Delaware Park: The Home of Many Legendary Buffalo Basketball Battles

“There were battles at Delaware Park. If you lost, you might as well go home because you may not get back on the court – that’s how Delaware used to be!”

The Meeting Place for Basketball Players in Buffalo

This essay is another promotional essay for my book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, for which there are two parts. I created a page for the book and for the numerous promotional pieces I created surrounding it. I interviewed 43 players and coaches from Section VI and Europe for this project. My research revealed several interesting facts. The 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team is one of the major bases for my story. The team went on a magical run winning our city league championship, the Yale Cup with a 13-0 record my freshman year. They then won the Section VI Class B sectional, coming within one game of berth in the State Final Four in Glens Falls where the elite teams gathered every year. It was a big deal from my vantage point at that time, and I dreamt of doing what they did.

My story follows my up and down four-year basketball journey at Hutch-Tech High School. It further chronicles the seasons of other players and teams in my area. It discusses where players learned to play the game around the city of Buffalo at times. Delaware Park was a basketball hub that most players in Buffalo had in common in terms of playing the game.

Basketball players who seriously played the game in Buffalo will mention Delaware Park if you talk to them. I didn’t play in Delaware Park in its glory days though I mention the once great basketball battle ground in my story and played a little bit there. Some of the players I interviewed for The Engineers did, however. I reflect on Delaware Park and its legendary basketball battles in this promotional essay.

My First Basketball Experiences at Delaware Park

I did not become familiar with the sacred basketball courts of Delaware Park the way the great basketball players who emerged from Buffalo did. It was, for the most part, out of necessity. There was a stretch just before middle school when my pediatrician shared that I would become obese if my eating wasn’t controlled. I further needed to increase my exercise. My mother subsequently made me go to Delaware Park with her on Saturday mornings to get some exercise. I took my basketball to the courts, which were typically empty in the early morning hours while she ran around the park.

“DO IT AGAIN!” An older black man shouted out to me from the road one cold and wet Western New York Saturday morning. He wore a sweat suit and glasses. He saw me make a basket. I took a couple of dribbles towards the key and then launched up a two-handed shot which banked off the metal backboard and into the netless basket. The ball went through the basket by pure luck.

I didn’t understand fundamentally how to shoot the ball with consistently. I took the man’s challenge though and tried doing it again the exact same way. The ball came close to going in for me but rimmed out. It hit the backboard and rim and ricocheted off the basket. I looked back at the man who smiled and kept walking. This is my first memory of those sacred basketball courts. My basketball journey started formally (or informally) shortly afterwards at the nearby Campus West/College Learning Laboratory as a player-manager. You can read my essay about that at this link entitled, A Player-Manager.

In the Heart of the City

Delaware Park is literally in the heart of the city of Buffalo for those of you who don’t know. I don’t know the exact dimensions of our city. The park is smack dab in the center of it though, touching all sides—north, south, east and west. You can see if you look at a map. It is surrounded by the 198 Scajaquada Expressway which takes you to the Niagara River on the west side in one direction. The expressway takes you to downtown Buffalo and to the airport in the opposite direction. The park is boxed in by Parkside Avenue, West Amherst Street and Delaware Avenue, in terms of the main thoroughfares. It was not until learning about the 50 states in the Union that I knew that Delaware was actually a state.

The beautiful and hilly park consists of a two-lane track forming a circle around baseball diamonds, a golf course and lots of greenery. The arboreal foliage makes it a thing of beauty for runners, walkers, bike riders and rollerbladers alike, especially in the pleasant weather months. Go at any time and you will see people out and about of all ethnicities and age groups. You see The Buffalo Zoo and actual real-life Buffalo minding their business as visitors, inside and outside of the zoo, stop and peer at them in amazement near the East Amherst entrance.

Delaware Park was one of our many natural escapes during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Walking through the park near the 198 Expressway on my visits home, I smelled a combination of outdoor aromas. They were distinctly those of Western New York and reminded me of years past.

Sacred Basketball Battlegrounds

The basketball courts lay on the eastern side of the park on Parkside Avenue. There are six to eight of them each with two baskets. They are nestled into a forest-like patch of trees as the road of the park ascends upwards towards the 198 Expressway. Think about a combination of nature, pavement, and steel when you think about Delaware Park. The steel was perhaps created in the now closed, but one-time famous, steel plants south of downtown Buffalo.

The pavement on Delaware Park’s basketball courts was and is to this day a mixture of red and green. The outside of the courts and the free throw keys are green and the courts themselves are all red. Many parts of the courts are cracked and warped due to the four seasons of the region. Water pools in certain areas as described when it rains.

The backboards are made from a glass-like material with ‘breakaway’ rims today. The backboards were made of steel with holes in them with standard rims in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The ball made a distinct crashing noise when it hit those backboards. I think the city put nets up in the late spring-early summer. They’d get torn up to the point where there weren’t any eventually. They hung from the rims by a single thread by the time the fall months arrived. I think the nets being ripped and torn by the end of the summer was indicative of the number of games being played there daily.

Legendary Basketball Battles

“There were battles at Delaware Park. If you lost, you might as well go home because you may not get back on the court – that’s how Delaware used to be,” said Edmond Harris, a star player at Riverside High School in the 1990s. I remember playing against him on one of my trips to the park between my sophomore and junior years. A call was made by someone which he didn’t like. Ed didn’t give the ball back to us to let us resume play until it was overturned. He was ultra competitive.

I knew who Ed was when he showed up to the park because the Riverside Frontiersman won the Yale Cup with a record of 11-2 in my sophomore year on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. Their Yale Cup league-clinching victory was a heartbreaking loss for us. They won the Class C sectional that year. Curtis Brooks was one of the key players on the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team described above. He said the same thing about the games at Delaware Park. You did not get back on the court if you lost.

I didn’t know those Delaware Park basketball courts were battle grounds for basketball going into middle school. Players from all the surrounding neighborhoods (and the suburbs) gathered there and played for hours and hours. They built their reputations and sharpened their skills. You would not get back on the courts any time soon once again, as legions of players and teams lined up for the next game.

Older and Younger Players

“I like playing with the older men at Delaware Park,” said one of my teammates at Hutch-Tech. It was Earl Holmes of the Class of 1995. He enjoyed physical play which he probably learned there often stating, “If you’re not fouling anybody, then you are not playing any defense!” I played more at the parks in my neighborhood and at the William-Emslie YMCA with kids my own age. I was more comfortable with that, though I should have pushed myself into the other basketball circles and more at Delaware Park.

Players played there day after day, sharpening their skills and learning to compete. The basketball played there was very physical as there were many grown men competing there. They used all kinds of tricks that you might not learn in an organized basketball program like ours at Hutch-Tech, or at a teaching camp like the Ken Jones Basketball Camp. I did not understand that the younger boys who consistently played with the men improved their games simply by acclimating themselves to the contact, physicality, and speed of those games. For those who played organized basketball, the time they spent playing at venues like Delaware Park gave them an advantage in the winter months indoors in the organized high school games.

Where Legends Played

“In terms of Laettner, I got to see him at Delaware Park. So you see this big white boy playing with us. He pushed the point and did everything. I was like, ‘Wow! Who is this guy? Oh, that’s Christian Laettner and he plays for Nichols.’” Keith Hearon was one of my teammates from Hutch-Tech High School. He reflected on seeing the future Duke University star before he became a star at the Delaware Park basketball courts. Laettner was from the Town of Angola just south of the City of Buffalo for those unaware. He attended the Nichols School near Delaware Park. He played at multiple venues in the city and sharpened his game before going off to Durham, NC.

“There was talk about Cliff Robinson. My stepmom was friends with him, and I still remember him pulling up in his black sports car, cheesing ear to ear. We went to Delaware Park and played a couple of games there. I couldn’t believe that I was playing with the caliber of a player like Cliff Robinson, a legend in Buffalo.” Ryan Cochrane was a star point guard at Cardinal O’ Hara High School. He reflected on getting to play with Cliff Robinson at Delaware Park. The late Cliff Robinson played basketball at Riverside High School in the 1980s before helping to put the men’s basketball program at the University of Connecticut on the map. He was drafted into the NBA in 1989 where he played 18 seasons with multiple teams.

Another important aspect of Delaware Park was that the stars would sometimes show up and play there. Note that I’m referring to the era after the Buffalo Braves moved to Los Angeles to become the Clippers. Buffalo had a more vibrant basketball scene overall at that time than the one I experienced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If you hung out at those Delaware Park basketball courts enough, or you knew to do so, chances are you would see players like Christian Laettner, Cliff Robinson, Trevor Ruffin and others. It was the basketball Mecca in the city and a proving ground. You were likewise much better off if you played there regularly than the players who didn’t.

It Wasn’t the Rucker but Competition was Fierce

“It wasn’t the Rucker, but there was competition down there. If you didn’t have any confidence in your game, you really didn’t get out there and play. As a matter of fact, I didn’t play down there much, until the reputation was gone.” My Uncle Tony shared his Delaware Park experiences with me when I interviewed him. I discussed how my uncle played at Burgard High School in the 1960s in my Yale Cup piece. He and his peers knew a different version of Buffalo basketball than me and my peers did.

“Back in the day? No. You didn’t get out there unless you could hoop. It watered down the competition for a while when they built all those other courts and remodeled the park,” Uncle Tony continued. “Yes, there was just one court down there at first. But I’ll also never forget when the professionals came down there!”

Buffalo’s Other Basketball Battlegrounds

Delaware Park, the Perry Projects and the Langfield Projects. The Lanigan Field House. The Perry Projects have been there for years, but the Lanigan Field House, it was indoors, so we played there in the wintertime,” Uncle Tony said. “Also, when the John F. Kennedy Center was first built on Clinton, that was a great indoor place for ball players. It was new when I was coming up, but not when you were coming up.”

I thought of writing this promotional essay on Delaware Park somewhat at the last minute. Those sacred basketball courts on Parkside Avenue deserved an essay dedicated to them. I would’ve played there more if I could go back and do it all over again. The great basketball players traveled all around their cities (and to other cities) to find the best competition and observe other players in most metropolitan eras.

The Masten Boys’ Club

“There’s nothing like that now, that Boys Club over there (the Masten Boys Club). There was someone over there who I think had a key. They could keep that gym open for invited players until midnight if they wanted to. It collected all the best players and they would be there playing pickup games,” said former Riverside High School Head Coach Bill Russell.

We discussed how places like the Masten Boys Club were training grounds for basketball phenoms like Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe and Damien Foster. The people in those basketball circles knew about them before they got to Buffalo Traditional. They burst on the scene surprising everyone else, myself included. “There are no more places like that. That doesn’t exist anymore.”

Other Training Grounds

There were other pockets and crevices in Buffalo where the great players trained. Jason Rowe and Damien Foster shared that they spent a lot of time sharpening their skills at the Masten Boys Club in my interviews with them. They played with a lineup of elite older players there who were willing to pass on what they knew to the young upstarts. There were other training guards though.

Ryan Cochrane embarked on a magical championship basketball run at Cardinal O’ Hara High School in 1994. I shared that he learned a lot about playing the game from Coach Dean in the Central Park neighborhood. There were also church leagues, community centers, and other parks around the city of Buffalo. The players in nearby Niagara Falls trained at their local community centers, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs in the “Biddie Leagues”. The suburban kids played in their locales as well. Most, at some point though, made their way to those sacred basketball courts at Delaware Park.

Street Basketball Dominated at Delaware Park

There are two types of basketball, organized and street. Combining the two styles is a cheat code that isn’t obvious to many young players starting out. I did not understand this in my early years. Coach Ken Jones taught us the organized style of basketball at Hutch-Tech High School and didn’t emphasize the street style. He was a fundamentals coach. His 1990-91 team had players on it that understood both styles which is in part what made that team so successful.

Street basketball was the style played at Delaware Park which is another thing that made the games there so valuable. The basketball also falls under the term ‘survival’ basketball, a principal introduced to me by Coach Ronald Wolfs from the Netherlands. He received early fundamental lessons about basketball from Coach Jones as well before discovering the different styles. Watch our two-part interview at this link if you want to learn more about his experiences and what basketball is like in Europe.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading this piece. I took the pictures in this essay myself. I took them in the Buffalo winter months. No, the Delaware Park basketball courts are not cold and wet during the summer months, nor are the skies continuously cloud covered and gray. These pictures captured the essence of playing there though in addition to the essence of the city of Buffalo. That essence is tough, gritty, and weathered.

I will create more promotional/teaser pieces for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, via print and video, as I journey through the final steps of the book’s completion. I created a page here on Big Words Authors for the purpose of giving a background of the book and grouping all the promotional pieces such as this in one place for interested readers.

There are interviews on my first blogging platform of some of the most accomplished Section VI players from my era. They include Jason Rowe, Tim Winn, Carlos Bradberry and Damien Foster. I also interviewed legendary LaSalle Head Basketball Coach, Pat Monti. Other basketball-related essays related to my book project are there as well. If you liked this piece, please share it on your social media and leave a comment below.

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. I will protect you personal information. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

A Reflection from The Engineers: Early Quitting Experiences in Basketball, Sports and Life

“Shea pulled me aside and said, ‘LOOK. You let this guy turn you into a three-point specialist. You’re not a three-point specialist. Don’t quit! He wants you to quit and he’s been riding you to quit. Don’t give him what he wants!’”

An Important Life Lesson that Basketball and other Sports Teach Us

This essay is another promotional piece for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story of which there are two parts. I created a page for the book, and the promotional content surrounding it. You can learn about the 42 players and coaches from Section VI that I interviewed and who were critical for this project. My interviews and research revealed several interesting findings. There were some differences in my interviewee’s stories, but many stories surprisingly paralleled mine. That goes for some of the more successful players as well. Many of us had what I’ll call ‘quitting experiences’ in common. Those quitting experiences are the bases for this essay.

