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

“Our whole family, including my cousins, was a basketball family and I just grew up watching basketball.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key aspect of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in Section VI, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s western-most section, laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my career in science.

I’m currently working on a project chronicling my early basketball journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Section VI basketball players and coaches from my era. On September 26, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Carlos Bradberry – one of the many great guards in Coach Pat Monti’s LaSalle basketball dynasty. Carlos was the floor general for the Explorers following Michael Starks and Modie Cox, and then prior to the ascension of Tim Winn, Jody Crymes and Terry Rich.

In part one of this two-part interview Carlos discusses his background, how he started playing basketball, and how he became one of the legendary point guards in Section VI and the LaSalle basketball dynasty. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball, carefully assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Section V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Carlos himself, and his Head Coach at LaSalle Senior High School, Pat Monti. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Carlos-Driving.jpg

Anwar Dunbar: Hello, Carlos. First, thank you for telling your story. As you know I wrote some pieces on Coach Monti and Tim Winn. I’m a blogger and, as you may also know, I’m writing a book about my high school basketball experience and what that taught me about success and failure in life. The experience of high school basketball was my first attempt at effecting a personal goal and it set the stage for everything else.

To make the story as authentic as possible I wanted talk to some of the other Section VI players from that era – teammates and opponents to see what their experiences were. This is relevant because LaSalle was the premiere program in Section VI for 10-12 years and for a stretch of that, you were the guy. Also, when I started this project, I actually said to myself, ‘It would be great to interview Carlos Bradberry,’ as you were a member of the ‘All-Western New Your First Team’ during my sophomore and junior seasons.

Before we start, I have a quick story. We played your team in the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament in the opening round. You guys handled us by about 30 points (laughing). My story is one of discovery, so I was literally figuring everything out as I went along. The day before the game, just after our Coach gave us the scouting report, one of my teammates said as we were leaving the gym, ‘We’re not going to beat LaSalle!’ I wondered how he could say such a thing. The next day as the game gradually unfolded, I saw his point (laughing). I remember you slashing to the basket repeatedly, and the announcer calling your name repeatedly. I developed a respect for you after that game and kept my eye on what you were doing.

With that, let’s start. Where is the Bradberry family from? Are you all from Niagara Falls or somewhere else?

Carlos Bradberry: My grandfather is from Alabama, but we’re for the most part, from here.

AD: Don’t you have an older brother named Cazzie?

CB: Yes. Cazzie is two years older than me. He graduated with Modie Cox, Scotty Rose, and Anthony Wallace – those guys.

AD: How old were you when you started playing basketball?

CB: I was eight or nine when I started playing in the Boys Club, which was a ‘rite of passage’ for everyone in Niagara Falls back then. It was the only thing going on. If you were anybody playing basketball, you came through the ‘Biddy Leagues’ or the Boys Club. I played for the actual Boys Club team.

AD: Was your Dad a basketball player? Did you see your older brother play and wanted to play as well, or did you just naturally want to play?

CB: I think my Dad was a good high school football and basketball player. My Dad’s playing days were done by the time I became interested in basketball. Our whole family, including my cousins, was a basketball family and I just grew up watching basketball.

My Dad used to take us to high school games when Trott-Vocational was really good back in the day. We’d go to see Trott and Niagara Falls play. That’s what really got me going and it was just a family thing. Basketball was it for my cousins and me. My cousins always played, so I was always playing with them.

AD: I think I saw in one of the Buffalo News stories that there was a Niagara Falls Senior High School player who also had the last name Bradberry. Did you have a cousin over there?

CB: I had two cousins over there – Darien and Cortez. They graduated the same year as my brother in 1991.

AD: This is fascinating because what I’m gathering is that Niagara Falls was a much smaller community compared to Buffalo which had 14 high schools and the city was bigger, so not everyone knew each other. It sounds like you guys all knew each other, and you were all playing together, even before you got to the high school level.

CB: Yes, everybody knew each other, and everybody played together. Growing up I didn’t know where I was going to play because of how they had the school districts sectioned off. I lived within walking distance to Niagara Falls Senior High School, but they bused us to LaSalle.

I was a LaSalle kid and it was miles and miles away from my house. I didn’t really know until I reached middle school – I went to LaSalle Middle School instead of Gaskill. Gaskill was the other middle school at the time, and it still is.

AD: What was it called?

CB: Gaskill. So primarily those kids went to Niagara Falls Senior High School, and the LaSalle Middle School kids obviously when to LaSalle Senior High School.

AD: I discussed the Biddy Leagues with Tim Winn. We had middle school teams in Buffalo, but it sounds like Niagara Falls did not have those. And so everyone played in the Biddy Leagues until you were ready to play in one of the two Junior Varsity (JV) programs. Were guys getting quality coaching in the Biddy Leagues or did they just throw the balls out there and let you run around?

CB: It’s funny. We always had the older guys who knew basketball. I know that Mike Hamilton, who is a referee now, coached me primarily when I was in the Biddy Leagues. He’s a real ‘basketball’ guy. There was the Boys Club, the Thirteenth Street Center, and there was another community center – so there were three to four centers and all of them basically had basketball guys in those positions. It wasn’t just guys showing up off the street and wanting to coach their kids or something.

AD: That’s fascinating, because I think the coaching, we had in Buffalo was really varied. Which players did you look up to in college or pro?

CB: I’m showing my age here but growing up I was a huge Dr. J guy when I started watching basketball, and then I was a Jordan guy obviously. Allen Iverson was more my age, so he was my favorite player once I got older. But at the time I didn’t know much about him because we were around the same age. I also have a weird one. My favorite college player was Greg Anthony. Most people would say, ‘Who?’ Greg Anthony was my favorite player back when the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) had those great college teams. I wore number 50 which was an odd number for a guard, but that’s why I wore that number in high school.

AD: Yes, I remember you wearing that number. So, you had your eyes on the college teams. That’s interesting because Tim told me that he had his eyes on the Niagara Falls high school basketball teams, for the most part.

CB: As far as when I was younger, Modie was a couple of years older than me, so he was more like a peer. There was a guy named Mike Starks who played for LaSalle – he was amazing and one of the best guards that no one ever talks about. When I started going to LaSalle games, I was in the sixth and seventh grades. Me and my buddies would just go to games. We wanted to be the next Mike Starks. He was the guy that I looked up to around here basketball-wise.

AD: What was special about Michael’s game? Could he do everything?

CB: Man, he could do everything. He was 6’3”. He could jump, he could shoot, and he could handle the ball. He was the point guard and his game was rare back then. Your point guard was the guy to set guys up, but man he could shoot, he could get to the basket, and he could jump – he had the whole package.

AD: Okay. So that was the 1988 Class B Federation Championship team. It was loaded then because they had guys like Eric Gore.

CB: Yes, Eric Gore, Frank and Michael Starks, Elon McCracken, and Modie (he was young).

AD: Well obviously, you had Christian Laettner in the Niagara Frontier League (NFL) then, but were you aware of any of the Buffalo guys like Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield?

CB: Ritchie and Marcus were the two guys I’d always hear about in seventh grade and that’s when I started to play for LaSalle. Those dudes were amazing!

AD: And the JV team – Coach Rotundo oversaw that?

CB: Yep.

AD: Early on, what kind of player were you? Coach Monti described you as a ‘scoring’ guard. Were you that right away or did you have to grow into that role?

CB: I always thought I was a scorer and that was always my mentality, ever since I was younger. In my freshman year, I started on the JV team and was moved up midway through the season to play on the Varsity team. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a bigtime scorer on the Varsity level as a freshman or as a sophomore, because we just had so many senior guys.

