so I idolized Ritchie, Nigel Bostic, and Marcus Whitfield. I vaguely remember Ray Hall. My experience with him was in the summer leagues. But as far as the big name guys who were in the Yale Cup, I knew them because my cousin, James, was eight years older than me. So he grew up in that era and took me to those games because he played at Lafayette. I was able to get my experience watching those games as well.

AD: Did anyone in your circle talk about Christian Laettner?

JR: I heard stories about Laettner, but I wasn’t around him that much. I was at that infamous game between Nichols and South Park where the fight broke out, but I was too young to remember it.

AD: Being at Traditional for middle school, what made you decide to stay for high school? Is that just what the students did there?

JR: I wanted to have my own name. Traditional was home for me. They had some success leading up to that time and I knew everyone on their team. I wanted to be a part of that, so for me it didn’t make sense to go anywhere else.

AD: Yes, every year Coach Joe Cardinal’s teams were making deep runs in postseason play – a couple of times to the State Tournament. Did you and Damien Foster plan to attend Buffalo Traditional together, or was it a random decision?

JR: We grew up in the Masten ‘Boys Club’. The basketball circle is very small. We became friends and started playing there together. I want to say that he was going to go to McKinley first, but he decided to come to Traditional and it definitely worked out for everyone involved.

AD: For me, you guys came out of nowhere. I wasn’t in the ‘basketball circle’ you described, and I didn’t know who you guys were. Thus, the first time I saw you play was when you guys came to play us at Hutch-Tech in January 1993 and smacked us 96-73. It was right after Cameron Calvin died, and it coincided with the University of Michigan’s storied ‘Fab Five’. We had an all upperclassmen starting lineup and getting routed by you guys like that was a backbreaking loss for the players and our coach. I watched it all unfold on the bench due to an injury, and I even looked at the tape numerous times afterwards in awe. Play after play, you guys just made it look easy. Many freshmen are scared in Varsity competition, but you guys looked so fearless. What was your mentality as a freshman?

JR: It’s funny that you mentioned Michigan’s ‘Fab Five’. If you pull up the videos and pictures of us at Buffalo Traditional, we mimicked the Fab Five – the big shorts and the black socks. My mentality personally was to be the best ballplayer I could be. I grew up around Trevor Ruffin and my uncle so inside the home, the pressure to succeed was one of the things that drove me personally. I was fortunate enough to have that basketball success around me – my big brother was an NBA player, and my uncle was a legend who played Division 1 basketball and then overseas. So when you walked into that house you had to bring something to the table. You can’t just sit there and say, ‘I had 10 points today.’ You had to win convincingly and put up some numbers. As a team and as freshmen we were happy to compete and do well, but I don’t think we knew how good we would become and the success we would have. You’re 14 years old and you want to win, but you don’t really understand how far it can take you.

AD: I imagine you guys caught a lot of teams like that. Riverside won the Yale Cup the year before, and if I recall you all beat them. You had two seniors on that team, Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra, along with you younger guys. How did you guys blend it all together?

JR: I was in the school so I was familiar with Andre and Jeff already. They were instrumental in our success my freshman year. Jeff was our shooter, and Andre was like our ‘Draymond Green’ – he was undersized, but he could do a little bit of everything. They were very good leaders.

What also helped us was that a lot of us played together outside of Buffalo Traditional. We were always at the Boys Club – myself, Damien, Damone White, who unfortunately has passed away – we were always together playing. It’s kind of like we weren’t surprised because we knew how each other played and our mentality. No one else really knew. We knew how to compete, we just didn’t know we were going to knock off so many teams and make a name for ourselves. We just wanted to win.

AD: As you know, whenever you experience a high level of success, you’re going to have critics as well. I’m sure you guys heard similar chatter, but one of my teammates at Hutch-Tech once told me about how your Coach, Joe Cardinal, would just go into his office and read the newspaper while you guys played ‘pickup’ basketball during practice every day (laughing). What was the Traditional team like? Was it a thing where Coach Cardinal just put the ball in your hands and let you go or was there more to it?