Building Blocks for Life

The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story is a story about the game of life, not just the great game of basketball. It is a story about learning to compete. Learning perseverance and battling through life’s inevitable adversities is not easy depending upon what they are. This is something the late Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones preached to us regularly at our basketball practices. I think some of us got it at the time, while it sunk in later for others, if at all.

My short basketball journey taught me several important building blocks for my life. I had several quitting experiences myself and I witnessed others go through them as well. The same is true for some of the other guys I interviewed. Many saw their own basketball dreams torn apart by teammates walking away for any number of reasons. I am not looking to demonize anyone for decisions they made in the past in writing this piece. This is an important theme of my story however and I thought it was worth visiting. Let me know in the comments section below if you’ve experienced anything like this.

Persevering Through Life’s Journeys

“It’s a long season, and our emotions will be tested over the next three to four months!” The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story is a story about learning to persevere through life. Many journeys and experiences get hard and go in unexpected directions. We must learn perseverance to get through them. I learned a lot of lessons about life from the great game of basketball. An overarching lesson I learned was that people respond differently to adversity. Things get hard for us in any area and each of us must decide whether to stay the course and continue, or walk away.

Some people immediately flee when things get hard or start going in unexpected directions. Others stay but suffer in silence if no one knows what’s happening to them. Others quietly calculate the situation to themselves and then make an ultimate determination. Some buckle down and focus that much harder. Others fight back if it’s an option.

Don’t Be Frontrunners!

“DON’T BE FRONTRUNNERS!” Coach Ken Jones preached this to us a lot my first year on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. That was the difficult but magical 1991-92 season. I don’t remember it so much in my tumultuous second year on the team, the 1992-93 season. It was probably because I was going through my own personal struggles. When you’re going through your own personal struggles, it’s hard to process what’s happening outside of you. Coach Jones’ quote about frontrunners simply meant to continue to fight and not buckle when trailing an opponent. It also meant to withstand their surges in momentum. Keep fighting and battle back. It wasn’t an easy principle to teach a group of kids. This principle has contexts for teams and for the individuals, and it goes beyond the game of basketball.

What Adversities do We Encounter Along the Way?

I have stated all along that my experiences on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team have translated into the real world. The story world for my book is the Western New York high school basketball scene, so let’s start there. I will keep this general. Teams are dynamic things with multiple personalities and organic parts. Some parts naturally fit well together while others don’t. This is not obvious to the casual observer, watching from the sidelines criticizing and critiquing play on the floor.

What adversities do players face on teams? The most obvious is losing. Another is not feeling like one is a part of the team, even after securing a roster spot. Players don’t play as much as they think they should in many instances. Some players think they could do other things with their time. Getting jobs and earning a paycheck often look more appealing to teenagers who feel they aren’t getting enough playing on their basketball teams. This happens to a lot of inner-city kids.

Team Chemistry and Togetherness

You might not mix well with your teammates as a player. You may also feel like you’re in a toxic locker room. See my piece regarding the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Engineers for a discussion of the importance of team chemistry and togetherness. These are arguably more important than ability and athleticism.

Changed environments also lead to wanting to walk away from something you once desired. This is especially true when you have no say in that changed environment. This happens with coaching changes, and I’ll leave that there. The arena for my story is once again the Western New York high school basketball scene of the early 1990s. These themes clearly translate into the adult world however. Decisions are finally thought to be made in the best interests of the student athletes. It could also be a workforce though.

Continuing On When Others Take Separate Paths and Teammates Walking Away

My short but profound basketball journey was an up and down ride that didn’t turn out as I envisioned. Journeys involving groups typically start with intentions of successfully finishing together. Not everyone finishes though which was one of the hardest and most educational parts of my experience. It’s particularly difficult when the people walking away are people you’re close to. Sometimes you are left on teams with people you aren’t close with. You may also start to wonder if you should stay yourself.

It’s in those instances where remembering the ‘leader parable’ becomes important. I thought the saying, “Be a leader not a follower,” solely meant leading other people when I was younger. That is the first context people think of, but the other context is continuing with your passion/vision while others drop off. It also means leading yourself and continuing to forge ahead regardless of what others do or don’t do. It’s not an easy thing to do, but necessary at times and rewarding.

“It was extremely difficult when Del (Shawndel Planter) quit our Riverside Boys’ Basketball Team,” No. 23 Edmond Harris shared in our discussion. Ed was the leader of the Frontiersman teams he played on and experienced several adversities his senior season. They won the Yale Cup (pictured above) and the Class C sectional in our area in the 1991-92 season but had difficulties repeating the successes the next year.

A Coach’s Perspective and Players Staying and Playing Angry

The above-mentioned aspects are from a player’s perspective. What about the coaches though? What if you see that you’ve run your course at a particular place? If you see that the next groups of players won’t submit to your teachings, what do you do? What if you start to feel the contributions you’ve made are no longer appreciated? What if you just get tired?

“I would be just as demanding, but more understanding if I could do it all over again!” I noted that Coach Jones had his critics as well as supporters in my essay focusing on the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. Some players thought he gave them a hard time even though they secured roster spots. The opening quote from this paragraph comes from Coach Jones himself. Before he died, he realized that he was hard on some of his players. He may not have fully considered what they were going through in their personal lives.

“Some players played mad under Jones,” one of my interviewees, Jerrold ‘Pep’ Skillon told me, which we laughed about. They stayed though and toughed it out. Why did they stay? Some of them loved the game that much and wanted to be with their brothers. Some came very close to quitting but were encouraged to stay and tough it out from individuals outside of the program.

Supporters Urging You not to Quit

The late No. 11 Quincy Lee was one my first interviewees for this project. Quincy was a senior on the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. His three-point shot late in the game against Buffalo Traditional qualified the Engineers for sectional postseason play. He played a major role in the program’s ascension. I thought the 1990-91 Yale Cup and Class B Sectional Championship team was a utopia looking on from the outside. I was likewise surprised to hear that Quincy came close to quitting his junior season and that someone convinced him not to do so. The following is an excerpt from our discussion:

“I wanted to quit because I couldn’t take playing for this dude! It was bothering me every day and finally in January, we had parent-teacher conference week. I decided that was it and washed and folded my uniform and finally gave in. The gym was open that day so we could still play basketball. I came into school and brought my uniform and I was walking to the office to quit and I ran into Coach Shea. It was just before I got to Coach Jones’ office. He saw that I had the uniform and that I was quitting. He asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I can’t take it anymore!’”

“Shea pulled me aside and said, ‘LOOK. You let this guy turn you into a three-point specialist. You’re not a three-point specialist. Don’t quit! He wants you to quit and he’s been riding you to quit. Don’t give him what he wants. Play your game! If you get pulled out and have to sit on the bench, then that’s what you do. But play your game! When you get into the game, you’re not even yourself because you’re so scared to be pulled out if you miss a shot. So, play your game!’”

I discuss the importance of mentors and supporters later in this piece. It’s often people watching from the sidelines who have the power, influence and insight to hold things together and encourage individuals to stay in difficult situations. This goes beyond the great game of basketball. Does it sound familiar to you?

What Quitting Basketball and Sports in General Teaches You

I’ve conducted 43 interviews for The Engineers. Read parts one and two of my interview excerpts for samples. One of my most fun interviews was with No. 32 Jerrold ‘Pep’ Skillon who was one of the key pieces of the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. There were numerous fun parts of our interview, but one of the most important was his early experience with quitting something, and what happens when you do. He learned his lesson before he got to Hutch-Tech and already had a perspective on finishing things. The following is that excerpt from our interview:

“I was playing little league football and my friend and I were talking. They made us run extra laps. I played for the Buffalo Vets. My cousin who was one of the coaches made me run an extra lap and I felt offended and I quit the team. I ran the lap and never came back to practice after that. I would go up to the park to play basketball and I’d still watch the football team practice, because football was my first love. It was me being lazy and having an attitude.”

“That was the first and last time I ever quit anything! I remember my father being disappointed that I quit the football team. My father was excited about putting me in little league, so I was about six years old. And the crazy part was that team won the championship that year! And I was at the championship game because my cousin played on the team. One of my cousins played and one of my cousins coached and a lot of my friends were on so I still followed the team. I sat there and watched that team win, and I sat there with a lump in my throat thinking that I quit this for nothing – for being lazy and that was the last time I ever quit any sport in my life.”

Having the Quitting Experience Early

This aspect of my discussion with Pep Skillon fascinated me because he was fortunate to have the experience early and then build upon it. Some guys didn’t get the lesson until their teens or later. I’ll keep this next part vague. The reality is that many people often regret quitting and walking away from situations. The examples I’ve provided involve basketball or football teams. You may inevitably wonder if you did the right thing when you quit, no matter how upset you were when you did it. This is why they say sports are a metaphor for life.

The former Houston Oilers’ Head Coach Jack Pardee benched legendary NFL quarterback Warren Moon temporarily in the early 1990s. Moon could have had a meltdown but he stayed calm and eventually started again. Coaches trying to teach lessons or motivate their players which isn’t always obvious at the time. You may be allowed to return as a player if you quit, but not in other instances which is hard. It is hard particularly if you’ve seen the error of your ways. It’s not unusual for people who quit and walk away to furthermore come back and ask you how things are going, just out of curiosity about the situation they left.

“I quit my sophomore year because I felt like Gnozz wasn’t playing me,” said Demoan Daniels. No. 32 led the Seneca Boys’ Basketball Team his senior season. Deomoan worked his way up gradually in the program. He quit the varsity team early on after feeling like Coach Joe Gnozzo wasn’t playing him enough. He was fortunate that Coach Gnozzo allowed him back as many coaches would not have.

Finishing What You Started and the Importance of Mentors and Supporters

A challenge in generating these promotional pieces is not giving the entire book away. I will say one thing though. The people around you matter in our journey through the many arenas of life. Mentors and supporters have the power to strengthen you and give you perspective in those critical moments when you feel like giving up on something.

There were moments during my own journey as an Engineer when I felt like giving up because things were turning out differently than I had envisioned them. There were a couple of people who fortunately urged me to finish what I started, particularly in my senior year. I’m grateful that those people were there. Coach Phil Richardson comes to mind who I highlighted in my piece reflecting on the Yale Cup and Section VI.

Even if the result isn’t what you want it to be, you gain something from finishing what you started. You gain a perspective that those who didn’t finish don’t get. You get the reward of knowing that you finished. Again, the power of the research that I did for this project is that I found that other players experienced the exact same thing I did.

The Pictures Used in This Essay

The pictures used in this essay are from several sources. Some are from Central Park in Buffalo, NY, the location of Pep Skillon’s story discussed above. They were taken on a frigid winter Buffalo day with the signature gray skies of the region. The first image is from Roosevelt Park on the eastside of Buffalo.

Other images are from sectional books and some of the late Coach Jones’ materials that he passed on to me for this project. Coach Jones had specific criteria for the types of boys he wanted in his basketball program. He listed out both what he wanted and didn’t want. What do you see when you look at item G above regarding what he didn’t want? I created a promotional/tribute video about Coach Jones a few years ago. You can watch it at the link below. Please give it a like and subscribe to my sports YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76 Sports if you watch it.

Closing Thoughts

I will create more promotional/teaser pieces for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, both via print and video as I journey through the final steps of the book’s completion. I created a page here on Big Words Authors for the purpose of giving a background of the book. On my first blogging platform, the Big Words Blog Site, there are interviews of some of the most accomplished Section VI players from my era including: Jason Rowe, Tim Winn, Carlos Bradberry and Damien Foster. I also interviewed legendary LaSalle Head Basketball Coach Pat Monti. Finally, there are several other basketball-related essays related to my book project. If you liked this piece, please share it on your social media and leave a comment beneath this piece.

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. I will protect your personal information and privacy. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected]. Best Regards.

The Basketball Legend of Lenny Bias: An Excerpt From Chapter Six of The Engineers Part One

“Anwar, Lenny Bias was supposed to be the continuation of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty! He was going to take over for Larry Bird and those guys and the Celtics were going to keep winning!”

My Uncle Jeff, Len Bias, Basketball and Learning about Sports

“HEY NEPHEW! I’m hungover from the weekend of drinking and watching sports for three straight days! With college basketball, the NBA and the NFL, it literally went until last night!” My Uncle Bodine, better known as Uncle Jeff greeted me on the phone, telling me about his weekend. He sounded like he was coming off some sort of invigorating experience. ‘Bodine’ is a reference to the one of The Beverly Hillbillies. My mother and her siblings affectionately called him that.

Uncle Jeff’s excited voice indicated that he was worn out from something. After sharing what happened over the weekend with me, I understood. Uncle Jeff loved sports and bathed in them like all my uncles. We discussed a potential visit out west to one of the mountain states. We had not spoken in years. Our discussion reminded me of my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story afterwards. It reminded me specifically to start sharing excerpts here and there as authors do when giving samples of their final books. Uncle Jeff appears briefly in the story of my early and brief basketball journey.

The following passage comes from Chapter 6 of The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. My first lessons in accountability, grades and academic eligibility came that year and culminated in not being eligible for the junior varsity boys’ basketball team as a freshman. That had long-term ramifications. My Uncle Jeff was in Buffalo that year and he taught me a lot about sports for a short but valuable stretch of time.

Chapter 6- Unqualified For The Junior Varsity Team

My uncle Wesley J. McKinney living in Buffalo made the 1990-91 school year, my freshman year, very special. Uncle Jeff was the sixth of my grandmother’s eight children. He attended Hutch-Tech High School in the 1970s. Afterwards he entered the United States Air Force where he served overseas. He later settled in Omaha, Nebraska. I had no knowledge of Nebraska, but I kept hearing my mother and grandmother talk about it. It could’ve been a foreign country as far as I was concerned at the time.

At some point he left the Air Force and like a lot of people who left Buffalo, Uncle Jeff returned to regroup and figure out his next moves in life. He found a job at one of the University Plaza Tops Friendly Markets store, our major local supermarket chain and worked in the bakery. It was a logical fit as he was always inclined in the Culinary Arts and was unofficially our family chef.