I was a starter, but Coach Monti let you know your role. It’s something that’s lost today. Kids don’t have roles today and everyone thinks they’re a scorer and a star. I had to earn my minutes and if I got an open shot, I was happy because I knew that it was Modie’s, Milo’s, and Duke’s team, and I was there to play my role.

AD: What was your role? Was it to play defense on the other team’s best guy?

CB: No, I wasn’t the greatest defender, especially when I was in the ninth grade (laughing). He brought me in for offense as a freshman and I may have averaged around nine points a game or something which was decent back then. He basically brought me in and let me know that, ‘Hey, you’re basically here to score when the chance comes,’ so more than anything I was there to help offensively.

AD: Talk about playing for Coach Monti. After talking with him, I got the impression that he was very, very intense.

CB: Oh yeah. Very intense. Intense, but giving great attention to detail was his greatest asset. You never went into a game unprepared. You knew what was going to happen and you were either prepared through game plans he spent a bunch of time on, or you were prepared because of what we practiced and worked on every day.

There were things that he did that had me college-ready that I know other high schools weren’t doing at that time like defensively, positioning off the ball, how you play ‘one pass away’ and ‘two passes away’. Coaches around here weren’t teaching that. Everything was tight. Again, not knocking any of the college coaches. I played at two Division I schools and I always say that Coach Monti was the most knowledgeable coach that I’ve ever played for!

AD: Wow. Well let’s talk some ‘Xs and Os’. You said that you were brought on as a freshman and your role was to score. Coach Monti described LaSalle’s offense as unselfish – everyone sharing the ball. Tim basically did too. From the outside looking in, you seemed to be the featured guy. Were you guys running a ‘motion’ offense or were you running an ‘isolation’ for someone?

CB: I know it changed during Tim’s years and he let those guys ‘freelance’ more. Basically, our main offense in my freshman through my senior years was called “Flex”, which is a ‘dinosaur’ offense now, as no one really runs it anymore. It’s about ball movement, body movement, setting picks for each other. You were working with each other and there wasn’t a lot of ‘one on one’ stuff. It was basically five guys working together, and it was weird when we wouldn’t get open looks. Flex was one offense, but there were a million different ‘wrinkles’ in it.

So, it wasn’t like, ‘Okay here’s this one offense and if this one thing doesn’t work we’re shutdown.’ It was more like, ‘Okay, they took this away, so here’s the next option…..’ There were always four to five options to that one set where something was going to be open. That was our base offense for four years. We did a little bit of some other things, but we spent a ton of time on Flex and its different options and it worked for us.

AD: Before we move on, you got moved up as a freshman. Were all the guys you graduated with in the same group? I’m referring to guys like Curtis Ralands, Chris Frank, Todd Guetta and O’Neal Barnett – all the guys who were on the Varsity team when you were a junior and a senior. Were all of you on the JV team and you got moved up first? Or was it a gradual thing?

CB: I went up in the ninth grade. I don’t think the other guys came up until the eleventh grade. Shino Ellis may have played on the Varsity team in the tenth grade if I’m not mistaken – he was a year older than me. Todd, Chris, Curtis and those guys all came up in the eleventh grade. Curtis came over from Niagara Falls Senior High School, which was a boost for us. He played JV there and then ended up at LaSalle in the eleventh grade.

AD: What was so special about Curtis coming over? I remember the goggles, the bald head, and the intensity, but what would you say was his major contribution?

CB: Curtis was like our ‘enforcer’. He brought toughness to our team. He didn’t care if he scored 1 point or 20. He was going to do all the dirty work: rebounding the ball, defending and taking charges. He was definitely a Dennis Rodman-type.

AD: So you had your role as a freshman. Was it the same as a sophomore or did Coach Monti give you more ‘leash’?

CB: As a tenth grader I started the whole year. I had more leash, but it still obviously wasn’t my team. That year Modie, Cazzie, Scotty Rose, Anthony Wallace and myself were the starting five I believe. I had a larger role on offense and I think I was depended upon more to score because Modie was our guy – he was great at distributing – he was a pure point guard. If you ran the floor, you were going to get a bucket. Scotty played a lot more ‘down low’ and was probably our second leading scorer after Modie. On the wing I think I was our next guy, so I had a much bigger role in my sophomore year within the offense.

AD: That’s awesome. So, you got a lot of quality minutes early on. Were you there against Lancaster, and in the Far West Regionals against schools like East and McQuaid?

CB: Our 86-57 loss to McQuaid was the worst I’d ever taken in high school.

AD: What was so bad about it? Did you guys just have an off day?

CB: We had an off day and they had the big 7’ kid – I think his name was McKinney or something. They had size, but they also had these guards who were coming down and pulling up a step beyond NBA range. We just weren’t seeing that in our area in Section VI. It almost seemed like the perfect game for them and the worst game for us. Anything they shot up went in and it just snowballed on us. It was the worst game I’d played in as far as taking a loss in high school.

AD: So that was your sophomore year. Before you talk about your junior year, what kinds of things were you guys doing in the offseason? I know that was before Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball got big.

CB: I can’t remember if I went to a camp that year or the next year. It was more so playing locally. There was the big travel-AAU type of thing. We’d go down to Philadelphia and play against Rasheed Wallace who went to North Carolina, and the Jason Lawson kid who went to Villanova. The Public Athletic League (PAL) tournaments used to be huge back then. The Head Coach at Niagara Falls High School now, Sal, was the one taking us on all the PAL trips back then. You played Division I guys from other cities, and that was sort of our AAU-thing back then.

AD: You said Sal?

CB: Yes, Sal Constantino. He was the PAL guy who took us on those trips to the big PAL tournaments back then which were huge.

AD: Going into your junior year, Modie and his fellow seniors graduated so it was basically your team. What was your mentality going into that year?

CB: I knew what we had, and not being cocky, but I thought we were going to be very good. A lot of people didn’t know what we had, but I knew. We had Shino, Todd, Curtis and Chris Frank – we had guys who could play basketball. But our Varsity program was so good that those guys didn’t get a chance to play yet. Our JV teams were awesome, they got awesome coaching and they came out of the system, so we had guys who could really play basketball. Now, we wound up losing only one game. I didn’t think we were going to be that good, but we had a good run until we played John Wallace.

AD: Okay, we’re going to get to John Wallace and Greece-Athena shortly (laughing). Your team ran mostly the Flex offense, but it seemed like you were the guy. You were LaSalle’s leading scorer. Was that just something the team understood – that you would be the number one option – or did Coach Monti make that explicitly clear from day one?

CB: Coach Monti made no reservations about letting guys know their roles. It was, ‘Shino and Carlos are going to be our two scorers and everyone else is going to fit in where we fit them in!’ We had a guy named O’Neal Barnett who knew that he was going to come in and defend our opponent’s best guy. Some nights he’d score 2 points and some nights he’s score 10 points, but he could care less. He knew that he was going to come in and lock down our next guy and he was fine with that.

We had Curtis who knew that he was going to come in and just grab every rebound. Coach Monti would have talks at the beginning of the year, and the middle of the year. There wasn’t any question of who was going to be doing what or what their role was. It was laid out and you knew what was going to happen.

AD: Wow. So everyone accepted their roles.

CB: Yes, everybody bought in and I think that’s just because of the success of the program. If you’re winning every year, it’s easy to sell that to kids. If he was losing every year, I don’t think it would’ve happened.

AD: So you guys went on to go 23-0. You beat us, and you started that year winning the Corning Cup in Albany, NY and, Carlos, I’ve got a funny story. Were you a trash-talker? The reason I’m asking is because in the Class B-1 quarterfinal in 1992, we matched up with the Niagara Falls Power Cats at LaSalle’s gym. In the lobby, the trophy case had individual polaroids of you and your teammates standing there posing in each of photos because you were undefeated at that point and riding a lot of momentum.