JR: Coach Cardinal was very honest when he would say, ‘I’m a gym teacher, and I don’t know much about basketball in terms of coaching.’ Because he was so open and honest, and didn’t try to hide that, it actually made us closer. He wasn’t lying and trying to be something he wasn’t. He was the most personable coach I ever played for because he had our backs and we knew that. In terms of Xs and Os, no he wasn’t that knowledgeable so it’s no surprise that we didn’t learn certain things.

In tight situations, he would tell us to, ‘run a pick and roll,’ or something very basic – nothing complex. Fortunately for us, we were able to beat a lot of teams by a lot of points, so there weren’t a lot of tight games. When the games were tight I was able to use some of the things my father and uncle taught me.

AD: Were there any other coaches on that staff that made a difference?

JR: Ellis Woods, who was the coach’s best friend. They were cut from the same cloth, and were very open and honest with us about what they did and didn’t know. We would run through a brick wall for both Coach Cardinal and Coach Woods. They could relate to us.

AD: My junior season was cut short due to grades, an injury and not knowing how to deal with adversity, but I kept my eyes on what was happening in postseason play. I remember watching the news at night and seeing your team march all of the way to the Class C “Far West Regional”. You guys beat Starpoint, Newfane, Portville and then top-seeded John F. Kennedy 71-67 to win the Section VI Class C Championship as mostly freshman and sophomores. Some kids never made the sectionals at all, and the core of your team won yours as freshmen and sophomores. What was that ride like?

JR: Our goal was the win the State Championship. It was my personal goal and the team’s goal as well. When you have that goal, you get that ‘tunnel vision’. We used to say, ‘Get to Glen. Get to Glen. You’ve got to get to Glens Falls.’ That’s where the State Championship was held. For some time the Buffalo teams were having a hard time getting past the Rochester teams in the Far West Regional. We wanted to get past Rochester. For us, we had a lot of confidence because we played against the top notch competition in Buffalo. We were confident enough to get past Buffalo’s competition and we just had to beat the Rochester teams. It was step by step.

AD: It was the Marion team in your freshman year and the Mynderse team in your sophomore year you faced in the Far West Regional – were they bigger? Were they better?

JR: Everything. I think what we lacked is what they exploited. They had the structure we didn’t have. They were big and physical, and they just outworked us. I cried a lot after those two games. I shed a lot of tears. They were well deserved victories for them.

AD: Unfortunately, I didn’t go to that Mynderse game which was at UB’s Alumni Arena, but I did see the highlights and recognized one of the guys Damien Foster was jawing at after hitting a three-pointer. I played with some of those guys at the ‘Ken Jones Basketball Camp’ – my coach’s camp which a lot of Rochester area players attended. I imagine just seeing the clash of styles must have been amazing.

JR: You had this fast paced team versus this half court, slow it down type of team – two completely different styles of basketball.

AD: Yes, you guys were clearly more athletic and more talented. I imagine they were patiently working the ball on offense, and slowing the game down.

JR: They were physical. I remember them being very physical.

AD: So you guys beat Lyons in your junior year in the Far West Regional 74-71, you willed the Bulls to victory against Mechanicville in the state semifinals 81-72, before matching up against Elton Brand and Peekskill in final game. What was the key to beating Lyons? Had you guys just been there two years and you were ready?

JR: I would say that it was the pain of losing in the Far West Regional those first two years and not being able to get over the hump. We felt like it was our time and we wanted that victory more than anything else in the world. Lyons might have been No. 1 in the state that year too, and for a team that was easily motivated like us, we’d had enough.

AD: Your team went on to suffer a heartbreaking 94-85 loss to Peekskill in a public state final game, and then you graduated veterans Adrian Baugh, LaVar Frasier and Jimmy Birden who were featured in the Buffalo News during the playoffs that season. Was it hard to get back to the State Tournament the next year? Or did you and Damien just not miss a beat?