Uncle Jeff had a brown complexion and wore his hair short. He was usually clean shaven though sometimes there were small growths of a beard on his face. He had a genuinely positive disposition whenever I saw him and had a happy and wide smile. Uncle Jeff was bowlegged and walked with a slight bounce. His voice was tenor kind of like David Ruffin’s from the legendary group the Temptations. He often wore a sweatshirt, t-shirt, jeans, sneakers and sometimes a baseball cap turned backwards.

What was great was that he stopped over our house regularly. We would sit and watch sports as he would sip on his beers and tell stories about the Air Force. He insisted that they made real beer in Germany for example unlike our watered-down beers in the United States. I was too young to know what he meant. Any beer I’d sipped up to that point tasted terrible. It was cool though because I was able to bond with a male figure and partake in his experiences.

The most powerful thing though was his knowledge of sports. Uncle Jeff knew a lot about football, basketball, and baseball – both college and professional. We never went out and played anything the way I did with Uncle John and Uncle Scotty on their visits, but I learned so much just listening to Uncle Jeff. He was an invaluable resource, and for that short period of time, he filled in something that had been missing up to that point in my basketball journey. Sitting and talking sports with my Uncle Jeff was one of the best times of my life.

“Anwar, Lenny Bias was supposed to be the continuation of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty! He was going to take over for Larry Bird and those guys and the Celtics were going to keep winning,” Uncle Jeff said one day. I had seen a picture of a guy named Len Bias in one of the NBA yearbooks I had purchased from Tops. It was on his draft night. He wore a cream-colored suit and a Boston Celtics baseball cap in 1986 after Commissioner David Stern announced the Celtics’ pick.

Lenny Bias? It always stood out to me that Uncle Jeff talked about Len Bias like he knew him personally. He got excited when he told that story like every other sports story and fact he shared with me. It may also have been the enthusiasm from his level of fandom spilling over into his telling the sports history.

Len Bias was uber-talented, and I heard he went toe to toe with Michael Jordan when the University of Maryland played the University of North Carolina. The stories were that he held his own against Michael and did not back down. Some argued that he was better than Michael, something I could not fathom at the time. He died tragically of a cocaine overdose shortly after being drafted in a dorm room on the University of Maryland at College Park Campus. Again, some said he was better than Michael or would have been better.

Michael Jordan is not the best basketball player in the world Anwar,” Uncle Jeff said. It was something me and Dad also discussed. The significance of the statement was that Michael, while great, was the simply the best player who stayed in school, stayed healthy, did not get snatched away by violent crime, and made it all the way to the proverbial basketball mountain top.

There were countless other players who did not make it for any number of reasons. For young black men, two of the main hindrances were poor academics and crime. It was around that time that I first started hearing of a player named Ritchie Campbell, a local phenom who was arguably the best basketball player Buffalo had ever produced. He did not reach his full potential due to academics and something crime related. He was talked about like a basketball God though.

Uncle Jeff hung around Buffalo for about a year before leaving again. He went down south somewhere, New Orleans, I think. While I wished he were around longer to pour more of his knowledge into me, the times that we sat and watched sports were special. For young people like myself who were still relatively new to athletics and competition, hearing stories about players like Len Bias from people who had seen him play, was very valuable. There was value in knowing about basketball and its history, in addition to playing it.

Closing Thoughts

A major theme of the book is who is and is not in your ecosystem when you are launching your life as a young person. This is critical in sports which are a metaphor for life. Some of my favorite childhood memories were watching sports with Uncle Jeff for that short time he lived in Buffalo. Becoming good at sports is knowing about them and their history in addition to mastering your skills. I learned a lot about them watching sports with Uncle Jeff. I would have learned infinitely more with more time around him.

It turns out that learning about sports is only part of learning to compete in athletics. You must also log the hours in practice and in real game situations to win games and eventually championships. There is no other way. The same goes for the game of life. I have embedded a promotional video as a bonus below from my sports YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76 Sports. Please consider giving the video a like and subscribing to the channel if you watch it. I plan to create more video content on the book there as well. Yours in good sports.

One Of The Biggest Lessons Sports Can Teach Us

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

Basketball Coach Ronald Wolfs Discusses Memories Of Coach Ken Jones And Teaching The Game In Europe

“I like to teach my players the concept of Next Play! At the end of practice, we all get together and discuss who did a good job with Next Play today.”

Discussions With a Basketball Coach from Europe

I am coming down the home stretch of publishing my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story at long last. I thought all the interviews were finished for the book, but sometimes there are unforeseen surprises. One was interviewing Coach Ronald Wolfs. Coach Ken Jones is a key character in my book. Mrs. Alice Jones, the wife of Coach Jones, recommended that I talk to Coach Wolfs years ago. I was in the early stages of writing the book when she suggested this. I heeded her advice and reached out to Coach Wolfs on Facebook. It took a while but we finally were able to get together in April of 2023.

Learning Basketball in the United States and Coaching in Europe

“I like to teach my players the concept of Next Play! At the end of practice, we all get together and discuss who did a good job with Next Play today.” I embedded parts one and two of my interview with Coach Ronald Wolfs below. They were uploaded on my sports YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76 Sports. We covered several topics in both parts. Coach Jones was a major part of our discussion. He taught us both the game of basketball and life at an early age. We further discussed Coach Wolfs’ basketball journey and his coaching philosophies.

“Basketball is life!” Coach Wolfs is now a professional coach in Europe where he teaches the great game of basketball to youngsters. He likes exposing his players to basketball in the United States which he calls ‘Survival Basketball’. He further likes teaching his players about life through game. Next Play is one of the key concepts he teaches his players. Thank you Coach Wolfs for setting aside time for this discussion and sharing visuals from your business that I could use in this content. Visit the Wolfpack Nation website to learn more about Coach Wolfs and his coaching programs. Please smash the like button and consider subscribing to my channel when watching the videos below.

The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story

My interview with Coach Wolfs is a part of promoting my book project, The Engineers A Western New York Basketball Story. I have generated a lot of promotional materials for the book in the form of print and video content. This promotional content is on the page I created for the book. Please visit the page and if an offering resonates with you, leave a comment, give it a like and share it in your network. This project will be impacted by the number of eyes that see it in terms of its success. Those years were a magical time for me as it was for all the basketball players in Western New York and Section VI. Thank you for clicking on this link. Yours in good sports and best regards.

Coach Ron Wolfs Discusses Teaching Basketball In Europe And Memories Of Coach Ken Jones Part One

Coach Ron Wolfs Discusses Teaching Basketball In Europe And Memories Of Coach Ken Jones Part Two

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

I started a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, The Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. I will protect your personal information and privacy. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

The Reimagining Characters Spree Continues with Snow White: Have Disney and Other Studios Learned Anything?

“I think the key is creating unique stories with unique characters. A gold standard for this in my opinion is Avery Brooks’ portrayal of Captain Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

Characters, Writing, Stories and Movies

I started Big Words Authors to promote my art and to promote the art of others. I created a page here on the site for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story in case you are new. I plan to use this site going forward to also give perspectives on art and entertainment as it all starts with writing and storytelling. I have recently taken an interest in a recent phenomenon in cinema, the reimagination of characters with the hope of making beloved franchises more palatable for modern audiences. One of the main culprits is Disney which has taken its lumps lately. This is something that has further not gone over entirely well with audiences of all demographics.

Snow White is the Latest Character to Receive A Makeover

Images recently leaked out of the cast of the live action remake of Snow White now starring Latina actress Rachel Zegler. Using Zegler herself would have probably passed the smell test, but she was not the only one in the image. In place of the Seven Dwarfs was a mixture of eight (not seven) men and women of multiple ethnic groups and origins. There was one little person in the group, but it looked nothing like the original classic animations created by Disney. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was in fact based upon a story from German lore and hence the title.

It is worth noting that Peter Dinklage allegedly made comments about the exploitation of little people in modern cinema. Dinklage is recently known most for playing Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Many have speculated that while he was trying to do a noble thing, he may have robbed others in his demographic of the same opportunities for work and notoriety that he enjoys today. The images of the new film have drawn both laughs and ire. It has further made most onlookers wonder if Disney and its peers have learned anything from the recent string of movies and programming that have bombed at the box office and on streaming services.

Reimagining Aragorn and Cleopatra

This Snow White remake is one of many recent attempts to reimagine characters. Netflix’s Cleopatra stirred controversy in the last year due to the Queen’s portrayal as having a Sub-Saharan African phenotype. Shortly afterwards The Lord of The Rings’ (LOTR) Aragorn was reimagined as a black man in a game. I created the videos below on my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76 Entertainment and Media involving these two cases. If you have a moment, please watch them and weigh in. Also please give them a like on YouTube. For the record, as a black man myself, I welcome seeing characters of color on the big screen and in the media. I do however believe in staying true to the source material and staying true to what the artist originally envisioned.

Imaging Diverse Characters Effectively

Imaging certainly matters. I noticed that the LOTR trilogy did not have any black people in them years ago when binging the extended editions on DVD. There may have been people of color playing the goblins or orcs, but none of this stopped my enjoying the movies. Controversies surrounding the color of characters in media is something that goes back generations. I am thinking about my father making a stink one time when I watched the LOTR trilogy, and griping about no black characters in it.

I think the key is creating unique stories with unique characters. A gold standard for this in my opinion is Avery Brooks’ portrayal of Captain Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I loved both the character and the series. Brooks’ Captain Sisko was the perfect amalgam of casting, story and portrayal of a character. I think our modern movie studios like Disney would benefit from considering the main character in the fourth Star Trek television series. They would benefit from studying how the great seven year series was built around Brooks’ great character. So study up Disney, Netflix and others.

Let me know who you think in the comments section below. I have started my newsletter. There is information regarding it below my two videos. Please consider subscribing.

Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Cleopatra: What’s the Problem with Reimagining History?

What Color and Race is Aragorn Son of Arathorn? More Character Reimagination

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

The Flash Movie: The Dying Art Of Making Superhero Movies

Some fans are even experiencing something called ‘Superhero Movie Fatigue’!

Writing Superhero Stories and Movies

I started Big Words Authors to promote my art and to promote the art of others. I created a page here on the site for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story in case you are new. I plan to use this site going forward to give perspectives on art and entertainment as it all starts with writing and storytelling. I started reading as a youth in part through comic books. I have likewise eagerly awaited and watched the superhero movies created by DC-Warner Bros and Marvel-Disney. There is a similar piece written in tandem on The Big Words Blog Site focusing on the dying business of making superhero movies.

Franchises Falling on Hard Times

Both franchises/studios have fallen on hard times for one reason, or the other and fan support is waning. Some fans are even experiencing something called ‘Superhero Movie Fatigue’! Marvel-Disney created masterpieces with phases one through three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). They unfortunately forgot what made them successful or decided to depart from it altogether. Many feel they did this by demasculinizing the MCU. They further flooded it with characters, messages, and stories its core audiences did not care about or liked.

DC-Warner Bros repeatedly shot themselves in the foot trying to keep up with Marvel-Disney. It ultimately ruined a golden opportunity to create a string of Justice League movies with DC’s great pantheon of heroes and villains. The latest failure from DC-Warner Bros seems to be The Flash Movie for numerous reasons. I created the videos below on my entertainment and media YouTube channel. The first video captures my enthusiasm leading up to the movie. The second is my reaction to The Flash Movie and thoughts on why the fan enthusiasm is so low.

Getting Back to Basics

In short both studios need to strip everything down and get back to the business of telling quality elemental stories of good and evil. Consider phases one through three of the MCU. They must also keep them independent of social and political narratives. In essence stick with the source material and respect. They further need to consider what the diehard superhero fan boys and girls desire and make courting new audiences secondarily. Comic books are stories at their most fundamental level. Likewise, no one will want to watch your movies if they are not quality stories. Thank you for reading this and please check out my videos which are embedded below. Also please consider joining my newsletter below as well.

Let’s Get Nuts: I’m Looking Forward To Seeing The Flash Movie

A Tepid Turnout For The Flash Movie: My Reaction With Spoilers

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

Contributors To The Engineers: Funny Quotes and Laughs From Western New York Basketball Coaches and Players

“Frankie Harris got the award for passing on an UNCONTESTED layup at Grover Cleveland High School but it was better than getting the ball SHOVED down your throat!”

Humorous Basketball Stories

The following are funny quotes from the many contributors to my book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Telling this story with depth and substance the way I wanted to tell it was truly a team effort. I could not have done it on my own. Telling this story was furthermore a long process. There were bouts of self-doubt where I wondered if this was a waste of time. Each contributor though reminded me in their own way that I was creating something worthwhile and to stay the course. Thank you to all of you.

My story (and the contributors’) had high points and low points. There were likewise many humorous memories, reflections, and stories shared during our discussions. To further promote The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, I thought it would be fun and worthwhile to share some of the funny excerpts from my 40 interviews. Please note that while real names are used in this offering, many will be changed in the final book to protect. This will be to protect the privacy of those who did not agree to participate.

Context and a Disclaimer

The excerpts below are from a few of my interviews and I decided there was room left in this piece for more discussion. For context, I added commentary underneath each quote to give insight into what was said. I hope you get a chuckle out of some of these as I have. And to the contributors, thank you all again. I finally want to give a disclaimer as the creator of this content. Some of the stories shared below are a little bit on the edge and reflect the emotions and memories of the interviewees. Thus, while I am sharing these stories, they do not necessarily reflect my views. The images used throughout this are likewise from a variety of sources. Thank you to everyone who shared your materials and pictures. Best regards and yours in good sports!

Adrian Baugh, Player, Buffalo Traditional High School

“Those schools were not even a match for us. It was not the Section VI schools, but the Section V schools from the Rochester area that were the issue. I think every year we would just clown John F. Kennedy (JFK). JFK was usually our opponent in the overall Section VI Class C final. Newfane? We smacked them!”