One of our seniors – this a true story – saw your picture in the case and he said, ‘Man. I can’t stand that Bleepedy-Bleep!’ I looked at your picture and I looked at him, and I said to myself, ‘This person must’ve have been guarding Carlos Bradberry when we played LaSalle, and maybe Carlos was jawing at him.

CB: Yeah, (laughing) I was, and I forgot to mention that another one of my favorite players was Gary Payton. You watch him play and you’re going to pick up some things from him. It’s funny because Coach Monti used to say that I was this quiet and reserved guy, but once I got on the court it was different. I was a different animal and I’d consider myself a trash-talker for sure.

AD: Now, was that you or was Coach Monti rubbing off on you? I got the sense that he was very, very confident and I imagine that was contagious.

CB: I think it was just me. It was never predetermined or preplanned, and once you get into that moment you get so focused and lose yourself on the basketball court. I was raised with a bunch of uncles and cousins who were hard on me. We went to the basketball court and they’re talking junk to you, they’re beating up on you, and you learn how to be tough and not back down and that’s how it manifested itself for me.

AD: In the 1992 Class B-1 Sectional Final at UB’s Alumni Arena, we had just lost to Grand Island and as we were exiting the court, your team came charging out in a single-file line. You were at the front, and I remember reaching out and ‘dapping’ you up. You had the ball in one hand, saw me and we slapped hands and then you went into your pregame warmup before going on to defeat Williamsville North that night 62-52.

After defeating Williamsville North, your team advanced to the Far West Regional against Section V’s Class A Champion, Greece-Athena from the Rochester area. They were also 23-0 and they were calling the game the “Meeting of the Perfect Strangers”. Rochester is basically our ‘sister’ city and it’s only an hour away. Did you know about John Wallace ahead of time?

CB: I heard of him, but social media wasn’t big back then so I may have heard his name, but I didn’t know him like that until Coach Monti showed the video and we started to scout for them and I was like, ‘HOLY COW!’ It was ridiculous what you were watching. But no, I didn’t really have a beat on the Rochester and Syracuse guys. I just knew the Niagara Falls and Buffalo guys.

AD: So the team was able to watch the film before the game. What stood out to you?

CB: He was dunking on everybody. He was blocking everybody’s shot. For me it was exciting because I knew that we would get into it at some point during the game, because it was in my competitive nature and his. We did get into it at some point, but I hadn’t played against anything like that personally in our area. We didn’t have a guy like that, so seeing him on video – what he was doing at 6’9” was ridiculous. Back then, 6’9” guys weren’t popping out shooting jump shots like he was, and going ‘inside-out’. I just knew we were going to have our hands full.

AD: Yes, there weren’t any big men like that here. Well actually, weren’t Kevin Sanford and Eric Eberz at that level?

CB: Yes, Kevin was close. Maybe I played against him in a few leagues, but I never played against him in a real high school basketball game and didn’t see him much. So it was just different seeing that.

AD: Leading up to the game, did you have ‘butterflies’? Or did it feel like this was just another game?

CB: I think our whole team was confident, but we all had butterflies every single game. That game was no different and I think we all went in thinking that we had the game plan and that we would win it. Somehow someway we were going to make it happen. We did for a half (laughing).

AD: When you guys went out for the jump ball, you saw that he had “DA MAN” cut on the back of his head (laughing). You know what’s funny, is that both Coach Monti and Tim Winn mentioned that with a bit of snark. So the fact that he cut that on the back of his head, even 25 years later, really seemed to stick with them. In general, did that strike you as being arrogant?

CB: Oh, I was pissed off and Coach Monti made a point of it too. He’d play mind games with us to piss us off. He’d say, ‘Look at this guy. He’s got DA MAN on the back of his head!’ I was ready to go nuts just when I saw him. I was thinking this dude thinks he’s really that guy. I got enraged before the game because we were all sitting in the stands watching the game before ours and he’s laying down sleeping in the stands! I’m going nuts saying, ‘Look at this dude, he’s over there sleeping, and he’s got play us!’ Everything he did made me go sort of nuts, but he backed everything up though.

AD: One last question about the game. As Coach Monti pointed out, you guys were right there with Greece-Athena for three quarters and it was close. What happened?

CB: As I remember it, and Coach Monti probably has a better memory than me, I think we were either down two or tied at the half and I know that at that time Greece-Athena was playing us in a regular “man to man” defense. If they had done that for the rest of the game they would’ve lost. At the half, I think we had 27 points. I had 10 points and Shino had 15, so we had 25 of our 27 points.

Their Coach did a great job and came out in a “Triangle and Two” on Shino and me, so we didn’t score a point in the second half; they basically took us away. Our other guys got the open looks and shots we wanted, but they just didn’t fall. Their Coach wasn’t going to let Shino or me win that game that night. I kicked myself numerous times afterwards wondering what I could’ve done to be more aggressive and if Shino and I could’ve done more. But the fact of the matter is that it was a good move for their Coach and it worked out for them that night.

AD: You know, I taped that game. I watched it at home and, unfortunately, didn’t go. After watching it and thinking about how you guys beat us handily all summer long, I thought about how I wanted to get on the court and play against you the next year. First, I got injured and secondly, they flipped the brackets. So we opened against Niagara Falls Senior High School in the Festival of Lights Tournament. They narrowly beat us and you played them again while we played in the consolation game again against Bennett. I’m not sure how much of a difference I would’ve made (laughing), but I was at least looking forward to getting on the court with you.

In part two of this interview, Carlos talks about his senior year at LaSalle, his college career, and then life after basketball. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

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
Lasting Lessons basketball taught me: An introduction

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Niagara Falls basketball legend Tim Winn discusses playing in the LaSalle dynasty part two

“It doesn’t matter what sport it is.  It doesn’t matter what realm of life it is, if I approach it with same approach I used on the court at LaSalle, I’m going to win.  Period.”

This is part two of my interview with legendary LaSalle Senior High School point guard Tim Winn.  In part one, we discussed his background, how he started playing basketball and how he became a LaSalle Explorer.  In part two, we talk more about playing in the LaSalle basketball program, where Tim played college basketball, the closing of LaSalle Senior High School, and finally, how basketball has changed.

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

Anwar Dunbar:  So, with your team having its eyes on Glens Falls the entire time, it sounds like even though you  were getting everyone’s best shot every night, you  weren’t very concerned with any of the other Section VI teams.

Tim Winn:  Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of tough teams in Western New York, but there wasn’t one game there that was going to take us up too high, or take us down too low no matter what the results were, because our goal every year was Glens Falls.  It’s like the Cleveland Cavaliers right now.  Yes, Boston is tough, but for the Cavs it’s championship or bust.  Once you get to Glens Falls a couple of times, you’re not accepting anything else.  No matter what the ups and downs are during the year, your eyes are still on that prize, and it’s all that really matters to you.

AD:  Were there any games in Section VI that you had circled?  Niagara Falls High School, for example.  That was a ‘rivalry’ game wasn’t it?

TW:  It was a rivalry game.  It was great for the community.  You can compare it to St. Joe’s, Canisius.  For us it was a great game.  It brought the community together.  You might be playing some of the most intense basketball against one of your cousins.  You had family at both schools and everyone came out.

It was probably one of the best traditions our city doesn’t have anymore.  We looked forward to playing against St. Joe’s.  Obviously Buffalo Traditional, the team played them my senior year, but I didn’t because I sprained my ankle working on my jump shot in an open gym.  Everyone in the world was waiting to see that game.