JR: It was hard in the sense that it’s just not easy getting there period. But in terms of remaining focused and knowing that the State Championship is what we wanted, the mental part wasn’t hard, but the physical part was hard. You have to play 20 games just to get to Glens Falls – that’s just getting there. The game by game process was hard, but the mental aspect wasn’t difficult. When we lost to Peekskill, I remember telling the Buffalo News before I walked off the court, ‘We’ll be back,’ and I meant that.

AD: I imagine all four years were fun, but was there one that stood out above the rest? Was it in your senior year when the team won the Class C State crown 62-48 over Mechanicville, and then the Class C Federation crown 92-71 over Collegiate of New York City?

JR: Yes, that was the year that we won. It was fun, but it was also bitter sweet, because I remember when we won a lot of us were crying tears of joy, but we also understood that it was over – our run was over and that it was our last game together. Our team was very, very close.

AD: As I mentioned earlier, you guys lost the three seniors from your junior year, but you still had a strong supporting cast which included guys like: Damone White, Darcel Williams, Jamar Corbett, and Darnell Beckham.

JR: To me Darcel was our ‘X-factor’. We had a good team. We had guys graduate in different years, but everyone stuck together during that time so we already had that bond and that chemistry. So by the time Adrian, LaVar and Jimmy graduated, the other guys were ready because they already had experienced playing in big games. That’s why, in my senior year, we were just running through teams. It was insane.

AD: You and Damien were talked about synonymously – Damien Foster and Jason Rowe, Jason Rowe and Damien Foster. What was Damien like? Did you guys have to talk about who was going to get the last shot? Who was going to get the majority of the shots? Was your chemistry just natural?

JR: I had two personal goals going into high school; I wanted to get 1,000 assists and I wanted to win the State Championship. So passing the ball – I didn’t have an issue with that, and fortunately for us, we blew so many teams out that it was never an issue regarding who got the last shot. There is no issue when you’re up 10, 20, or 30 points – we won so many games convincingly that we never argued about who was going to get the last shot. Again, I wanted the assist, so on fast breaks I’d throw the ball backwards to set up someone else.

AD: Talk a little bit about the Bennett game in your junior year – the 69-68 thriller where you guys lost to the Tigers. Periodically, I still see guys talking about it on Facebook. Did you overlook them?

JR: We didn’t overlook anyone. It’s hard to overlook teams when you go into their gyms and their teams have pep rallies. We knew every team was gunning for us. We knew that we were going to get everyone’s best shot so we came ready to play every single game. That night Bennett played well. It’s a great game and I actually watch it from time to time. It was a great game.

AD: Were there any other players that you especially look forward to playing?

JR: I liked playing against LaSalle’s Tim Winn, Burgard’s Jeremiah Wilkes, Cardinal O’Hara’s Ryan Cochran, and Turner/Carroll’s Malik Campbell. We were all friends. We would play against each other one day and be friends, and then completely hate each other on the court the next time. We were all very, very, very competitive. When you have competitors competing at that high level, it just makes for some great basketball.

AD: In your junior season, the Buffalo News also wrote a piece actually comparing you and Tim Winn as you two were the top two point guards in Western New York. If I recall, he actually hoped to team up with you in Empire State Games at one point. Did your two teams ever match up allowing you to go head to head – Buffalo Traditional vs. LaSalle?

JR: Tim was hurt when we were supposed to play. That was a game everyone was looking forward to, and he had sprained his ankle the week of the game in practice.

In the second part of our interview, Jason and I discuss his basketball career after being a Buffalo Traditional Bull. I want to thank Jason for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate. After completing this interview, I realized that there are other historical significances to what we discussed here, beyond the basketball court. Just as the city of Buffalo has changed since the early 1990s, so has its school system. Two schools that were a part of our Yale Cup of the early 1990s no longer exist. One is Kensington High School. The second is Buffalo Traditional High School where Jason played. While the building still sits there on East Ferry Street, it is now the home for the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:

Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
Niagara Falls basketball legend Time Winn discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls Coaching Legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp
Lasting Lessons basketball taught me: An introduction

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.