No. 30 Adrian Baugh was one of the unsung heroes on the Jason Rowe– and Damien Foster-led Buffalo Traditional Bulls teams in the early 1990s. The Bulls put strangleholds on the Yale Cup and the Section VI Class C playoff bracket for a four-year stretch. Adrian shared that he and the Bulls were not concerned with the Section VI Class C schools, especially those from the suburbs like JFK and Newfane. Their true competition was from Section V (the Rochester area) in the Far West Regional, and any team they faced in Glens Falls.

Carlos Bradberry, Player, LaSalle Senior High School

“Oh, I was pissed off and Coach Monti made a point of it too. He would play mind games with us to piss us off. He would 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 to play us!’ Everything he did made me go sort of nuts, but he backed everything up though.”

No. 50 Carlos Bradberry was one of the top guards in the LaSalle Senior High School basketball dynasty. He led the first Explorers team that I saw in person during the 1991-92 season. In the 1992 postseason, the Explorers matched up with the Greece Athena Trojans from Rochester, NY. It was the Class A Far West Regional. The Trojans were led by the All-American and Syracuse-bound star No. 44 John Wallace (pictured above and at the end of this piece). Wallace went on to play in the NBA after college. In this excerpt from our interview, Carlos talked about the hype and the perceived disrespect from Wallace leading up to the game. The match up was nicknamed ‘The Meeting of the Perfect Strangers’ as both teams rode into the game 22-0 with a trip to Glens Falls on the line.

*To read the full interview with Carlos Bradberry, see parts one and two.

Curtis Brooks, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“He always had those damn throat lozenges (Coach Ken Jones). He was hoarse and it was probably because he was always screaming!”

Two of the key figures in The Engineers are Coach Ken Jones and Curtis Brooks. I describe Brooks as the ‘engine’ that drove the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. He led them to a 13-0 Yale Cup record and the overall Section VI Class B Championship. Brooks played under Ken Jones for three years. He was there when Ken Jones took the reins as the head coach. All of Coach Jones’ players remember his hoarse and raspy voice which was the product of his passion for the game. He yelled at his players at practices and in games. He yelled at the officials in the games. One of the characteristics most of his players thus recall about him is his voice. Coach Jones wore many hats and in one-on-one settings, his voice took on more of a patient and grandfatherly tone.

Modie Cox, Player, LaSalle Senior High School

“That was the game he had that bad game in Glens Falls (Eric Gore). Yes I remember that and I was a freshman and I knew I was not playing. I was from the eastside of Niagara Falls. I grew up around drug dealers, prostitutes and hustling, getting over and things of that nature. That was my mentality. As a freshman I was thinking we are out here and I am trying to get some money. You know some guys you can hustle. I grew up trying to hustle because that is what you see all the time. So I felt like I could hustle, so I would hustle other guys. So sometimes I would try to hustle, those guys would beat me and I would be like, ‘Okay I will be right back.’ I would go into somebody else’s room and hustle them out of some money. It is funny. That happened in 1988. That is 30 years ago and Eric Gore remembers that. I am glad Coach Monti did not know that!”

Maurice ‘Modie’ Cox was one the great guards to play in Head Coach Pat Monti’s LaSalle basketball dynasty. I only heard of Modie’s legend and never saw him play like many of the great players in Western New York. Modie was the leader of the LaSalle dynasty between the Eric Gore- and Michael Starks-led 1988 Class B Federation Championship Team and the Carlos Bradberry-led teams of the early 1990s. This excerpt comes from Modie’s visit to my sports YouTube channel Big Discussions76 Sports. It gave the other side of the same story Coach Pat Monti told me about Eric Gore’s tough semifinal game against the Gloversville Dragons in 1988.

*My live interview with Modie Cox is on my YouTube channel Big Discussions76 Sports.

Francis Daumen, Coach, Hutch-Tech High School

“NO, I did not reach them. I am not talking about everybody on the team. The key players were mavericks or renegades if you want to call them that. They were not necessarily bad kids. All of the forces of – On judgment day if the good Lord asks, ‘Why did you yell at all of those kids?’ I will say, I will tell you what JESUS, you sit on that bench and see if it brings the good side out of you! The game by nature brings out the bad in people. You are required to be violent and to be a team player. You are required to run, and hit, and SMASH into one another – to jump and run and to be physically and mentally exhausted – and that is only practice. The games are fun, it is the practices – the day-to-day grind. It is a tough sport!”

Coach Francis Daumen took over for Coach Jones for my senior basketball season at Hutch-Tech High School. In my chaotic junior year I had to play on the JV team for Mr. Daumen. My circumstances led to my having to play on the JV team as a junior and I did not want to be there. Coach Daumen’s yelling was also different from Coach Jones’ and I did not know how to take it. A team’s energy and environment can change drastically with the head coach. This was the case for our transition on the boys’ basketball team. Coach Daumen’s quote gives insight into how he saw coaching the great game of basketball. As opposed to being an art or a craft, it was battle.

Demoan Daniels, Player, Seneca High School

“I think that was the best game that I ever had (against Damien Foster and Jason Rowe’s Buffalo Traditional team). I scored 26 points in that second half. My totals were 35 points and 12 rebounds. I still have the clips. We beat Traditional and we still did not get the respect we deserved. We were going home on the bus and people said, “How many did you lose by?” I looked and I said, “LOSE? We did not lose. We WON!” They said, “You won?” I said, “Yes we won!” Nobody knew who we were. They said, “Well who is this Demoan Daniels dude?” I did not say anything. “Whoever he is, he is putting up buckets,” they said. I did not say anything. My boy Chuck said, “That is him right there.” They said, “That is you? I did not know who you were.” I said, “WELL YOU ARE GOING TO KNOW WHO I AM THIS YEAR!”

No. 32 Demoan Daniels emerged as the leader of the Seneca Indians in the 1992-93 season, his senior year. Daniels gradually ascended as a player in the Western New York high school basketball scene and reached his apex in his senior year. He learned about the complex but exciting world of high school basketball gradually like a lot of Yale Cup basketball players. Demoan put Seneca basketball on the map and helped ascend to heights it had not seen in a long time. His senior season coincided with the rise of Damien Foster, Jason Rowe, and the Buffalo Traditional Bulls. He led the Indians to victory over the Bulls that 1992-93 season. They did not receive the respect deserved immediately after the victory as humorously described in this story.

Dewitt Doss, Player, LaSalle Senior High School

“We would get some shots up, play and workout in the gym. I remember the first time playing against Tim (Winn), and saying, ‘Awe man he can play. I did not know how fast he was and I think I got lucky, crossing him over one time and making a jump shot. Roddy Gayle was in the gym at the time and was just like, ‘OOOOOHHHH!’ He cracked jokes and laughed at Tim at the time (laughing), but he was one of the best defenders I have ever played against in my life. I thought that if I crossed over Tim Winn, then I could do it to any other high school kid. That was going into my junior year of high school.”

No. 11 Dewitt Doss was the last of the great guards in the Niagara Falls LaSalle Senior High School basketball dynasty. He was further on one of the last LaSalle Explorers teams before the school permanently closed its doors in the late 1990s. Dewitt shared how the mentorship from the older LaSalle players was instrumental to his own growth and success as a basketball player in this excerpt. This story involving Tim Winn and Roddy Gayle was one of the funny stories involving the LaSalle basketball players, most of which involved the fierce competitive nature of the program and its players.

Damien Foster, Player, Buffalo Traditional High School

“Well, my understanding back in the day is that the Yale Cup did not even have the three-point line (laughing). Curtis Aiken (of Bennett) and those guys played when there was no three-point line. You play in some of the gyms in some of these schools and it was like you were playing in a bowling alley –.”

Damien Foster and Jason Rowe seemingly burst onto the scene together the 1992-93 season as freshmen. I was amazed by their play when I first saw them. In The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, I describe what it was like playing in the Yale Cup in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During that era, the Yale Cup players and teams played in less than stellar facilities and had meager resources. Most of our jerseys did not have our school names on them for example. Some of the gyms were also abysmal. Damien Foster jokingly recalled in this excerpt that the gym at Performing Arts Academy looked like a bowling alley. It actually did. Buffalo Traditional coincidentally closed and Performing Arts Academy now occupies the former home of the Bulls.

*To read the full interview with Damien Foster, see parts one and two.

Dion Frasier, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“He was intense and would go off sometimes. He was sometimes a little bizarre. There was one time he was shooting in the gym and I came in and he said something and I started laughing. He said, ‘What are you laughing at? You think I’m a joke?’ He got all in my face and I said ‘dude what is wrong with you?’ Curt was a little – I don’t know what to call him (laughing). He was on the spectrum, I don’t know, but like I said you get him on the court man, that dude could ball. That dude could ball……..”

Reverend Dion Frasier was a four-year player for Coach Ken Jones. No. 24 was a key role player on the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team that won the city and the sectional championships. Finally, he was a senior on the 1991-92 team my sophomore year. I did not know the Class of 1991 seniors personally. I initially knew of them only through stories. In this story, Dion reflected on the intensity No. 13 Curtis Brooks played with when they were teammates.

Anthony Harris, Player, Burgard Vocational High School

“I went to Burgard because I followed the idiots to Burgard! Ma was like, ‘Go to Tech. Go to Tech!’ I was like, ‘I don’t want to go to Tech.’ Everybody was going to Tech. Jimmy, Chippy, Squirrel, Brian, everybody, I didn’t know anything about Burgard. I was just going with them. Ma just got tired of me and said, ‘Go ahead to Burgard.’ Come to find out, going to Burgard, Brian changed his mind, Squirrel changed his mind, and it was me, Jimmy and Chippy. Chippy flunked out freshman year. He got thrown out for tardiness and absences, so they let him go. Jimmy left after the first year too, so out of everybody, I was the only one there after one year. And back then after my freshman year, I was tired of this and said, ‘I’m going to Riverside.’ It was overcrowded and I couldn’t get in, so it was back to Burgard again and I was stuck at Burgard. And that is how I got into Burgard.”

A key character in my story is my Uncle Anthony ‘Tony’ Harris. He appears in the beginning and then towards the end. Uncle Tony knew a lot about sports like all of my uncles. I later found that he played a considerable amount of basketball when he was younger and even played a little bit in college. I wondered how having his mentorship would have impacted my own journey afterwards. He had multiple stories to tell about growing up in Buffalo, playing basketball and life in general when I interviewed him. Consistent with his personality, many of them were funny. I knew he went to Burgard but I had no idea about how he got there until our interview.

Ed Harris, Player, Riverside High School

“We came into Traditional, had that game won. Mush (Damien Foster) shot a fucking shot from half court and the ball bounced in. That was right after one of their players died and so it was an emotional game for them (Cameron Calvin). Cardinal was happy. He met us at the door. ‘COME ON IN 5-0!’ This is what he said when we walked in the building. ‘COME ON IN 5-0. COME ON IN! COME ON IN 5-0!’ This is what Cardinal said as we walked in the door. ‘COME ON IN 5-0! COME ON IN!’ We were waiting for this. We want this one. I had a good game. It was just that half-court shot that won it for them. It was their time, and I think they went on to do great things after that. We went the opposite way and they kept soaring. He knew he had a squad! Cardinal knew that he had a squad!”

Edmund Harris was one of the key pieces on the Riverside Boys’ Basketball Team that won the 1991-92 Yale Cup and Section VI Class C championships. They had most of their pieces coming back for their 1992-93 senior season. Like many teams in the Yale Cup that season, they ran up against the young Buffalo Traditional Bulls led by No. 33 Damien Foster and No. 12 Jason Rowe and lost on a legendary buzzer beater by Foster. This memory involved the infamous Coach Joe Cardinal of Buffalo Traditional and made me laugh as the interviewer. I think it amused Ed Harris when he reflected on it himself.

Frankie Harris, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“I remember. Did he used to get out there and practice with ya’ll (Coach Ken Jones)? He would take his shirt off and get in the action with us and play pick up and anything like that. He would tear you up (laughing)!”

Frankie Harris was a part of Coach Ken Jones’ rebuild of the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. He was a member of the Class of 1990, so I missed him by one year. I saw pictures of him in my brother Amahl’s yearbooks though. When I joined the team, Coach Jones talked to us regularly about ‘Frankie Harris Syndrome’. It involved being too unselfish on offense. Frankie told me his version of where the syndrome came from. We also talked about what it was like to play basketball with Coach Jones who was a physical, gritty and tough player. He would put his body on you for rebounds and use his forearms in the lane. His physical play surprised me initially but eventually you learned that was how he played the game.

Derrick Herbert, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“I mean the voice first. It was raspy and it seemed like he smoked eight packs of Newports (cigarettes) and drank Jack Daniel’s (whiskey). It was just really raspy! You know what I mean? That is how it came off to me. So his commanding voice hits you at first, and then I noticed how good a shape he was in for his age (Coach Ken Jones).”

Derrick Herbert was a player from the Class of 1990 like Frankie Harris. We were put in touch by Pep Skillon shortly after Coach Jones’ passing. In our interview, we discussed a lot of things. I asked him about his first impressions of Coach Jones like I did with all the guys who were there when he took over. Most of us noted his unique physical attributes first, his voice being one of the most notable. He was also in tremendous physical shape in his early 60s.

Earl Holmes, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“I mess with Adrian every time I see him. I told him, he let you do whatever you wanted to (Coach Francis Daumen). That almost got Calhoun cut our senior year when Coach Richardson took over. Do you know who stopped him from cutting Adrian and Reggie? It was my Dad. He said, ‘I don’t think you want to do that because Adrian could stroke the ball and Reggie could handle the ball!’”