AD:  So, Tim, what was your game?  Were you a penetrator?  Could you eventually do everything offensively?

TW:  By my senior year, I could do everything.  My staple though was defense.  I would lock anybody up – that’s just how I felt.  I was 5’9” and 165 pounds, but my heart was as big as Isaiah Thomas’.  Coach Monti put me on anybody and it didn’t matter their size – I was locking them down.  That was my greatest skill set by far, and it was probably the most aggressive part of my game for my entire career.  I didn’t develop what I would call a ‘well-rounded’ offensive game until my senior year in high school, and that’s with me averaging 23 points a game as a junior.  At that point I could get to the basket and I could shoot; whatever the game presented to me.

AD:  What kind of student were you while you were playing for LaSalle?

TW:  At LaSalle you didn’t have any choice but to be a good student.  I talked about not being able to play if you didn’t defend, but also if you didn’t go to class you couldn’t play.  Coach Monti had a program that really set you up for life and for me that was a really big deal.  From the start I was wondering what I would have to do to get into college.  From the start it was like, ‘You’re going to take this level of classes, we’re going to have progress reports every five weeks for everybody, and if you don’t perform academically, you can forget about it.’

It didn’t matter who you were, you were held to these standards and there was no favoritism.  You were going to walk a certain way, and you were going to carry yourself a certain way in the classroom.  School was going to be more important than any state championship, and if not, then it may not have been the program for you.

AD:  So Coach Monti was actively monitoring your grades then?

TW: Everything.  He monitored how many steps you took down one hallway.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me – to have someone care about your development that much as a young man.  It wasn’t just about basketball – he treated all of his players like family – like his sons.

AD:  Was there a particular quote he used to tell the team regularly?

TW:  No, there wasn’t necessarily a quote as much as it was a philosophy.   You just knew when you were dealing with him, you had no choice but to walk the straight and narrow.  There is a lot of structure that young men need that a lot of them don’t get these days.  You knew that if you weren’t handling your business in the classroom, you had a problem on your hands and you did not want to make it to his classroom.  That type of program for me and my teammates was everything.  You still hear guys talking about it right now, ‘If Coach Monti was here, if Coach Monti was in the Falls,’ just because of what it did for us.

AD:  When did the colleges start recruiting you?

TW:  I think I started getting recruited in my sophomore year.  During my sophomore year all the local schools started recruiting me.  The summer after my sophomore year, after we made it back to Glens Falls, it picked up because I went to a couple of camps where I did pretty well.  I’d say beginning to mid-sophomore year and onward.

AD:  Which schools came calling?

TW:  I turned down Syracuse and Georgia Tech.  Amongst my circle, we still talk about it all the time.  I was ‘signed, sealed and delivered to Syracuse,’ but the young and naïve me not having anyone else in my family who went through the experience, I pulled out of it at the last minute.  I remember being at the State Fair in Syracuse and I was supposed to go verbally commit.  My friend, Romell Lloyd, went the next year and Malik Campbell (Turner/Carroll, pictured below in the All-Western New York photos) was at the Fair at the same time.  We were all supposed to go, but I pulled out at the last minute.

AD:  Why didn’t you go?

TW:  It was a last-minute change of heart.  Rob Lanier had watched some of my games at the ABCD Camp and I told him that I was still open, and then St. Bonaventure started recruiting me.

AD:  Did you talk to Coach Monti about it?

TW:  I didn’t and that was the young me.  I didn’t tell anybody about it.  He’s from Syracuse and I know for a fact he wouldn’t have let me pull out of going to Syracuse.  It’s one of those things.  I don’t have regrets now, but as an older man, sometimes I think about it.

AD:  So you went to St. Bonaventure.  I remember seeing you on TV.  What was it like playing at St. Bonaventure?

TW:  Anytime you go to college and away from home, there’s going to be an adjustment.  I sold my family on my not going to Syracuse and going to St. Bonaventure instead by telling them that, ‘I can go to Syracuse and be expected to win 20 games every year, right?  I can win 20 games there and go the NCAA Tournament and I’m just one of the guys.  St. Bonaventure hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 30 years, and if I can get them there, I’ll be a legend.’  It meant more to me to leave that type of legacy behind.

AD:  Did you play all four years?  And did you make it into the NCAA Tournament?

TW:  We made it my senior year.  We played Kentucky in the opening round.  It went into double overtime.

AD:  What Kentucky team was it?  Was it one of Rick Pitino’s teams or was it one of Tubby Smith’s teams?

TW:  It was one of Tubby Smith’s teams.  They had Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, Jamaal Magloire – those guys.

AD:  By the time you were a senior were you leading the Bonnies in scoring or assists?

TW:   I think my junior and senior years I was leading my team in scoring, assists and steals.  In my junior year, I was second in the nation in steals behind a guy named Shante Rogers from George Washington University.

AD:  So you said you learned the most basketball at LaSalle.  Was it an easy transition to go play for Jim Baron at St. Bonaventure?

TW:  It was.  The only adjustment was getting ‘college-strong’, getting my body on the level.  There wasn’t anything that I wasn’t prepared for, so it was just a matter of getting up under one of those weight programs and getting my body to catch up with my mind.

AD:  What did you major in at St. Bonaventure?

TW:  Marketing.

AD:  Beyond the college level, did you play any professional basketball?

TW:  I pretty much played in the minor leagues over here.  I played in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and the American Basketball Association (ABA ), and then I played in Germany, France, Venezuela, Canada, England – so I’ve been around a little bit.

AD:  I know a highlight for Jason was playing against Allen Iverson.  Were there any particular matchups that stand out to you?

TW:  Tim Hardaway and I were teammates for an All-Star game in the ABA.  For me, Tim Hardaway is a pretty big deal.  I’ve played with Olden Polynice.  I’ve also played with Keith Claus.  I’ve played a bunch of guys who played in the NBA, who came down to the minor leagues.

AD:  How many years did you play Pro-ball?

TW:  I stopped playing in 2007, so about seven years.  I could’ve kept playing, but I chose a ‘regular’ life to put that degree to work.

AD:  Were you getting tired of all the travel?  The sleeping in hotels?

TW:  It’s very tiring.  The minor leagues are a year-round job and there’s really no offseason.  It gets tiring after a while.  You don’t have the NBA’s budget to take care of your body so it got taxing after a while.

AD:  What career did you settle into when you left basketball?

TW:  I was the Vice-Principal in a school in Buffalo called “Sankofa Charter School”.  That came through a basketball connection.  I did an appearance at the school.  The kids liked it, and I was asked to become the Dean of Students which was the equivalent of being the Vice-Principal in the charter school environment.  I did that for a couple of years and the school closed.  Then I moved my family to Charlotte, NC.

AD:  Are you still involved in the game in any way?  Are you coaching an AAU team?  Do you still compete in any way?

TW:  It’s crazy.  I’m cold turkey.  I’ve been asked on numerous occasions to help coach AAU.  Jeff Bishop is down here and he’s asked me on several different occasions to help him out with his AAU program.  My son plays baseball and is nine years old, so I really don’t have the time to dedicate to something on that level.  I wouldn’t want to cheat a group of kids by me not being there consistently.  I don’t play at all and all I have left are old stories (laughing).

AD:  Interesting.

TW:  And I’m cool with it.

AD:  Yes, it sounds like you’ve done just about everything with basketball.  Going back to the LaSalle days, do you remember what your best game was?  Was it one of the state tournament games?  Was it one of the Niagara Falls games?

