Contributors To The Engineers Part One: Samples From My Interviews Of Basketball Coaches And Players From Western New York

“Basketball taught me that your hard work isn’t always recognized. But that doesn’t mean you give up working, because somewhere down the line, it’s going to have a benefit to you.”

The following are quotes from the many contributors to my two-part book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story who were gracious enough to each tell their stories. The contributors will also be acknowledged in the books themselves and these are being shared for promotional purposes. To tell this story the way I wanted to tell it with depth and substance, I couldn’t have done it on my own. Telling this story was a long process and there were times when I felt self-doubt and wondered if this was a big waste of time. Each contributor reminded me in their own way that I was creating something worthwhile and to stay the course. Thank you all again.

Adrian Baugh, Player, Buffalo Traditional High School

“It was all new to me, just the process. I’ve had people tell me, ‘If I had you,’ like when they had Jason, Damien and Malik (Campbell), there’s no telling where I’d be, and I believe that. When we played St. Joe’s, we never beat them. In my three years of playing at Traditional, we never beat them and that’s because of the fundamentals part of it. We didn’t have it. St. Joe’s had it, we had way more talent than them, but fundamentally they were better than we were at that time!”

The 6’6” Adrian Baugh was one of the key cogs in the Jason Rowe– and Damien Foster-led Buffalo Traditional Bulls teams. He was also one of their unsung heroes. The Bulls literally took a stranglehold of the Yale Cup partway through my time as a Hutch-Tech Engineer. In this excerpt from our interview, Adrian described how he gradually learned about organized high school basketball at Buffalo Traditional. While they were extremely talented, he discussed how the Bulls didn’t fare well against fundamentally sound teams like the perennial powerhouse from the Monsignor Martin League, the St. Joe’s Marauders.

Carlos Bradberry, Player, LaSalle Senior High School

“I was satisfied (with my senior season), but I hate to lose so that last game wore on me for a long time. I probably sat there for a week or two and thought of every play I could’ve done differently. I still remember it to this day. We lost by three points, and I missed five or six free throws. I said to myself, ‘If I’d made those six free throws, we would have won the game!’ For me it was bitter-sweet because we got there and showed well, but I thought we could’ve gone one step further. What made it worse was, I think Hempstead either won or had a very close game with Mount Vernon. I thought we could’ve been the state champs if I’d played a little bit better.”

No. 50 Carlos Bradberry was one of the many great guards in the LaSalle basketball dynasty. He had been a LaSalle Explorer for several years and emerged as the leader of the team as a junior. I first saw him play in a lopsided loss they handed our Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team in December of 1991. His Explorers team broke through and advanced to the final four in Glens Falls his senior season. There they fell short against Hempstead from Long Island by a narrow margin. In this excerpt Carlos lamented the free throws he missed in his final game. They likely would’ve helped them advance to the state final game against Mount Vernon.

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

Curtis Brooks, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“I wasn’t an Alpha Dog. Just growing up, I knew Pep was athletic. I knew Chuck was the big man. I knew Frankie and all of them. We grew up in Central Park. Central Park was four streets away from me. I used to cut over the tracks and play at Central Park. I used to go to my old School 68, I think they call it Westminster now. I just knew what I could do, and I grew up with everybody. So I just had to trust that, you know I’ve got the ball, and if a teammate is open, I’ll give it to him on the fast break, and then let’s play D! But I wasn’t an Alpha Dog at that time.”

No. 13 Curtis Brooks was one of the leaders of the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team, one of the bases for my story. That season he was one of the statistical leaders of the team in terms of points and assists and hit several big shots for them. I considered him to be the engine that drove that team. I was still in awe of him 20 years later when I interviewed him. Only seeing him play from the sidelines as a freshman, I never got to know him personally. When we talked about those times, he was both humble and wise. That season, he made the Buffalo News’ All-Western New York Second Team. In this snippet from our two-part interview, he shared that he didn’t consider himself to be the star of that team and didn’t look to be. He was a pass first point guard who looked to set his teammates up first offensively.