Earl Holmes was a teammate from the Class of 1995. He seemed to really like picking on classmates at times, myself included. Earl always told you what he thought and gave it to you straight. He was the same way 20 years later. Part of our discussion involved reflecting on our 1993-94 team my senior year at Hutch-Tech. That was the year after Coach Jones retired and where Coach Francis Daumen took over. It was a tough year where some unusual things happened. Many of the team dynamics changed. Some things were allowed to fly that would not have been allowed in previous years. Some players were at the center of those changes, and it was very, very reflective of dynamics I and others would see in the adult world in the years to come.

Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, Coach, Hutch-Tech High School

“If you can beat your man one on one, you beat him. When you can’t, then pass the ball! If I say we do not shoot anything except uncontested layups, you don’t force it! Frankie Harris got the award for passing up an UNCONTESTED layup against Grover Cleveland HIGH SCHOOL but it was better than getting the ball SHOVED down your throat (rejected). Getting an uncontested shot is better than getting it driven down your throat! So that is when Brother Brooks was sitting next to me early in that game!”

Coach Jones’ spirit is all throughout this project. We talked about the challenges he experienced when establishing his program at Hutch-Tech High School throughout my research. There was a learning curve for the players on his teams. One surprising example involved No. 13 Curtis Brooks, the engine that drove the 1990-91 Yale Cup and Section VI Class B championship teams. Coach Jones’ story about Brother Brooks involved learning how to run his offenses. The centerpiece of one of his most successful teams had to learn how to play in his program and how to run his offenses.

*See the Engineers book page for more promotional materials discussing Coach Ken Jones.

Pat Monti, Coach, LaSalle Senior High School

“Well what was great was that Sal Rizzo who was the nicest guy you will 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. Coach Rizzo 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 –. 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!’”

Coach Pat Monti led the Niagara Falls LaSalle Senior High School basketball dynasty to a decade of domination in Western New York. The Explorers won the Section VI Class A championship for 10 years straight and were regular visitors to the Far West Regionals where they matched up with the Class A Champion from the Rochester area. One team they matched up with regularly was the East Orientals. In this excerpt from our interview, Coach Monti discussed the year he attempted to slow the game down to negate the Orientals’ athletic ability and size. Coach Sal Rizzo responded in the most unexpected way by also delaying the ball. He helped create a memorable game with lots of laughs for years to come.

*To read the full interview with Coach Pat Monti, see parts one, two and three.

Phillip Richardson, Player, Bennett High School and Coach, Hutch-Tech High School

“Well, first off. We had our first meeting. We are going to run, run, run. You are going to be in shape and you are going to have to be in shape. So we are practicing and I am seeing Reggie and Adrian do this and that, and Earl trying to do his thing, and trying to squeeze Andre in there. I stopped practice and sat them on the floor at half court. I told them, ‘One of you three motherfuckers, I am going to kick off the team! I do not care who it is! I am just waiting for you all to do something DUMB! What I mean by dumb is that in a game, if I tell you to do something and you don’t do it, that’s dumb and you’re DONE! So from that point in time, they fell right in line and did everything I wanted them to do.”

Coach Phillip Richardson took over the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team the year after I graduated. He inherited the highly confident and talented players from the Class of 1995 and brought on his own younger players. New coaches must establish their culture and control over teams whenever they assume the reins and take over. In this funny excerpt, Coach Richardson shared an exchange with his 1994-95 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team which had me rolling when he told it to me. I knew the players he referred to well so it had extra significance for me. Under his leadership, they went on to have a great year. Coach Richardson was also my cousin. I did not discover his athletic pedigree until late in my short basketball journey due to family circumstances and dynamics.

Bill Russell, Coach, Riverside High School

“I do not remember. I know he had an interesting life story (Coach Ken Jones). He was out of the school system for a little while and then he came back. That would have been the time that you were with him. I thought he was quite an interesting guy – fanatical but in a good way. And I think he was a fanatic about physical fitness. I heard one story – I do not know where I heard this. He challenged any player on his basketball team, I am thinking about one All-High player, but with one stipulation and that was it had to be a full court game. I do not remember where I heard it, but normally I would say that was ridiculous but not in his case. I think he was just a bit eccentric enough and in great shape where he would go like that. It very well could be true. I do not know, but I heard that.”

Coach Bill Russell led the Riverside Boys’ Basketball Team in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He coached the legendary Cliff Robinson before starting his college and professional basketball careers. All 14 Yale Cup coaches knew each other or knew of each other. In some instances those relationships were contentious and in some instances they were amiable. In my interview with Coach Russell, Coach Jones came up and he shared this funny story which I vaguely remembered about him. Challenging a player to a full court one-on-one game sounds like something Coach Jones would have done, especially with the remarkable shape he was in for his age.

Jermaine ‘J-Bird’ Skillon, Hutch-Tech High School

“Mike (Brundige) was on the ‘BENCH MOB’ (laughing). We were playing in practice, and we always used to go at his boys, but he hates Mike (Coach Ken Jones). Mike was never getting in. He would get in at garbage time with the rest of the Bench Mob. Like I said he shits on Mike all the time. Mike had a little attitude too, he was a little ass holeley. We go to another gym and Mike does not have a jersey, just a white t-shirt. This is when I knew Jones was full of shit. Pep gets hurt and all of a sudden it is, ‘That a baby Mikey!’ Now he loves Mike! Mike is his man!”

As described in my essay entitled, Lasting Lessons Basketball Taught Me: Different Things To Different People, some of Coach Ken Jones’ biggest detractors were on the bench with him wearing maroon and gold uniforms. I knew that J-Bird Skillon may not have had the most positive experience with Coach Jones but I thought it was still critical to listen to his story. Good writers look to create a balanced perspective.

J-Bird referred to himself and some of the other players that did not play much as the Bench Mob. It was a play on words. Those who are familiar with the West Coast rap scene of the 1990s know that Ice Cube led a rap group called Da Lench Mob. J-Bird also shared something about another player who had a contentious relationship with Coach Jones, the highly talented Michael Brundige. In J-Bird’s account, Coach Jones ended up having to play Brundige late in the 1989-90 season when Jerrold ‘Pep’ Skillon went down due to an ankle injury.

Jerrold ‘Pep’ Skillon, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“You come up playing in the summer leagues with all of these guys, so a lot of the best hoopers, I knew. They saw the way we warmed up, and we did not just have the regular layup line like everybody else. Jones had other stuff going on, and we were like, ‘What the hell is this? This is crazy! Why can’t we just do a regular layup line?’ So Jones had his little program and it’s funny, he had his dribble, drive, reverse pivot and handoff – and don’t get me wrong, Jones’ fundamentals, to this day, to this day – I learned more from Jones fundamentally than any coach I played for, even college. From the basic fundamentals – drill after drill after drill – no question, I teach kids stuff I learned from Jones. At the time there was pushback. It was like, what is he doing? I mean this is crazy! Why can’t we have just a regular layup line? We never had that, we never did. Everything we had was structured, our layup line was structured, our pregame was structured – structure, structure, structure – like I said he was creating the culture!”

My interview with Pep Skillon was arguably one of the most of fun of them all. Pep was a key piece of the 1990-91 Yale Cup and Class B sectional championship teams. He was a two-sport athlete like his brother Jermaine (football and basketball). You could hear his enthusiasm about those times throughout our discussion. Pep jokingly shared his disbelief when Coach Ken Jones arrived at Hutch-Tech and established his culture and program. Pep played basketball long before being exposed to Coach Jones’ basketball teachings and it was unusual for him and his teammates. Coach Jones was my second basketball coach, so I assumed his methods were typical.

Christain J. Souter, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“There was one time – I don’t remember the school, but I remember getting on the NFTA metro bus from downtown. I had to walk from the school, walk to the metro and I caught whatever bus that took us to Kensington High School or to Burgard or whatever we were doing that day. And I just remember it was probably my sophomore year, maybe the first time it happened, but I got the, ‘Yo. You the white boy that plays for Tech? You need to come sit back here!’ And you’re on the bus with people you don’t know that you get recognized because you played basketball or you know that you’re the white kid who plays for Hutch-Tech.”

Buffalo and the Western New York area have both a history of racism and segregation as do many cities in the United States. This is discussed subtly in The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. The students in the Buffalo Public Schools system were mostly black when I came of age in the 1980s and 1990s. Our high school basketball teams were likewise mostly black with a few exceptions. No. 44 Christain Souter was one of the captains on the 1991-92 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. In our interview he told a story about a memorable experience on a metrobus on the way to a game. There were in fact a handful of non-black players in the Yale Cup at that time. We laughed about it as it was consistent with what we saw.

Tim Winn, Player, LaSalle Senior High School

“Yep, it is. It always starts at the top. The players these kids look up to – they’re 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 will 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!”

No. 11 Tim Winn is one of the most storied players in the Niagara Falls LaSalle Basketball Dynasty and Western New York basketball. Tim was one of the first players I interviewed and he even returned to my sports YouTube channel for a follow up. In our first interview, we talked about many of the professional layers being friends. I thought about LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade during our discussion as they were the players today’s youngsters looked up to. Tim agreed that many young players are taking their cues from the above-mentioned players and are all friends. Tim jokingly shared that there were no friends for him when it came to the great game of basketball, not even his beloved mother.

*To read the full interview with Tim Winn, see parts one and two. Also my live interview with Tim on my YouTube channel Big Discussions76 Sports.

Bonus- Eric Gore’s Modie Cox Story from Glens Falls in 1988

“This guy here (Modie Cox) as a youngster in Glens Falls was brought up from the junior varsity team to support the squad. We as a team were excited but knew we belonged there. This guy would not allow me to sleep for the first game because we started a dice game that went on into the wee hours of the morning. HA, HA. This guy continued to leave my room broke but would return back with a pocket full of paper. I would get that too and this went on until the morning. Needless to say I did not contribute my normal game because of exhaustion. We still won and I knew I could not mess with this dude the following evening. Experiences like this last a lifetime.”

I did not interview Eric Gore, but his name came up in interviews with Coach Pat Monti and players from the LaSalle Senior High School basketball dynasty. No. 50 was one of the key players in the Explorers’ magical 1988 Class B federation championship run. Coach Pat Monti described Eric struggling in the Explorers’ state semifinal matchup with the Gloversville Dragons due to quick whistles by the officials. Gore jokingly attributed it to not getting enough sleep the night before the game years later on Facebook when he saw that I was going to interview Modie Cox on my sports YouTube channel. A mischievous freshman Modie Cox from the JV team kept him up all night playing dice. The Explorers fortunately went on to win everything and go undefeated.

Closing Thoughts and Memories

A common saying is, “It’s a small world,” which in many cases is true. Later in the 1990s, I met the mother of one of the players on the Gloversville Dragons team that the 1988 LaSalle Explorers outlasted in Glens Falls. I came to know her well. I first saw a Final Four program with a picture of Coach Pat Monti and the LaSalle Explorers in it. Later on when interviewing Coach Pat Monti, that team came up. That player on the Gloversville team was Robert ‘Bones’ Francis, the son of my stepmother Pam Dunbar.

The opening excerpt/quote for this piece comes from Coach Jones himself. He told us lots of jokes as a team in addition to many basketball strategies and life teachings. He particularly enjoyed the Frankie Harris story. Frankie laughed about it as well when I met him at Coach Jones’ memorial service.

More Promotional Content

Thank you again to the other coaches, players and teammates who shared your stories with me. This project would not have been possible without you. This was a long process, and with each interview I gained the strength to keep going, and resolved within myself that I was doing the right thing.

I have created other promotional/teaser pieces for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, both via print and video as I journey through the final steps of completing the book. I created a page here on Big Words Authors to give a background of the book and grouping together all the promotional pieces such as this in one place for interested readers.

There are interviews with some of the most accomplished Section VI players from my era on my first blog, The Big Words Blog Site. Those interviews are with Jason Rowe, Tim Winn, Carlos Bradberry and Damien Foster. I also interviewed legendary LaSalle Head Basketball Coach, Pat Monti. Finally, there are several other basketball-related essays related to my book project. If you liked this piece, please share it on your social media and leave a comment beneath this piece.

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

A Player-Manager: The Start of Many Basketball Journeys at Campus West and Early Lessons on Craft Mastery

“Okay here is the deal Dunbar. I am going to keep you on the team as a player-manager! You are not going to play, but you will be on the team, and will come to practices. You may potentially get into some games.”

Basketball Journeys Starting at Buffalo State College

Your work is never done as a writer and an author. There are endless edits to your blog posts, essays and books. Ideas further come to you out of the blue sometimes even after finishing a work. While making the final edits to The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, I decided to create this hopefully last promotional essay. I created a page on my writer’s blog for the book. There is a summary of it and numerous promotional essays and videos. This essay involves the start of my basketball journey as a player-manager.

I want to salute the members of the Campus West Alumni Group on Facebook. Not everyone went on to Hutch-Tech High School or played varsity basketball. Most of the group has been supportive of what I have shared there. I have further tried to make sure that everything I have shared is germane to the group. I thought the members of the group would find this particular essay to be both fun and nostalgic.

I wrote this essay though because my basketball journey started at Campus West/College Learning Laboratory. Campus West was both a school and a training ground for education majors at Buffalo State College where our school was located. It was many other things as will be described. Our school sat on the western-most part of the campus, hence the name.

A Player-Manager

“Okay here is the deal Dunbar,” Mr. Cook said in his stern and low-pitched voice one day after tryouts. He always addressed me by my last name. He peered at me almost suspiciously out of the corner of his eyes. “I am going to keep you on the team as a player-manager! You are not going to play, but you will be on the team, and will come to practices. You may potentially get into some games.”

Mr. Cook watched me struggle during tryouts and mercifully gave me a roster spot. It is something I remember to this day as I wanted one badly. Nothing looked more appealing to me than playing on the basketball team at our school at that time. I also wanted to be a part of a brotherhood. He knew me from years of gym classes. I attended Campus West since the first grade and he saw me grow up over the years. I will always be grateful to him for putting me on the team my seventh grade year. I started following the National Basketball Association (NBA) closely that year. It was the year Michael Jordan hit the shot against Cleveland. It was the Golden Age of the NBA and basketball in general. It was a magical time.