TW:  It was a bunch of games.  Locally, I gave Turner/Carroll 39 points, and that’s a big deal because Antoine Sims was always a great competitor and to have a great game against Turner/Carroll and that caliber of player, it’s going to stay with you for a while.  I had 52 points in a game which broke Carlos Bradberry’s record; regarding records that was a big deal.  My senior year in Glens Falls in the semifinal game, I scored 35 points.  We were down big in the fourth quarter and then scored 39 points as a team to come back and win to advance.  It was a big stage and that was against Hempstead who beat us when Carlos was a senior, so it was a little bit of payback.

AD:  Of all four of your years, was there one that was your favorite?

TW:  Easily.  It was my junior year by far.  We had a three-guard lineup and as humble as I can be in saying this, there was not another guard combination in Western New York who could stop  us.  You don’t really feel it when you’re in it, but now that I’m older and I’m watching the tapes, it’s just unreal to watch that team and those three guards – me being one of them.

You couldn’t key on me because Jody Crymes would give you 20 points.  You couldn’t key on Jody because Terry Rich would give you 20 points.  We were a well-oiled machine, and I think all three of us had over 100 steals apiece that season.  It was a lot easier than my senior year.

AD:  And you guys were able to nullify any height advantage your opponents had?

TW:  That was our thing.  You might have height, but could you run?  And then, can your guards get you the ball?  We didn’t lose sleep playing guys who had players 6’8” because the chances of them getting the ball over half court were slim to none.

AD:  Was there anything that surprised you during your time at LaSalle?

TW:  I didn’t really know how to score until I played alongside Carlos Bradberry (pictured to the left).  Prior to that, all I did was steal a bunch of different skill sets from a bunch of different players who came before me.  I put my attitude and personality behind me, figured out where I still had weaknesses and worked on it.  Playing with Carlos my freshman year, taught me how to score; just watching how he would get buckets.

I may be the all-time leading scorer in LaSalle’s history, but I had 500 steals.  Carlos had at least 1,600 points, but they were straight buckets.  I keep mentioning Modie Cox – knowing that he’s in the program and living a couple of houses down from me as well – being able to watch that and watch him lead a team as a young kid meant a lot.  In my junior year, we were in the semifinals in Glens Falls.  Jody Crymes came down on four different possessions and scored.  I’ve never been in a game where someone else besides me said, ‘We’re not losing today.’  It was one of the ‘awe-moments’ for me.

AD:  I remember trying out for the Empire State Games in my sophomore year.  Jody (pictured to the left) showed up with Curtis Ralands.  I was on Jody’s team before the first cut.

He was lightening quick, and on one play he penetrated down the lane and I followed him down the lane looking to get a potential offensive rebound.  He threw a no-look pass behind his head to me, and I didn’t expect it so it sailed right passed me.  He turned around and looked me with an expression like, ‘What happened?’  I wasn’t used to playing with that caliber of player, and you guys played at that high level, and I can only imagine the three of you on the floor at once.

You went to Glens Falls all four years.  For kids who never went, what’s the experience like?

TW:  I guess when you win a lot, you don’t know what it’s like to not be in the environment that you’re in.  I never experienced a down-time or a losing situation.  To not know what it’s like to be in front of a packed house, to not be in the hotels, to not go to Glens Falls, I’ve never experienced that.  Not going would’ve been a failure for us.  So, for me it was what we were supposed to do, and it was how we were supposed to be treated.  The message was, when you win, this is how it’s supposed to go.

AD:  That’s fascinating because there were many kids who were happy just to qualify for the sectionals, but for you and your team it was getting to and winning in Glens Falls.  Otherwise, it wasn’t a successful season.  So, there’s something here about where you set your sights and what you shoot for.

TW:  If we had lost in the sectionals it would’ve been the biggest tragedy for our program ever.  Once we beat the Rochester team my freshman year (McQuaid Jesuit) in the Far West Regional, it moved to that, and I felt like we were never not going to play in this game.  We knew what it felt like to win that game, and we knew what defeat felt like because John Wallace’s team (Greece-Athena) beat us the year before.  Being an eighth-grader and being exposed to that game, I felt like one day I would be the guy to lead us.

AD:  There are whole generations of kids who know nothing of the LaSalle Explorers except in legends and old wive’s-tales.  Where were you when you heard that they were going to close and demolish LaSalle Senior High School?  How did you feel when you heard it?

TW:  I’m still in disbelief.  So much tradition came through there, and so many success stories; not just basketball, but in general.  Imagine that you buy a house and it’s in your family for 30-40 years and then you come home and the house is torn down.  It felt like they tore down the house that’s been passed down for generations in our family.

I’m also bothered by the fact that when they combined the schools, Pat Monti wasn’t named the Head Coach of the Varsity program.  That let me know that there is a gift and a curse to winning all the time.

AD:  Okay, we’re speculating here, but does that mean there was some sort of conspiracy to keep Coach Monti out?

TW:  It’s all politics.  How does the best basketball coach in Niagara Falls history not get that job?  He was the best coach to come through the city, one of the best coaches in Western New York.  He’s in four to five different halls of fame.  It’s one thing to close the school down, but to bring politics into the equation and not give him the next job?  It wouldn’t have hurt as much if he had gotten the next job because the tradition would have still been in the city.  Since LaSalle closed, there’s only been on state champion out of Niagara Falls, and that’s when my little cousin Paul Harris and those guys won it.

That’s the only state championship since we closed.  But if you look at the rosters at Niagara Falls High School since LaSalle closed, they should have at least six or seven state championships.

AD:  We can keep this off the record, but do you think there were parties that were looking at all of Coach Monti’s success and felt that you all had an unfair advantage, or were they just ready to see the brown and gold go away?

TW:  As great as Coach Monti was, the people he beat up on all the time didn’t like him.  Imagine being beat for years.  Just think about our rivalry with Niagara Falls High School.  I think we won 40 or more straight games from the late 1980s until the school closed.  All of the coaches and superintendents who are responsible for the new school opening were not going to let him be the coach after kicking their asses for all of those years.

AD:  Well I did ask Coach Monti that – were all the other coaches happy to see you go once word got out?  He laughed.  We have a few more questions, Tim.  How have players changed since the days you were at LaSalle.  I hear they have ‘trainers’ now, and Jason Rowe said everything is on social media.  How has basketball changed?

TW:  Winning has taken a backseat to stats.  It no longer dominates the emotion and I don’t know when it went out of style.  Your stat-line dictates everything nowadays.

In the past, winning dictated everything.  You see a ton of players who don’t know how to play the game.  Because winning doesn’t dominate the emotion anymore, it’s hard to call a kid on it.  When winning doesn’t come first, it’s hard to complain about anything a kid does in a game.  To me, that’s the biggest difference between now and back then.

Jason and I spent a lot of time together back then.  I knew what it meant to him to win.  Triple-doubles aside, to not win – we’re from that era where winning was everything.  Yes, I had 40 points, but we won.  That dominated everything for us.  You worked on your jump shot so you could win.  You worked on your handle so you could win.  Everything was set up so you could be better placed to win the following year.

When Jason and his team weren’t winning the Rochester game, I know that he and “Mush” (Damien Foster, pictured below) went to work in the summer so they could win that game.  They didn’t go to work so they could come back and average 25 and 30 points – it was time to win a state championship.  There’s enough talent back home where they should be winning on a high level, but you can’t make kids approach it like that.

AD:  You know they say kids today are softer, they don’t communicate the same way.

TW:  Everyone is friends and that’s one of my biggest pet peeves.  I love Jason and he’s my guy. We’ve been friends since he was little.  I swear to you that when it came to “checking the ball up”, he was my worst enemy.  There’s something missing in competition these days.