Adonis “AD” Coble, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“That was a great feeling being around a group of guys who played together and really liked being around each other. Those guys were great, they were great teammates as well as great guys off the court. They were a very close-knit group that were friends as well as teammates (the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team).”

The first player I interviewed for this project was No. 23 Adonis Coble. Adonis was one of the seniors on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team for the 1991-92 season, my first season. He and the Class of 1992 seniors showed a lot of leadership that year. Interviewing Adonis led me to several other players and Coach Jones himself. He was also a member of the 1990-91 team. One of my questions involved what being on that team was like. His answer described some of the secrets of championship teams, camaraderie and togetherness. This was a recurring theme throughout my interviews. While important parts of the equation, talent and skill aren’t always enough to win consistently.

Ryan Cochrane, Player, Cardinal O’Hara High School

“Being a part of the team is everything, whether its basketball or the team I have at work. It’s a team. I can go back to my O’Hara team in my junior year. There were plenty of teams that were way more talented than us. Turner-Carroll, St. Joe’s and Lackawanna were more talented than us. But as a team putting all of our pieces together and putting the team first, that was what got us winning the championship. It’s weird because you can take not all, but some of us – some players may not have started on another team, but our team together as a whole, we were way better than anybody else.”

No. 12 for the Cardinal O’Hara Hawks, Ryan Cochrane reached out to me on Facebook after publishing my Jason Rowe interview. Knowing of his legend, I immediately asked to interview him to which he agreed. Prior to the 1993-94 season, I hadn’t heard of Cardinal O’Hara, Ryan Cochrane or Calvin Price. I became quite familiar with him that year though. He led the Hawks on a magical run through the Monsignor Martin League and in postseason play his junior season.

Samuel “Quinn” Coffee, Player, Kensington High School

“It taught me that your hard work isn’t always recognized (playing on the Kensington Boys’ Basketball Team). But that doesn’t mean you give up working, because somewhere down the line, it’s going to have a benefit to you. I never gave up, I never slacked in practice, I never missed practice!”

I met Coach Quinn Coffey my first and only year at Brockport State College. He had played at Kensington and was a member of the Class of 1992, two years ahead of me. We reconnected on Facebook years later, and I knew that I wanted to interview him for my book project. He loved the game and now coached both boys and girls in the Baltimore era. As a coach, he wanted all the kids he touched to get the most out of their playing experience. This is something he questioned about his playing days at Kensington. His quote gets to the essence of my book project. Everyone’s playing experience was different depending on your coach, teammates, and your overall life circumstances. In life, your hard work may not always be appreciated initially. Somehow you must find ways to keep going as someday it might.

Francis Daumen, Coach, Hutch-Tech High School

“The game (basketball) by nature brings out the bad in people. You’re required to be violent. You’re required to be a team player. You’re required to run, and hit, and smash into one another – to jump and run and to be physically and mentally exhausted – and that’s only practice. The games are fun, it’s the practices – the day-to-day grind. It’s a tough sport!”

Coach Francis Daumen took over for Coach Jones my senior season at Hutch-Tech. I didn’t know how to handle the coaching change and struggled through that year. I don’t think we understood one another that 1993-94 season. When I interviewed him 20 years later, we shared what was happening in each other’s lives and it all made sense. His approach to the game was different than Coach Jones’. This snippet from our interview reveals how he viewed the game of basketball, battle.

Carlton Ford, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“That’s something that was never really clear to me from varsity practices. I don’t recall Coach ever saying, ‘Take that shot. You could’ve taken that shot at the top of the key!’ On the junior varsity (JV) team it was a different story. I was in double figures scoring, and it was known that I could score and get to the basket. On the varsity team, there was never a green light given. I just think that over time, I realized that I would take this shot and there would be no complaints and I would just get back on D. But I think by senior year I learned how to play in that offense.”