Surprise. You just read an excerpt from an early draft chapter from The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. The start of every journey is important. My basketball journey did not start at Hutch-Tech High School, but instead at the Campus West/College Learning Laboratory, Campus West for short. It was set in motion by the boys’ basketball coach there at the time.

Our Middle School Basketball Coach

Our Campus West Boys’ Basketball Team was coached by Mr. Walter James Cook. He was the Skipper for the team for most of my years at the school. I seldom recall anyone referring to him as Coach Cook, only Mr. Cook. He was a tall and thin Physical Education teacher with brownish-black hair. He frequently wore t-shirts and sweatpants. He often wore his blue and gold Empire State Games sweat suit at school. Finally he wore a pair of low cut 1980s-style Converse or Nikes. Mr. Cook could have been from Western New York, a small town in Middle America or somewhere out west.

Mr. Cook saw that I had one of the lowest experience and skill levels of all the boys trying out my seventh grade year. With my chubby build, he also saw my struggles with the cardiovascular demands of tryouts and basketball in general. I was easily winded when running sprints in our gym and the stairs immediately outside of it. Still though, he decided to give me a spot on the Campus West Boys’ Basketball Team.

The Campus West Gym

Much of The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story takes place in the gyms in the Yale Cup. Most of them were abysmal and older. Our big gym at Hutch-Tech was a small box in the basement of our school. We had to split our practices with the girls’ team most afternoons. We had a smaller room with a hoop in it which was our small gym.

Campus West was a large central building with four wings. One of the wings was our gymnasium complex. Our main gym was vast, like those in the suburban and private schools. It had two main window-style backboards with several other retractable halfmoon backboards around the gym. It had wooden bleachers on both sides of the court to host large crowds. It was a large space that my maturing adolescent body had to get used to running around in. At practices, a curtain extended across half court so that Mr. Chritman’s girls’ team could practice on the other side.

A Mixture of Grade Levels

Our team would have formally been called a ‘modified’ team in one of the suburban or private schools. My best friend transferred to Cleveland Hill in Cheektowaga and I first heard the term from him. Our team nickname was the Bengals for the sports teams at Buffalo State College. I did not have any official duties as the name player-manager might imply. I simply practiced and sat at the end of the bench, watched and observed.

Our team was a mixture of seventh and eighth graders that year. Ronald Jennings from my class was one of our leaders that year. He was one of the 40 players I interviewed for my book. Ronald wore the No. 21 for the Atlanta Hawks’ Dominique Wilkins when we ordered our blue and white jerseys. I chose the No. 3 for the Boston Celtics’ Dennis Johnson. The other guys chose their numbers for any number of reasons. Jason Holman chose No. 33 for Larry Bird. He was one of a handful of white kids on the team, like most of the basketball teams in the Buffalo Public Schools.

Another fun aspect was the shorts that came with our uniforms. We wore the John Stockton-length shorts that year and the next year. Most teams did at that time and basketball fans will understand the reference. The Michael Jordan/Michigan Fab Five-length shorts had not yet started dominating the basketball world.

Sitting, Watching and Learning

“West Hertel is playing a zone against us,” one of my teammates observed in a game. It might have been John Barron or Marcus Perkins. I learned a lot that year watching from the bench. One of my big learning points involved zone defenses and how they worked. Zone defenses are used to prevent dribble penetration. They are valuable against teams that do not have outside shooters. They are also useful for coaches when multiple defensive players are slow footed and are liabilities in man-to-man defenses. In the latter defense, each player has an assignment and talking is critical. It was a key learning point for a novice like me.

“Clarence needs to do a better job rebounding the ball!” Our tallest player was a kid I will call Clarence. He wore glasses in the eighth grade and stood 6’3”. That was tall for all of us at the time. I saw that there were taller players later in the Yale Cup. Clarence played the center position for us and was expected to rebound the ball and control the middle. He grabbed at the ball like a butterfly or a ping pong ball when going for rebounds which my teammates observed in several plays.

I learned a lot too just by talking with my teammates. John Barron was a fan of the Showtime Lakers and knew a lot about the NBA. One day he explained to me that players in the NBA had to be drafted. They simply could not try out as I unknowingly said in a conversation one day. He did not laugh at me though I am sure it sounded silly. When you are new to something, you just do not know until someone corrects you.

Team Camaraderie

“The back of Anwar’s jersey says ‘DRA’,” Basheer Cross joked during my first year on the team. Our tanks tops read ‘Bengals’ across the front and curved over our numbers. Mr. Cook encouraged us to use nicknames on the back of our blue and white jerseys. I chose the nickname given to me by my Uncle Scottie, ‘Dr. A’ in honor of Dr. J in the NBA. Unfortunately, the manufacturer left off the period so it just said DRA. Basheer had a good time with it along with other teammates. Dion Frasier shared in the Campus West Facebook group that the same thing happened to him years earlier. That year I wore a pair of blue and white Converse sneakers and pulled my blue and white striped sox up over my calves.

“What is a Swingster? Is it a Chalk Line or a Starter jacket?” While waiting for the bus on our way to a game my eighth-grade year, some of the guys grabbed the collar of my white Chicago Bulls Swingster jacket. Starter and Chalk Line jackets were the popular college and professional sports jacket brands for young people at that time. I initially felt singled out but was later amused by it. There was quite a bit of healthy clowning of everyone. Our team had a strong camaraderie amongst the players. Years later I learned that camaraderie was an important ingredient to most successful teams.

Coming Back the Same Basketball Player

My first coach at Hutch-Tech High School was a ‘fundamentals’ coach so I know the difference when looking back at the coaching we received at Campus West. Mr. Cook knew a lot about fundamentals but there were probably time constraints in terms of what he could do with us after school. Coach Ken Jones packed as many drills and strategies as he could into those two and a half hours after school at Hutch-Tech. Those took place twice a day for some stretches of our basketball seasons from October to March.

“I think we are finally starting to click a little bit,” Mr. Cook said, pacing in front of us in his t-shirt, sweatpants and Converse sneakers. We typically sat on the floor and listened to him talk between drills. The wood floor sharply creaked with every step. His comments about our team clicking was my first time hearing that reference for teams gelling chemistry-wise.

In the time he had with us after school, Mr. Cook taught some basics. I recall learning some iteration of the ‘motion’ offense. I also remember the ‘Three-Man Weave’ drill. There was not much in the way of individual skills development, or guidance for developing those skills outside of school though. I thus finished that season with no concrete plan to improve going into that summer of 1989. Most of my basketball playing consisted of neighborhood pickup basketball games and games of Twenty-One. I thus came back for my eighth-grade year close to the same player skill-wise.

When You Go On to Play Varsity Basketball

“When you go on to high school to play varsity basketball – ,” Mr. Cook often said during practices. Again he paced around in front of us talking about this and that. He talked about some amorphous nebulous thing called varsity basketball. But what was this varsity basketball?

He discussed it in terms of things that we would experience once we got to high school. It was like another world, or a wonderland but he seldom contrasted it to the level we were at. I will describe later that around the time I became a player-manager at Campus West, I was unaware of the great high school basketball being played in Western New York. There were a number of great players in our area, some of whom would go on to the national stage.

The next year Mr. Cook left for Riverside High School. We would reunite at Hutch-Tech High School my sophomore year. He took over for the late Coach Joseph Girard. Mr. Cook’s other specialties were swimming and volleyball. I served as a linesman for him for the girls’ volleyball team my senior year. He also smacked some of my shots around when playing pickup basketball in our tiny gym. He was not a bad player himself.

A New Coach Takes Over and More Lessons Learned

Mr. Dennis Rozlowski took over for Mr. Cook my eighth grade year at Campus West, and the overall feel of the team changed. Mr. Rozlowski looked kind of like a hippie. He had longer hair, a mustache and wore glasses. He typically wore a sweatshirt, shorts and sneakers. His overall approach was looser, and the team was now dominated by players from my eighth grade Class of 1990. He interestingly encouraged us to put our last names on the backs of our now orange jerseys instead of nicknames. This gave us a more business-like feel. That year I wore a pair of black Nike ‘Flight’ sneakers with my uniform.

I learned another important basketball, sports and life lesson that season. Age and time on the team did not necessarily determine skill level. While I had been on the team the previous year, a seventh grader named Muhajer Alwakeel joined our team and got regular playing time. Though a year younger, he was more developed, experienced and comfortable on the court than I was. He thus played more.

Going Up Strong and My First Basket

“Just go up strong,” Ronald Jennings said, encouraging me in gym class. I grabbed a rebound and used multiple pump fakes before laying the ball up that day. His underlying message was to play stronger around the basket and with less fear. His words stayed with me afterwards and were a major learning point early on.

Ronald also assisted my first ever basket in an organized game. Mr. Rozlowski put me into a game after we established a large lead. On an offensive possession, Ronald advanced the ball into our half court. Our opponents were in a zone defense and I ran the baseline flashing with my hands up. While open on the right side of the basket, he threw me a two-handed over the head pass. I caught it in one motion and shot it. The ball dropped into the cylinder, rattled around and fell through the net for me.

“WAAR, WAAR, WAAR!” My Bengal teammates exploded on the bench at my accomplishment as I ran up the court slapping hands. ‘Waar’ was the nickname my classmates gave me by removing the first two letters from my first name. Most everyone had a nickname in my class that year. I exited the game within the next few minutes feeling good and on top of the world. Those were the only two points I scored that season.

My First Basket and Jason Rowe’s Revelation

A couple of things come to mind looking back at my first basket at Campus West. First, it was a big deal for me to get those two points, not eight, not 10 points, not 16 points, but two points. I had not developed the competitive mentality to push myself further and to want more. I further did not know how to push myself to develop so that I could regularly play alongside Ronald and the other guys in a sustained way.

My interview with Buffalo Traditional basketball legend Jason Rowe caused me to think about this years later. Jason shared that he could not come home and say that he simply scored 10 or 12 points in a game. He had to show more. He had to produce and win games. Jason likewise came from a basketball family. He was immersed in the culture and trained hard at an early age. The bar was thus set very high for him and he developed a killer instinct on the court early on. I will discuss this later.

A Good Eighth-Grade Year

We had a good year that year winning the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) championship. Our season came to a tough ending though at the hands of a team led by Jeremiah Wilkes and Shareef Beecher. Their school might have been North Park. We lost to them first in our regular season finale. We then lost to them in the Gold Dome Tournament. The pair would go on to lead the Burgard Bulldogs for the next three to four years in the Yale Cup. After our final game, Mr. Rozlowski treated our team to McDonald’s which I enjoyed.

We had a sports assembly at the end of that season as most teams do. Ronald Jennings not surprisingly won the Most Valuable Player Award. There was one surprise though. I won the Most Improved Player Award. I could not believe it as I did not do much besides sit on the bench that year. Someone saw something though whether it was Coach Rozlowski, my teammates, or both. Someone thought I deserved the award. I always knew how to give effort regardless of the results. I similarly won the Best Practice Player Award two years later after my first year on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. That was my sophomore year, the 1991-92 season.

Leaving Close To the Same Basketball Player and Developing

Even being on the team my eighth-grade year, I went on to Hutch-Tech as a bit of a project skill-wise. I wanted to play varsity basketball, but did not have a solid plan for development. Whose job was it to create that though?

The Buffalo News published a series of articles discussing why Buffalo did not produce many Division-1 college basketball players. The series was published the year after I graduated from Hutch-Tech prior to the 1994-95 season. A big factor was the lack of formal early developmental systems. These were the above mentioned modified and junior varsity teams (JV) to feed the varsity teams. We arguably had modified teams in Buffalo, but there was no formal JV program in the high schools for kids like me to go directly into for continued development.

Coach Ken Jones talked about the lack of ‘feeder’ systems extensively in our discussions before he died. The Ken Jones Basketball Camp was the first basketball camp I ever attended. I learned about it firsthand my freshman year as he was my coach and it was his camp. There were others around Buffalo but me and my family just did not know about them. In summary, my early basketball journey was impacted largely by personal circumstances just like other kids. We were each dealt different hands and had to do the best we knew how with them.

Mr. Amoroso, Derrick Coleman and the Syracuse Orangemen

“I LOVE Derrick Coleman from Syracuse. I tell you I just LOVE Derrick Coleman,” said Mr. Amoroso. Mr. Amoroso was a bearded, shorter, muscular Italian teacher. I do not recall what he taught at Campus West, but he was very excitable and playful. He beat up some of us boys playfully and regularly. He probably wanted to toughen us up, not something I think a teacher could do in modern times. He learned that I took an interest in basketball. He went on and on about some player named Derrick Coleman from Syracuse University some days. The school was two hours east going towards Albany where my father lived. They were coached by some guy named Jim Boeheim.

You just read another excerpt from The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. When revising the book, I added Mr. Amoroso’s love for No. 44 Derrick Coleman for a number of reasons. First, Mr. Amoroso was a memorable teacher at Campus West. Secondly, I did not know who the best player from our nearest big time Division-1 college basketball program was at the time. This is something I would change if I could go back.

This was both pre-internet and social media. I also learned about John Wallace from Greece-Athena High School from Rochester late. I saw him play in the Far West Regional game against Niagara Falls LaSalle in my sophomore year at Hutch-Tech at the end of the 1991-92 season. Who was John Wallace? He was from our sister city Rochester, only an hour away and became the next Syracuse star after Derrick Coleman. He also wore the No. 44, probably in tribute to Derrick Coleman.

Just One of Many Great College Players in the Golden Age of Basketball

Derrick Coleman was just one of many highly talented Syracuse basketball players at that time. Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington, a wizard with the basketball was another one. There was also Sherman Douglass and Rony Seikaly. I was still new to basketball and did not know about them. I was wrapped up in the Michael Jordan craze and the bright lights of the NBA. As a result, I did not take a hard look at the college players, the best of whom would eventually make their way to the NBA. Mr. Amoroso did, and his favorite player was Derrick Coleman.