If you put Jason and me in this era, I don’t think we would be as good.  I’m talking about mentally, because we would’ve been too cool with each other.  Talent-wise we would’ve killed this day and age, but I think one of the best things we had in us was that we were fierce competitors, would go to war with each other and literally go get a burger later.

AD:  So, Tim, is this kind of a LeBron JamesKevin Durant type of thing where it’s okay to go make a team versus building your own?

TW:  Yep, it is.  It always starts at the top.  The players these kids look up to are  all friends.  Kevin Durant and LeBron James are really, really good friends.  For me, I could never be that good a friend with someone to where it would impact my approach on the court.  It didn’t matter who you were, I wanted to go through you on the court; family included, friends included.  It didn’t matter; my mother couldn’t get a bucket on me.

Again, it’s different eras, and just like Jason (pictured with Tim to the left) said, with the impact of social media, it’s required for you to have personality.  Everyone wants to be cool now and it’s just completely different than when we were young.  At that time your game spoke for you.  You didn’t need social media.  You didn’t have to talk anywhere else.  When you were on the court, it was ‘Check it up.  Check ball!’  There was no greater voice than ‘Check ball!’

AD:  Alright, two more.  For youngsters aspiring to play basketball or to pursue any other life goal, what advice would you give them?

TW:  If you’re serious about it, treat it like a job.  Go to work every day.  There’s a ton of kids who have trainers, and to me that work ethic is missing in today’s kids.  You know which kids are working from a mile away.  If it’s something that you’re serious about dive in, dive all the way in.  Don’t dive halfway in and want all the results.  There are a lot of kids who will give you 15% effort, but want 120% back in terms of the results.  It doesn’t work that way and this is a game you really, really must go to work for.

AD:  So do you think it’s unusual that they would need trainers?

TW:  I think it all depends on whose hands you’re in.  To me that’s everything.  There are a million trainers now, a million guys like Jason Rowe and Mark Price.  I would send my kids to them because I know where they’re from.  I know them personally and I know their games and their resumes, so I don’t have to question what they’ll do for my kid.

One of my biggest pet peeves is kids can’t workout unless they have a trainer.  Whatever happened to dribbling the ball down the street to the park?  Kids won’t just go to the gym and play pickup ball anymore and that’s the era that we live in.

AD:  Wow.  That is strange.

TW:  I’ll ask kids, ‘Are you working out?’  They’ll say, ‘I’m trying to get a trainer.’  No!  Whatever happened to just getting your ball and dribbling down the middle of the street?  One, two, three between the legs.  One, two, three between the legs and crossover.  I’m all for trainers getting their money, but I must know that it’s on the level of a Jason or Mark training them.

AD:  Okay, the last question.  What did playing at LaSalle for St. Bonaventure and then playing professionally teach you about life and success?

TW:  For me it was one thing playing in that program.  It taught me how to be a young man, and the success of the program made me feel like I could do anything.  I don’t know losing, so I approach everything the same way I approached those games back then.  I expected to go to Glens Falls, so when I’m in a job interview now, I expect to win.

I’m currently at Wells Fargo on the technology side and I expect to win.  Playing for LaSalle, I’ve carried myself a certain way all my life because of that experience.  It’s confidence, it’s borderline cockiness sometimes.

I always believe that if I approach it with the right work ethic, then it’s game over.  It doesn’t matter what sport it is.  It doesn’t matter what realm of life it is.  If I approach it with same approach I used on the court at LaSalle, I’m going to win.  Period.

And you can ask any of the teammates that I’ve had.  It’s just something that’s in you.  It just did something to us as kids.  We just always believe that we’re going to be alright.

AD:  Well Tim, that’s all I’ve got, unless you have any other comments or stories, thank you for telling your story.

TW:  It’s been an honor to speak on this.

A special thank you is extended to Tim Winn for taking the time out to discuss his story and the LaSalle basketball program.  In case you missed it, see part one of our interview.  Also see parts one and two of my interview with legendary LaSalle Head Coach Pat Monti, my interview with legendary Buffalo Traditional point guard Jason Rowe, some of my personal basketball stories surrounding my book project, and a piece I wrote up regarding former college and professionals basketball player Chris Herren, who now tours and speaks about substance and wellness for teens:

• Niagara Falls coaching legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
• Niagara Falls coaching legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part two
• Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments
• Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp
• Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

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Niagara Falls basketball legend Tim Winn discusses playing in the LaSalle dynasty part one

“When you have so many great teams that have been there before you, you’re not competing against the best in Western New York, you’re competing against history. We didn’t care about beating St. Joe’s or Buffalo Traditional. Could we be better than the team we were on last year?”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key aspect of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in Section VI, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s western-most section, laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.

I’m working on a project chronicling my early journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Section VI basketball players and coaches from my era. On June 4, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Tim Winn – a Western New York basketball legend and one of the last in a long line of great point guards in the LaSalle basketball dynasty – arguably the most dominant high school basketball program ever in Section VI and the Western New York region. In the early- mid-1990s, Tim Winn was Western New York’s other top point guard alongside Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe, and has the distinction of making the State Tournament in Glens Falls each of his four years in high school.

In part one of this two-part interview, Tim discusses his background, how he started playing basketball, and how he became one of the legendary point guards in the LaSalle basketball dynasty. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Sections V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Tim himself, and his Head Coach at LaSalle Senior High School, Pat Monti.  Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

Anwar Dunbar: First Tim, I want to say that I really appreciate your willingness to talk about your playing days and LaSalle basketball. This really, really means a lot.

Tim Winn: No problem. The older you get, the only thing you’ve got left are your stories.

AD: I’ll tell you a little bit about me and then we’ll jump in. I’m a blogger/writer and a native Western New Yorker just like yourself. One of the things I write about on my blog is success and failure, and my first major success and failure lesson in life was my high school basketball experience at Hutch-Tech in Buffalo. I didn’t go on and do anything as spectacular as you and Jason (Rowe) did, but that was my first time dreaming about doing something, and then feeling some disappointment. That served as a template for the rest of my life also. It’s a story I always wanted to tell, and that’s what I’m doing now.

The way that I wrote this up, it’s about my journey, but it also ends up being about Section VI as well, and you can’t tell that story without discussing the power programs – LaSalle, Buffalo Traditional and all of the teams that made their championship runs in that era. Traditional made deep runs in postseason play most years, but your teams at LaSalle were there at the end pretty much every year – for 10 straight years according to what Coach Monti said. Everyone was gunning for you guys so again, it means a lot to be able to talk about the brown and gold.

I’m going to start at the very beginning. While I knew about some of the ballplayers from Niagara Falls in the 1990s, I didn’t know any of you guys personally. Where is your family from?

TW: My grandfather is from Alabama and my grandmother is from Columbia, SC. They migrated up north way back in the day. I grew up on the east side of Niagara Falls.

AD: They came for the industry jobs?

TW: Yes, exactly.

AD: When did you start playing basketball?

TW: I was about five years old. There was a “Biddy Basketball” league in Niagara Falls. They had two age groups – 12 and under and then 12-14 years old. At five years old you were old enough to play.

AD: You know, the first time I heard of the Biddy leagues was in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on Benji Wilson. When Common mentioned it, I had no idea what he was referring to. Were those held at playgrounds or at community centers?

TW: I played for a team called the “Thirteenth Street Center”, but all of the games were held at the Boys and Girls Club in Niagara Falls on Saturday mornings.

AD: Your Dad, uncles, or any older brothers – were they basketball players too?

TW: My Dad was a great athlete. Rumor has it that he could’ve gone pro in football, baseball, or basketball, but he chose the street life – a typical story where we’re from, you know? It ate him up and it never panned out.