Carlton Ford was a two-year teammate on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. A member of the Class of 1993, he was a year ahead of me. We were similar in terms of temperament and personality. Our interview revealed that we viewed our first year on the varsity team similarly, a learning year. I discovered later that some kids looked at their first year differently. They demanded to get on the court and play immediately. He was a mature and unselfish pass-first guard who like me, had to learn to play in Coach Jones’ fundamentals-based offense.

Damien Foster, Player, Buffalo Traditional High School

“I’ve heard it 1,000 times! Coach Cardinal heard it 1,000 times and we all heard it. Most of the time you’d hear it from the suburban coaches and schools. My opinion on that is that Cardinal wasn’t trying to be something he wasn’t. Cardinal was more so a father figure to us. He was there for us. We could come to him for anything, and he’d give us advice whatever the case may be. You’re dealing with city kids – kids that come from single parent homes. You’re dealing with a lot of things and lots of these kids don’t have structure in terms of playing organized basketball, so they come to the city schools and play on these teams. With their attention span, you draw up a play and they get in the game, and they might forget the play. Or they might not have that discipline to run a play.”

Damien Foster and Jason Rowe seemingly burst onto the scene together the 1992-93 season as freshman. They had prepared for a while, and only those who were unaware of them were astonished by their brilliance. It was always whispered that their coach, the late Joe Cardinal wasn’t much of a coach. He simply inherited talented players every year and let them go while he sat back and racked up the wins. According to Damien though, he cared about his players and looked out for them as best he could. Furthermore, he knew what and who he was in terms of coaching and didn’t pretend to be something else.

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

Dion Frasier, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“Anwar. You know it’s one of those deals where I talk about it – when I talk about a team, when I talk about buying into a system, when I talk about leadership, when I talk about being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, when I talk about everybody has to play a role. I talk about that season (the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team). That’s my go to sermon, and it’s so engrained in who I am and it’s a matter of me knowing I played a vital role on that team and so it’s something that’s extremely special.”

Reverend Dion Frasier was a junior on the 1990-91 Yale Cup and Section VI Class B championship teams. He was a senior my first year on the team, the 1991-92 season. In my book project, I credit Dion and two other seniors for helping keep the 1991-92 team together. It was a tough season which could’ve easily come off the rails. He and his peers were sorely missed once they graduated. In our interview, he discussed how the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team regularly comes up in his Sunday sermons 30 years later.

Jermaine Fuller, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“I know that Coach Jones always suggested that we ‘get in shape’ and maybe lift weights, etc., but nothing was ever mandatory or scheduled. I look at schools today that have actual WEIGHT PROGRAMS, something we did not have at Tech (maybe it did not exist at any Buffalo Public Schools?). I do agree that Jones kept us aerobically conditioned during the season. He did keep us running, etc. And I always appreciated the early morning free throw shooting. Until this day I remember that and think that was an excellent practice.”

No. 30 Jermaine Fuller and I were teammates for the 1991-92 and the 1992-93 seasons. I didn’t interview him verbally as I did most of the other players. He graciously answered the questions I shared with him electronically though. He pointed out that Coach Jones indeed highly encouraged us to lift weights and get stronger. “A good strong player is better than a good weak player,” Coach Jones told us all the time. There was however no formal weight training program for us though. This meant that most of us were left to our own devices and had to figure it out, if at all.

Carlos James Gant, Player, City Honors High School

“If I could do it over again, I would – I think one of the things I personally conceded was – it had to be the system. I think the system helped us be successful. What I learned more in my senior year is that you still have to be you as an athlete as well. As an example, there were times when you had to sacrifice parts of your game for the team and I’m all for that. But I think you can also get lost in that. There were times when I could’ve been more aggressive offensively and defensively. We played within the system.”