It is also worth noting that arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time, Christian Laettner was from our area. He recently finished his storied high school basketball career at the nearby Nichols School. He moved on to Duke University where he exploded onto the national scene. Cliff Robinson played at Riverside High School and went on to the University of Connecticut (UCONN) to play college basketball a few years earlier. He helped start the ascension of the program in the old Big East Conference.

I was unfamiliar with high school basketball in Western New York in general as described. I thus missed seeing Laettner play (and the South Park fight). I further missed seeing other great players play like Ritchie Campbell when I was at Campus West (pictured below with Carlin Hartman on the 1990 All-Western New York First Basketball Team). I will discuss this later. There also was not a lot of encouragement to do so though that I recall.

Craft Mastery

I am sharing all of this because it contributes to the mastery of one’s craft. Mastery of your craft involves at least partially watching the greats of your time and from past years. Basketball is no exception. Skills development and playing are critical too. But watching and studying is key as well. The college game was the next level up after high school before getting to the NBA. A family friend encouraged me to study the college game as I transitioned into high school. It was something I needed reminding of, but there were not any men around to do so. This underscores another key theme of my story, the importance of male figures for boys especially, and the importance of mentors.

How Did Other Kids in Western New York Learn the Game?

Some kids are born with natural attributes and abilities such as leaping ability, height and quickness. Mastery of any craft however requires honing a set of skills. The great game of basketball is the same way. Some kids in Western New York started their development early. My research for my book revealed how many of the more successful players in Western New York developed their basketball games. This development usually involved some sort of mentoring and or exposure to the game.

I also later observed that the great players developed outside of their academic schools. In the ESPN 30 for 30 The Fab Five, the producers showed footage of Jalen Rose playing and developing outside of his school. The same was true in the ESPN 30 for 30 Benji. Benji Wilson honed his game outside of school. This was long before winning the Illinois State Championship at Simeon Vocational High School and becoming the top high school player in the nation in 1984.

Mentoring in Basketball and Life

Many of the players I interviewed for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story had mentors guiding them early. The late Kevin Roberson mentored Ronald Jennings from my teams. The same was true for the core of our 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team that won the Yale Cup and the Class B Sectional Championships. Chuck Thompson was one of those players.

Jason Rowe grew up in a basketball family. They taught him how to compete early in his life. The legendary Trevor Ruffin mentored Jason as well. Ruffin played Division I basketball at the University of Hawaii and played in the NBA. Jason Rowe and Damien Foster both got more mentoring in a bit of a basketball ‘dojo’ as described below. William Gates had his brother Curtis, and Arthur Agee had his father Bo in Hoop Dreams.

Training With the Best Players

Some of the players I interviewed received mentoring and trained relentlessly at specific locations around their cities. Jason Rowe and Damien Foster described getting rigorous training and mentoring from multiple coaches and players at the Masten Boys’ Club. They played basketball there late on many Friday nights. I will repeat myself. They played late on Friday nights while other kids played video games, partied and did other things. This training accelerated their growth and mastery of the game. It further made them varsity prodigies when they got to Buffalo Buffalo Traditional in the 1992-93 season.

Tim Winn, Darris Thomas and other Niagara Falls players trained early in the Biddy Leagues at the YMCAs and other recreational centers in Niagara Falls. This is largely why the Niagara Falls teams became dominant in that era. Ryan Cochrane from Cardinal O’Hara gained considerable experience playing for his Central Park neighborhood team under his coach, Coach Dean. There were also several leagues around Buffalo such as the Bob Lanier and Randy Smith leagues, and church leagues.

The Bengal Tigers and the Campus West Gymnasium

There was a long line of players who played for Mr. Cook before I became a Bengal Tiger. Each experienced varying levels of success at and beyond playing at Campus West. Carlin Hartman experienced tremendous success afterwards at Grand Island High School (pictured in the back row in blue). This essay keeps expanding, so I will list out the names that came up in my interviews with Dion Frasier and Quincy Lee in the comments section below. I will also shout out the guys I played with in my seventh and eighth grade years. If you know any of them, please pass this essay on.

I captured the pictures of Campus West gym in this essay in a recent visit to Buffalo. I sought to take some pictures of that particular wing of the school and I saw two Buffalo State College undergraduates enter it after hours. I followed them in and went down the stairs to the gym just like old times. I thought I would only be able to take pictures of it through the glass doors, but one of them was partially open so I walked in for the first time in 30 years. Campus West is now the ‘Buckham Building’ or the ‘Buckham Campus’ and is just another college building on campus.

Starting Off as Basketball Player-Managers

I created this essay after the original batch of promotional essays for the book. The inspiration grabbed me as I was doing a final edit of The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Sometimes journeys start by chance and sometimes they start due to the generosity and mercy of someone else. Mr. Cook saw a chubby seventh grader who really wanted to be on the team and decided to make him a player-manager. That led to other things for me.

It is worth noting that some great players started off as managers or player-managers. No. 23 Michael Jordan’s sidekick No. 33 Scottie Pippen served as a manager at Central Arkansas University before his talent was realized. Pippen also became one of my favorite players as I watched Michael’s ascension. Pippen’s story along with others is example for young people that success is not always a straight line. Sometimes it is a winding road.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading this essay. I was one of several of Mr. Cook’s players to go on to Hutch-Tech to play a little bit more. Others were the above-mentioned Chuck Thompson, the late Quincy Lee, Paul Saunders, Dion Frasier, and the late Jason Holman. Ronald Jennings played a little bit at Turner/Carroll High School. Jamel Brown played at Amherst High School. His Tigers defeated my Hutch-Tech team at the end of my tumultuous junior year. Many of the guys did not go any further with the game.

I mentioned the players by their real names in this essay for the sake of nostalgia and remembrance. If you purchase copies of the books, you will see that I have changed many of the names as they did not agree to be characters. Thank you to those who agreed to interviews and to being mentioned in the final story.

I think the lessons shared in this essay and my book project are important for people in general, but particularly for young men. Many struggle in our country today more so than is being discussed in larger arenas. Sports are more than just games that are played. There is a spirituality to them and they are microcosms of life as stated by Alice Jones, the wife of the late Coach Ken Jones.

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

Coaches Who Build Basketball Programs and Teams: Another Story From the Engineers

“In a good basketball program teams with lesser talent will win games they should not win and beat teams they should not beat!”

The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story

This story is another promotional essay for my two-part book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. As described on the introductory page I created for the book, and the numerous pieces I created surrounding the book, I have interviewed 30-40 players and coaches from Section VI. My research revealed several interesting facts. Many stories paralleled mine, even those of the more successful players. One area that many of us had in common was that we played in basketball programs and not just teams. I discuss the differences between basketball programs and teams in this piece. We had a mini-college basketball program at Hutch-Tech High School.

This essay and my story are based out of Western New York, but the themes apply to your locality as well. There are videos from my sports YouTube channel throughout this piece related to my basketball story. Some of the images in this piece were personally shot by the author. Others were donated during the research for this book project from Coach Ken Jones and his family.

Basketball Programs and Teams

The late Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones created a mini-college basketball program during his tenure as coach at Hutch-Tech High School. He did not just assemble teams of players every year and roll the balls out to let them play freely. Me and some of my interviewees made this connection during my research. In writing this project and all the promotional pieces for it, I want to acknowledge something important. Not everyone looks back on Coach Jones and his efforts with appreciation and reverence like I and others do. He had his share of detractors in building his program and running it his way. Some were on the bench with him. Some were in the student body and others were his fellow coaches in the Yale Cup itself. Modie Cox said the same thing about Pat Monti. Coach Monti was the architect of the Niagara Falls LaSalle basketball dynasty.

Blowing Off Steam on the Hardwood at West Hertel

My research for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story started with a visit to see Coach Jones and his wife in 2012 or 2013. Some fellow alumni said that they saw him in stores like Walmart around Western New York so I knew he was still alive. Adonis Coble gave me his phone number ultimately. He got it from Michael Mann who regularly had lunch with Coach Jones. No. 23 and No. 11 were seniors on our 1991-92 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team, my sophomore year.

I had not spoken with Coach Jones in almost 20 years. Seeing him was just like old times despite how my final year playing under him ended. I interviewed him in the back of his San Antonio, Texas house. I asked him how he came to be at Hutch-Tech High School in the first place among other things. Someone of high influence thought he would be the perfect ‘Skipper’ for the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. He thought Coach Jones could build a successful basketball program. It was someone all of us from those times knew quite well.

He was at West Hertel Elementary School on a late Friday afternoon according to the legend. Faculty members gathered from schools around the city late on Fridays to play pickup basketball. I helped Coach Phil Richardson with the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team during breaks after initially graduating from Tech myself. I too played with the faculty late on Friday afternoons a handful of times. It was a fun way for them to blow off steam and communicate after long weeks of teaching the children of Buffalo.

Recruited to Build the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Program

“He tore you up when he got out there and played with you,” said Frankie Harris of Hutch-Tech. He was a player from the Class of 1989 and jokingly recalled playing basketball with Coach Jones during our interview. Coach Jones shared with me there was one faculty member who was a very good leaper. He did not like being guarded by Coach Jones because of his physical play. Those of us who played basketball with Coach Jones know that he was in fact a physical player. He was not shy about using forearms to impede your movements or to put his body into you when going for a rebound.

“I want you to come to Hutch-Tech to coach the boys’ basketball team!” Mr. Joseph Gentile was one of the participants of those games. He presided over Hutch-Tech as Principal when it achieved the ‘National School of Excellence’ distinction in the late 1980s. Mr. Gentile ran Hutch-Tech with an iron fist. He arguably witnessed its ascension as a school and its decline to a certain degree. That was my brother’s freshman year and Coach Jones’ first year. In any case the bearded, olive skinned, bow-legged administrator, saw something in the hoarse-voiced basketball enthusiast. He likewise recruited him to coach the boys’ basketball team at the H-shaped building at 250 South Elmwood Avenue.

I knew Mr. Gentile for running our high school but not running up and down basketball courts shooting hoops. I laughed thinking about it. Again, I guess even school principals needed to blow off steam after a long week of managing schools and dealing with students.

Creating a Boys’ Basketball Program

“It was like Hoosiers!” Quincy Lee was among my 40 interviewees for The Engineers before he recently passed away in 2022. No. 11 was one of the key players on the 1990-91 Yale Cup and Class B sectional championship team. Coach Jones arrived at Hutch-Tech and started building his program two years before I arrived there in the fall of 1990.

His approach and methods were unlike anything the players on the 1988-89 team and the student body had seen before. They played mostly street basketball at local parks and in leagues like the Randy Smith League in Buffalo. No. 13 Curtis Brooks whom I have cited in many of these pieces made an insightful observation when we talked. He noted that in ‘The Randy’ as many former players affectionately refer to it, athletic ability and size were the keys to winning. It was not the fundamentals of basketball, which were the hallmark of the Engineers’ new coach and his program.

An Extravagant Pregame Warmup Routine

“We were not doing just the regular layup line. Jones was on some other stuff. Players from other schools were looking at us strangely. I could not understand why we could not just do the regular layup line for warmups!” Jerrold ‘Pep’ Skillon noted in our candid interview, one of my favorites, Coach Jones’ pregame warmup routine. It was more intricate than any other in the Yale Cup. “I wondered to myself, what is this?”

I took Coach Jones’ ‘Seven Pass Drill’ and his pregame warm up routine for granted my sophomore season. I assumed that it was all normal when I earned my roster spot. His methods of teaching basketball were a culture shock for his initial crop of players. It was a very different way of playing the game and assembling a team than anyone was used to. It emphasized patient and controlled offenses and disciplined man-to-man team defense. There was another hallmark to his program aside from his fundamentals-based approach though. He looked for a certain kind of kid which was controversial in and of itself.

Establishing a Code and Looking for a Certain kind of Kid

“Jonesy looked for a certain kind of kid!” I first heard the term ‘a certain kind of kid’ from another faculty member who worked alongside Coach Jones in the athletic department. This faculty member asked to remain anonymous, but this phrase was echoed numerous times throughout my research for The Engineers. What kind of kid was he looking for? He handed out packets with an exhaustive list of attributes he was and was not looking for before tryouts. See the picture below for a sample of his list.

I looked back at the list while finishing my final drafts for The Engineers. I saw something I missed as a high school student athlete and in earlier drafts. He explicitly wrote, “We want players that are loyal to each other, the coach, and the school. We will go with boys, if necessary, with lesser ability to have team loyalty.” The last sentence said so much. It explained much of what I and other players involved with the program experienced during that time.

You can infer a lot from that one quote. Winning was the number one objective, but he looked to do it in a certain way. He wanted kids who listened, obeyed, and submitted. He looked to establish a specific code and a culture, an environment in which many players did not fit. He was different things to different people and not everyone appreciated him and his methods. To learn about Coach Jones and to hear what some of his players said about him, see the video below.

Maintaining a Program

Once you set up such a program, how hard is it to maintain it and to keep it rolling? Depending on the conditions in which you are coaching, it can be quite difficult. Our league did not have a formal ‘feeder system’ for the varsity basketball teams. I described this my piece looking back at the Yale Cup. The varsity basketball coaches in our league at the time thus had to do more work. They did extra work try keep their programs successful from year to year, often without extra pay.

The coaches in the Yale Cup also did not have paid assistant coaches. Assistant coaches are important for numerous reasons. They help guide teams in practices. They help with things like the Xs and Os standpoint and tracking fouls. Finally, they help manage the psyches and personalities of the players. Managing and monitoring the personalities/struggles of 10-15 players is a lot for one coach, in addition to doing everything else.