AD: So you must have played for your middle school team?

TW: We didn’t do that in Niagara Falls. We played in the Biddy leagues and that was pretty much it. You played for your neighborhood club – the Boys and Girls Club – I played at the Thirteenth Street Center.

There were different community centers throughout Niagara Falls, and you played for the community center within your neighborhood. There are eight or nine different community centers in Niagara Falls that are spread out in the different neighborhoods. The kids migrated to each center, joined the basketball team. There were also games at the Boys and Girls Club.

AD: That’s very different than what we had in Buffalo. Does that mean your middle schools didn’t have teams at all?

TW: Elementary school? No. You either still played in the Biddy leagues or you tried out for one of the Junior Varsity (JV) teams in the sixth or seventh grades.

AD: Okay, I’m just trying to put everything together because your Coach at LaSalle, Pat Monti, shared with me that the LaSalle players were exposed to the program prior to the ninth grade.

TW: I played JV in the seventh grade. When you have a historic program like LaSalle’s with such a rich tradition, the conversation is always amongst you and your peers. How long are you going to play in the Biddy league? When are you going to try out for the JV? It was really common for guys in the seventh grade to go try out for the JV teams. Obviously, everyone wasn’t going to have success, but it was common. The best players in the Biddy league were presented with the opportunity to try out. Coach Monti’s program had been around for a million years for those of us who lived there.

AD: Did you guys have the option of going to LaSalle or Niagara Falls Senior High Schools? How did that work?

TW: It was all based on your address. I lived right next door to someone who went to Niagara Falls High School. The city broke it down in a weird way where it was strictly addressed-based. For me it was the ‘luck of the draw’. If I lived one more house over, it would have been Niagara Falls High School instead of LaSalle.

AD: Which college and professional players did you look up to? Was it Michael Jordan? Was it someone else?

TW: It was Isiah Thomas all day long.

AD: Was it because of his ‘handle’? Was it because he could shoot it as well?

TW: All of it. It was his handle, his competitive nature – just that fight. Where I’m from, if you didn’t’ have that fight in you, you couldn’t play. He was an easy guy to look up to because at his height, you could see his heartbeat before you could see his handle.

AD: Does that mean you guys were taught how to compete early?

TW: Yes. The side of town I’m from – you either competed or your never played. That’s just how it was. It was a really tough environment. The community raised the kids, so you never played with your age group. At five years old, it was common for me to be on the court with guys 10 and 11 years old – it was very common.

AD: How about the college players? Jason said he followed Kenny Anderson, but were you into the UNLV teams, or the Michigan teams, or any players in particular?

TW: No, not at a young age. It sounds crazy, but you looked up to guys in your neighborhood – the guys at LaSalle Senior High School, for example. Basketball was so big in our city that the teams I liked watching the most were the high schools – Niagara Falls and LaSalle.

Modie Cox (pictured) lived right in my neighborhood, just two houses down. He was a hero in my neighborhood. At five and six years old he was the guy that I watched. In terms of the colleges, I didn’t have a favorite team until I got older and then it was Syracuse.

AD: Now were you familiar with any of the other big-time Section VI players like Ritchie Campbell or Marcus Whitfield? Or was Buffalo just that far away a place to the point where your neighborhood was it?

TW: You heard about it, but it was never up close and personal. I remember Ritchie Campbell coming to Niagara Falls to play against Modie in an All-Star game. That was the first time ever seeing him play. I was in awe because he was one of those rare talents that you never see come through your area. From that point it made me pay attention. I wondered, what else was happening in Buffalo? It made you start paying attention to things outside of your neighborhood.

AD: How was Ritchie’s game different than Modie’s?

TW: Modie was a pure point guard – a pure leader, and I thought Ritchie was the kind of player who could just do anything. I don’t think there wasn’t anything Ritchie (pictured) couldn’t do as a basketball player. He could shoot and make it from half court, and his ability to get assists was just as effective. If you needed someone to start your engine and get your car going, Modie was that motor.

AD: I never got to see either of them play, but you always heard of their legends.

TW: They were definitely both legends.

AD: How did you get over to LaSalle?

TW: Again, it was all neighborhood based and I just happened to be one of the lucky kids who lived in that area that sent you to LaSalle and not Niagara Falls High School.

AD: Did Coach Monti start to know you in the seventh grade?

TW: It wasn’t so much that he got to know me. His program was already there and established. A lot of great talent had already come through it. I was in the seventh grade and wanted to give it a shot and try out for the JV. Once I made that JV team, he became familiar with me. It wasn’t really before that. He may have seen me play in the Biddy leagues, but at that age there are a lot of talented kids in Niagara Falls. I pretty much made JV in the seventh grade and it started from there in terms of our relationship.

AD: Was it a big adjustment for you going from the Biddy league to the JV team?

TW: It wasn’t, because I had been playing with older guys all of my life. You grew up getting beat up by Modie Cox, so going to the JV was not that much of a transition. For me it wasn’t a big transition because the JV program was an extension of the Varsity program. It had such a rich tradition that you walked into a ‘well-oiled’ machine.

AD: Now you guys were probably playing Niagara Falls High School’s JV team, but were you also playing against Grand Island, Kenmore East, Kenmore West, and so on?

TW: Yes, the other teams in the Niagara Frontier League (NFL).

AD: Who was coaching the JV team? Was it Coach Rotundo?

TW: Yes, it was Coach Frank Rotundo.

AD: So, you played JV in the seventh and eighth grades?

TW: Yes, and in the eighth grade I was called up to the Varsity team.

AD: In the eighth grade – how about that. Does that mean you were on the roster when the Carlos Bradberry-led LaSalle team played the John Wallace-led Greece-Athena team in March of 1992 in the Class A Far West Regional?

TW: Yes.

AD: Sweet.

TW: Yes – John Wallace – ‘DA MAN’.

AD: Yes, he had that cut on the back of his head in fat letters. That 1991-92 season was my first year on our Varsity team at Hutch-Tech and you all beat us decisively in the Festival of Lights Tournament. From that point on I kept my eyes on what LaSalle was doing. I taped that Far West Regional game, and I watched it most of the summertime.

I was thinking that the next year I would get to play against Carlos Bradberry, Curtis Ralands, Todd Guetta, Chris Frank, and the rest of the guys on that team. I was sidelined by an injury the next season. We opened up the Festival of Lights Tournament the next season against the Niagara Falls Power Cats and lost to them. We didn’t advance to play you guys anyway, but you always wonder what if.

Once Shino Ellis graduated I thought Jody Crymes – also very talented and lightening quick- would be the next guard up to start alongside Carlos in the backcourt, but suddenly I started hearing about a player named Tim Winn. I was wondering, ‘Who is Tim Winn?’ Describe your freshman season.

TW: It was a rollercoaster ride for me. As you said, Jody was coming into his sophomore year, and with me coming up onto the Varsity team I didn’t know what kind of a role I’d have. I knew that it would be small at first because we had a lot of seniors coming back – Carlos Bradberry was the man. For me, I just wanted to soak it all up, to ‘get in where I fit in,’ as they say.

Coach Monti has a way of just throwing you into the fire. If he’s keeping you on the team, he’s keeping you for a reason. We played Olean High School the first game of that season and I scored 14 points off the bench. To be honest it was a shock to me, because I didn’t think that I was ready on that level to come off the bench and contribute. The opportunity was there, and I took advantage of it.

That was Coach Monti’s genius. He throws you in the fire and expects you to be ready. He allowed you to ‘hide’ behind the system.

AD: Okay, since we’re on Coach Monti, what was it like inside the LaSalle basketball program? I remember you guys played suffocating defense, created a lot of turnovers – a lot of pressing, some zone, and then boom you guys were immediately down at the other basket, laying it up or dunking it.