Another aspect is getting a steady stream of talent and developing the talent that you do get. My book, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story, takes place at the lone technical high school in Buffalo. Admittance to Hutch-Tech required passing an entrance exam. Not just any kid could go there. The coaches at our school thus only had access to a certain segment of kids in the city. Every class at Hutch-Tech in my era had talent. But how many kids in each class wanted to make the three-to-four-month commitment to play basketball each year? And which kids would listen and submit to the coaching?

The Riverside Boys’ Basketball Program: Championships, Conflicts, Fundamentals, Injuries and Repeating

“I hoped to build a perennially strong program at Riverside. Injuries really hurt us the year after we won the Yale Cup and the Class C sectional!” Coach Bill Russell shared his aspirations with me for his early 1990s Riverside teams in our insightful interview. The 1991-92 Riverside Frontiersman won the Yale Cup championship with a record of 11-2 the year after our Hutch-Tech team won it (pictured below). I interviewed Coach Russell and one of his star players, Ed Harris and learned a lot. I found that they too had a program at Riverside with many of the same aspects we had at Hutch-Tech.

They returned their core group of players for the 1992-93 season after winning the Class C sectional the previous year. They lost their 6’7” center, Walter Gravely, for most of that season due to a pelvic injury. This hurt their chances severely of defending their two titles. Injuries decimated many programs and seasons across sports, and they are something that cannot always be planned for. The Frontiersman also experienced their own personality conflicts and squabbles just as we did at Hutch-Tech.

These negative events arguably helped with the ascension of other teams in the Yale Cup at the time. McKinley and Seneca shared the Yale Cup title that 1992-93 season. They also paved the way for the ascension of the young Buffalo Traditional Bulls who began their rise that season. They logged upsets over both Hutch-Tech and Riverside, on their way to ruling the league for the next three years. See my interviews with Jason Rowe and Damien Foster to read more about this.

Players’ Skill Levels When You Get Them

Finally, what are the skill and talent levels of the kids that you are getting as a coach? Another major consideration is the level players are at when you get them. Many kids wanted to play basketball and excel at it in Buffalo in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Not everyone knew how to develop their abilities and skills though.

Not every kid had access to the tools to allow them to develop. Some came from homes that did not necessarily favor them developing their basketball skills. Coach Bill Russell from Riverside noted that many of his kids came from homes with no fathers which is significant. Once again the lack of a feeder system was significant too. We had a middle school boys’ basketball team at Campus West which I played on in seventh and eighth grades. It was not designed though for kids like myself who needed more development to excel. This meant that development had to come from someplace else.

And again, even if you get a crop of kids with some talent, are they coachable? And can you mold them into a cohesive unit? One coach in Section VI created a program that consistently won during that era. Read on to learn some more about how he did it.

The Buffalo Traditional Bulls: Athleticism, Talent and Skill

There were three teams that were strong every year during my short high school basketball journey. I will start with Buffalo Traditional from the Yale Cup. The Bulls were coached by the legendary but controversial Joe Cardinal. Coach ‘Card’ was loved by his players despite his many critics outside of the school. See my interviews with Damien Foster and Jason Rowe to learn some more about the Bulls teams under his leadership. Coach Cardinal’s name also came up in interviews with coaches and players from other schools.

“I am going to write a book called, All of The Way Without a Play!” Damien Foster shared that Coach Cardinal joked at times about not using any structure with his teams. Murmurings outside of Buffalo Traditional were that Coach Cardinal was always the benefactor of tremendous talent. Likewise, he never really coached his Bulls teams in the classic sense. Instead, just let them play and show their brilliance. They likewise rewarded him for it.

“When we played a St. Joe’s, we never beat them. My three years of playing at Traditional, we never beat them and that is because of the fundamentals part of it. We did not have it!” Adrian Baugh from Buffalo Traditional reflected on their matchups with St. Joe’s in our interview. “St. Joe’s had it, we had way more talent than them, but fundamentally they were better than we were at that time!” As successful as the Bulls were during those times, there was one team they frequently struggled with and there were reasons why.

The St. Joe’s Marauders: Consistency, Dominance and Fundamentals

“Sophomore year I played JV. We had a good year. Both years were pretty good. We never could beat St. Joe’s! I made varsity as a junior, so I was backing up Delwyn (Rhines). I was on the team with Delwyn Rhines, Shondell Dupree, Gerald Brown and Malik Campbell,” Dennis Wilson said reflecting on his days playing at Turner/Carroll High School.

“We always kind of – and I do not know if this is a public-school thing or an African American thing, but we always had problems with Joe’s. We did not understand the Xs and Os of basketball,” he continued. “They were good athletes – they were probably as good as athletically. We were probably a little bit more athletic, but they just understood the game. They just understood the game period.”

St. Joe’s Collegiate High School was a perennial power in the Monsignor Martin League. They competed with formidable foes like Turner/Carroll, Canisius and Cardinal O’Hara, to name a few in their conference. I did not have a lot of experience playing against the Marauders aside from one JV game my sophomore year. They had a distinct heritage. They also had modified, JV and varsity teams (the above-mentioned feeder system). They played disciplined basketball, and their players were always well trained by the time they became seniors. Two names that stand out to me from those years are Eric Eberz and Jeff Muszynski.

The LaSalle Explorers Basketball Dynasty: Structure, Discipline and No Nonsense!

“Our program was built on structure, discipline and no nonsense!” Finally, there was Coach Pat Monti’s LaSalle Explorers in Niagara Falls. LaSalle was the ‘bully on the block’ for Western New York basketball for 10 or more years, winning their Class A sectional and regularly making trips to Glens Falls in March. My interviews with Coach Monti, Carlos Bradberry and Tim Winn revealed numerous things.

First. Basketball was almost a religion in Niagara Falls and the players there trained early in the Biddie Leagues. Coach Monti thus had a steady crop of hungry and trained players. He got them into his system early, established his culture and expectations and they just kept winning.

Second. Coach Monti ran a program like Coach Jones that emphasized structure, discipline, and no nonsense in his own stern words. The players who came to him at LaSalle loved the game and wanted to develop, win, and continue to build the heritage of the program. They bought into what he taught them and as Carlos Bradberry shared with me, “Everyone had a role and accepted it.”

Coaches, Cultures and Systems

Pat Monti was like the Greg Poppovich of high school basketball back then. That was the biggest thing. Talent-wise, body for body and person for person, we had some players, but they just were coached tremendously well,” Darris Thomas said about the coach of their crosstown rivals in Niagara Falls. “We summed it up by saying that they knew their roles and we did not.”

LaSalle and Niagara Falls Senior High Schools both played in the Niagara Frontier League, but they had a fierce rivalry within the city. My research revealed that Niagara Falls usually had the more talented rosters. The difference though was the coaching, game planning and the structure at LaSalle as described by Darris Thomas. It was the program that Coach Pat Monti ran.

A heritage was built at LaSalle over the course of 10 years. It was understood that there was a history and standards for the program when new players came in. There was regular contact with the older players even after they graduated, and it was always understood what the standards were. They never had to reinvent the wheel as they say, as other programs did. In The Engineers, I note that there was not a lot of interaction with the core of the 1990-91 championship team at Hutch-Tech in subsequent years. This would have been helpful for those of us charged with following in their footsteps. That is not to throw shade at anyone. It just is what it is.

What Makes a Good or a Bad Coach?

“Well at least you got to work with Kenny for a couple of years. I thought he tried hard and had everyone’s best interests at heart.” Coach Francis Daumen took over for Coach Jones the year after he retired. He served as an assistant coach my junior year. My basketball journey involved a coaching change which is not unusual in sports. Based upon my coming into the program under Coach Jones and what I expected for my final year, basketball just was not the same after he left. My senior season was an eventful year for Coach Daumen as well whom I realized was a good coach himself in retrospect.

“It sounds like he just was not a good coach if you ask me!” I shared my writing project with a friend years ago. I tried explaining the intricacies and nuances of running a basketball program. I tried explaining what happened surrounding our Hutch-Tech basketball program during my journey, the basis for my story. She responded with a snap judgement about Coach Jones which chapped my hide as they say.

That exchange taught me two things and I can laugh about it now. First, people sometimes want to respond without thinking and just want to be heard. So be careful of who you share your ideas with. Secondly, not everyone understands the intricacies of establishing a basketball program vs. assembling a basketball team.

A Basketball Program

The opening quote for this piece underscores the approach Coach Jones took to teaching the game to myself and others. He was a ‘fundamentals’ coach who did not believe in running a star system. He believed in teaching the game, instilling values, and mentoring his kids through the game.

The clergyman at his memorial service said that he ministered to us through basketball. This was true as most of us remember his many anecdotes, quotes and stories. We also remember his jokes. This is in addition to all of his basketball drills and strategies.

He wanted to win games through galvanizing players under a common culture and a system. Over a course of years this is no minor undertaking. It is not easy, especially when it involves subjugating individual agendas.

“If I scored 15 points and it takes points from someone else or leaves time on the clock – I would rather win than get mine. I still think some guys also wanted to win, but they wanted to get theirs. And that is a hard thing to balance when kids are 15, 16 or 17 years old.” These words were from Christain J. Souter. He was a member of the 1990-91 Hutch-Boys’ Basketball Team and a captain my sophomore year. His words epitomized the challenges in attempting to create and maintain a program like the one Coach Jones and others created.

Coaches Wanting Better for Their Players

“I do not want to be that type of coach where when kids leave, they do not remember anything positive about the experience!” Coach Samuel ‘Quinn’ Coffey discussed his coaching philosophy during our interview. Quinn was a Kensington Knight and graduated in the Class of 1992. He now coached the game in Baltimore, Maryland.

I attended SUNY Brockport for one year and we played some intramural basketball together, long before I started writing The Engineers. I saw his enthusiasm for the game and that he cared about the kids he would coach one day. His experience at Kensington High School motivated him. He strove to be the best coach he could be for all his players, not just the most talented ones.

“I was more concerned with it being a good experience and having the kids get something out of it.” Coach Bill Russell from Riverside shared his top priorities when coaching with me during our interview. His words surprised me. His revelation motivated me to add his and Coach Coffey’s reflections to this piece. They underscore the fact that there are multiple approaches to coaching, some of which do not often show up in the box score and on the statistical sheets.

Playing in Basketball Programs: An Important Tip For Younger Players

“If I could do it all over again, I would ask myself, ‘What is the most natural thing I could do right here on the basketball court now versus just playing in the system,” Carlos James Gant from City Honors said in our interview. “I think the guys who do that have excellent careers and might still be good players.

“We had a motion offense, but you have a three or four role. You also have more liberty to find these gaps, and the more you find those gaps you are going to score. The games where I did that, I had big games. The games where I did not, they were all over the place. That is what I would do. I would just be more aggressive.”

Basketball programs use specific offensive and defensive plays and strategies. Coach Romeo McKinney was known for his defenses for example (pictured above). Players are coached up in specific ways that do not necessarily come into play when playing street basketball. Many players must learn how to play organized basketball in a program. At the end of the day, the goal is still to put the ball in the hoop more than your opponent.

Carlos James Gant’s words underscore a lesson I also personally had to learn. That is the importance of combining your organized game with your street game so that you are just naturally playing and being both aggressive and smart. It is a little-known secret to playing in basketball programs, but an important one. Arthur Agee and William Gates showed the blending of organized and street basketball in the documentary Hoop Dreams. I wrote essays in tribute to them. The following video is another offering from my sports YouTube channel and it discusses another important basketball and life lesson.

Having a Vision for YOUR Game and YOUR Life

Jones did not teach the one on one-type stuff. We rarely did the one on one (isolation basketball). All of the great dribble drive moves and basic handles – I did not have that. I did not have a freaky handle but that was Jones. Jones did not teach us that,” Pep Skillon said reflecting on his time as an Engineer.

“You know what Pep? You are right!” I thought about my own basketball education as Pep reflected on his. Another teammate made the observation the year after Coach Jones retired but in a different way. He pointed out that I had a basic game in a sarcastic tone. It was true. I developed into a system player. I was a good role player in Coach Jones’ program. I did not seek to develop myself beyond his program though. It did not occur to me. No one in my immediate circle called it to my attention either.

After high school I learned to experiment with my game. I found that I could do some fun and imaginative things on the court. I had fun doing them too. It is a lesson that translates forward into the adult and working worlds. You should always have a vision for yourself and your life. Your employers and supervisors may have their own plans they may fit you into. The same is true for your parents and significant others in some instances. But what do you want? What is your plan for yourself and your life? You should always have a vision for yourself, or develop one.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading this promotional/teaser piece for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. I intend to create more, via print and video, as I journey through the final steps of completing the book. I created a page here on Big Words Authors for the purpose of giving a background of the book and grouping all the promotional pieces such as this in one place for interested readers. On my first blogging platform, the Big Words Blog Site, there are interviews of some of the most accomplished Section VI players from my era including: Jason Rowe, Tim Winn, Carlos Bradberry and Damien Foster. I also interviewed legendary LaSalle Head Basketball Coach, Pat Monti. Finally, there are several other basketball-related essays related to my book project. If you liked this piece, please share it on your social media and leave a comment beneath this piece.

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Yours in good sports. Best Regards.

My Arthur Agee And William Gates Hoop Dreams Essays

“That is all I think about, playing in the NBA!”

My Essays On The Two Stars of Hoop Dreams

Hello all. In the last year, I started marketing my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. I created a page for the book here on Big Words Authors. I have also generated several promotional essays and videos with more on the way. While I think all the essays are quality, two of the most notable involve Arthur Agee and William Gates from the classic basketball documentary Hoop Dreams. Arthur’s and Williams’ journeys helped inspire my project and they prompted me to write the two fan essays below.

Blogging and writing are all about engagement, so if you read either of the essays, please leave comments here on this page or underneath the individual pieces. Finally, please consider joining the Big Words LLC newsletter. You can join the newsletter using this link. If there are issues with the link, you can email me at [email protected]. Best regards and yours in good sports.