TW: For me, the blessing was that the program was already established. There was a way of going about your business and there were expectations that the program already had. It also just so happened to meet my skill set somewhere in the middle. It was a ‘no nonsense’ program, and it wasn’t a program where you could just come to practice, roll out the balls and start playing.

Coach Monti is a huge stickler on drills, drills, drills. I learned more at LaSalle than I learned in my whole career when you include college and the pros – just knowing how to play the game. It’s not even close. That experience had me super prepared for anything after that. Coach Monti took the time to teach you how to play, and then he demanded that you play the right way.

AD: What was playing the ‘right’ way for Coach Monti? Was it running his offense? Was it boxing out on defense?

TW: If you didn’t play defense at LaSalle, you didn’t play! His defensive tradition was unreal. It didn’t matter how good you were on offense. It started there. That’s how you win a state championship with four guys my height and a center who was 6’1”. You had to defend – that was the staple of our tradition. We didn’t care who you were playing with or who you had. We were coming in and shutting everything down, and then the offense just fell where it fell.

After the defense it was just being unselfish. You’re a team. We didn’t play for stats. The only stats we cared about was the win. That was our bragging point. If there was any arrogance from us, it was based upon getting victories – not me getting 40 points or Jody Crymes (pictured with Tim) getting 20 assists – it was never about that. Those things just came along with it. If we beat you, then we would walk around with our chests poked out a little bit.

AD: Does that mean no one was looking to get on ESPN (laughing)?

TW: Not at all and this is the thing – when you have so many great teams who have been there before you, you’re not really competing against Western New York. We never came into a season saying, ‘We’ve got to be as good as Buffalo Traditional.’ We were trying to beat history.

I’ll give you a prime example. After Carlos Bradberry’s senior year, we graduated eight or nine seniors. No one gave us a chance to come back the next year, and to do any work. It was the perfect opportunity for guys like me entering my sophomore year, and Jody entering his junior year to take our claim.

We didn’t care about being better than St. Joe’s or Buffalo Traditional. Could we be better than the team we were on last year? The only way you would get props in our city and our program, was if you were one of the best teams within that program, and that was our motivation. Could we be better than Carlos’s team the year before who had the Player of the Year on it? Could we get back to Glens Falls?

For us, Glens Falls was the standard. It wasn’t winning the NFL. It wasn’t winning Section VI. Could you get to Glens Falls and win a State Championship? So when the standards are that and you have complete buy in from all of the players involved, it at least sets you up for an opportunity to come close every year. You’re not satisfied with beating Lew-Port. You could care less about beating Traditional, which was one of the best teams to ever come out of Western New York. I’m just saying that for us, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get to Stephon Marbury and Glens Falls. We were never satisfied with anything local.

AD: Before we move on, what were those guys like – Carlos Bradberry and his class? Did they welcome you on the team? Did they make you have to prove yourself?

TW: We all grew up playing in the Biddy league, so you were already cool with these guys. So the transition to being their teammate on the Varsity was seamless, because we were already like brothers. I lived two houses down from Carlos when I was in high school. Before I became a Varsity player, I was at his house everyday playing video games.

That’s the environment we were in – most of the guys who played Varsity hung out together. You grew up playing against the older kids, and a lot of those guys were the older kids. So to become their teammate was almost expected, and that we would all eventually play together.

AD: What did the LaSalle players do in the offseason? Did you guys go to camps? AAU? What were the guys doing?

TW: It was different for every player. I went away to the “Five Star Camp”, the “Eastern Invitational”, the “Empire State Games“. For me it was different. Jody did a lot of the same, but there was also a league back home that allowed your team to play in it together. We spent a lot of time together playing in high school basketball leagues, but we also played in “Father Bell” as well in Buffalo. We played together a lot.

It’s one thing to stay in your own neighborhood and to compete and succeed, but we also took our show on the road. Once you got to Buffalo in the summertime, and you have guys who may not play together in high school, you might get Jason Rowe and Mark Price on the same team, or Jason and Antoine Sims on the same team. You’re not going to get that staying in Niagara Falls. We felt that if we could find a way to compete against teams that were loaded in the summertime, we knew that we would be better off once the season started.

AD: Coach Monti pointed out that you made the State Tournament all four years which is astounding because, as you remember, many of the Section VI teams were struggling to beat the Section V teams from the Rochester area. When Carlos and his class graduated were you just trying to beat history like you said? What was it like stepping up and doing it yourself 100% of the time?

TW: Do you know what it’s like to get a taste of something? I was young at the time. Me and Jody rode Carlos’s coattails to Glens Falls. As much as we may have contributed, it wasn’t our team. His talent was on a different level. No one in Western New York could deal with him and that carried us.

As a young kid, I didn’t know anything else except going to Glens Falls. We got close to winning the year before, but lost to John Wallace’s team. At worst I thought that I was supposed to be in the Far West Regional against a Rochester team. To beat the Rochester team the next year to go to Glens Falls felt like it was where we were supposed to be. It didn’t take much for Coach Monti to sell us at all. He told us, ‘Look. I’m going to watch the games no matter what. You guys can play well enough to join me or you can stay at home.’

For us it wasn’t a hard sell. Once you get a smell of Glens Falls, there’s nothing else you’d rather have outside of winning it. After riding Carlos’s coattails as a freshman, I wanted my own. The next year I got there as a sophomore and we were immature. No one expected us to be there and the games really took us by storm. We were young kids jumping in the pool at night; just super happy to be in Glens Falls.

The maturity showed up in the offseason because we said, ‘Just going to Glens Falls is kind of whack now.’ Afterwards we were coming to win it and that’s what happened my junior year – to me. If my teammate Terry Rich didn’t get hurt, we would’ve beaten Stephon Marbury’s Lincoln team in the Federation Championship. We didn’t have a full team, but we won the State Championship that year.

AD: So your sophomore year, you guys lost in the state semifinal?

TW: Yes, we lost to a well-coached team with lots of shooters. We were just immature. We finished 22-4.

AD: Talk about matching up with Stephon Marbury in your junior year. He was the No. 1 high school player in the nation that year, right?

TW: You come into it and you know his reputation. You see all of the highlights. He was a McDonald’s All-American, the top point guard in the country. For me there was going to be no better test to let me know what level I was on than to go up against this guy. I was going to try it all. Whoever I thought I was, I was going to try it in that game, and playing against the best, would expose what I needed to work on.

We locked him down. He was averaging 30 points a game, and I think we held him to 12 points. That was a springboard for me in my high school career. I felt like if Stephon Marbury couldn’t score on me, nobody was scoring. I didn’t care who you were. I carried that with me for that entire summer – ABCD Basketball Camp – everywhere I went. It carried into my senior year when we lost two of my favorite players of all time that I played with, Jody Crymes and Terry Rich. Nobody was expecting me to go back to Glens Falls my senior year.

AD: After losing Jody and Terry, how did you reload? Who filled in for them? Or did you just go up another level?

TW: It was a combination of things. For me individually, my game went ten notches up from going to ABCD Camp and playing against the best point guards. I put a lot of work into my game, so I was a lot better than in my junior year.

We also had guys like Roddy Gayle and Carlos Davis who had small roles with us the year before (both pictured to the left). They stepped up big time. For the first time in a long time, it wasn’t just a guard-led team. These guys were my center and my forward even though they were both just 6’. So they really stepped up!

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. In part two, Tim talks more about playing in the LaSalle basketball program, where he played college basketball, the closing of LaSalle Senior High School, and finally how basketball has changed. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:

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
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

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