When I was at Hutch-Tech, the City Honors Boys’ Basketball Team followed a similar trajectory to our 1990-91 team. They improved every year and matured into a competitive team by the time the core of their team were seniors. One of them was Carlos James Gant. In our interview he spoke to something that I didn’t figure out during my short window playing the game. That is figuring out how to play in a system versus just playing and then switching between the two. It’s something many players struggle with and don’t figure out until they’re done playing.

George Gayles, Player, Bennett High School

“After the Festival of Lights game, Veronica (Coach Larry Veronica) said I had a nice arc on my shot. He said, ‘I have him because he shoots really well.’ My shot was terrible at that time. He also may not have had enough people, and he saw that I had an eagerness for the game and a heart and a willingness to learn. Students like that, you can’t not let them on the team. I would rather have ten kids like that than a couple who have a horrible attitude and are uncoachable. The two people we had on our team that year were really good. Years later when I met up with them at Shoshone Park, one asked, ‘It’s like that now?’ I was able to keep up with them now and it wasn’t like that in high school.”

Like Coach Quinn Coffey, I met George Gayles at SUNY Brockport. George played for the Bennett Tigers under Coach Larry Veronica. George described himself as a ‘project’ in high school like me at Hutch-Tech. He wanted to play but was undeveloped and learned where he could. In our interview, he described how Coach Veronica saw that he wanted to play and had a willingness to learn. George further went on to discuss how he looked for coachable players himself years later. He further talked about how he met up with two of the best players on his Bennett teams years later and had grown to their skill level. Our growth as players continues often times beyond our organized playing days.

Anthony Harris, Player, Burgard Vocational High School

“But back then when we were juniors, there were some pretty good ball players. Emerson had a good team. They had Glen Mayfield, Paul Tolbert. As a matter of fact, do you remember Bernie Tolbert? The FBI guy? His brother played basketball. He was a guard. Paul Tolbert, he was sweet. They were some pretty competitive dudes back then. As a matter of fact, Phil came out after me and was playing. I think he got rookie of the year on the freshman team at Bennett. As a matter of fact, he might’ve cracked the varsity team when he was a sophomore. I’m not sure but oh yeah, they were pretty competitive back then. And then Lafayette had this guy named George Stevens, a dark skinned brotha. He was bad!”

A part of my story is discovering key information about family by accident and after it’s needed. I didn’t discover that my Uncle Anthony Harris was himself an accomplished basketball player back in his day. He played alongside Eugene Roberson at Burgard and even matched up with Bennett’s Bob Lanier during those years. During our interview, we discussed the Yale Cup and Buffalo basketball from years past. It was the era of the Buffalo Braves and when there was only one court at Delaware Park.

Ed Harris, Player, Riverside High School

“I went to camps every year. Russ made sure of that. Most of all of us went to the local camps, the Canisiuses, the University at Buffalos and the Buff State camps. We all went to those. I don’t know if Russ and those local colleges had some sort of agreement, but we were all at those and I can’t say that was the case for all the other city schools. Like I said, we were one of the only schools that had a 20-game schedule. Russ did a little bit more than the other coaches did. I think he knew the significance of it, I would say – to get that exposure, to get us out into those games to see those different environments which helps when you go away for school. You’re not just out in the city playing city games. You’re experiencing their culture, the suburban culture.”

The 1991-92 Riverside Frontiersman won both the Yale Cup title and Section VI Class C Championships. One of their leaders was the versatile Edmund Harris. Like a lot of teams, the Frontiersman ascent was gradual. During our discussion, Harris’ description of Coach Bill Russell reminded me of Coach Ken Jones. They were both students of the game. They cared about their players, gave thorough instruction and meticulously their schedule their games each year. In both instances, their efforts weren’t always appreciated at the time.

Frankie Harris, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“Mike Brundige had a lot of talent. He also had a little attitude, you know what I mean? He was about 6’5”. And he can still get up and down the court right now. In the 40 and over league, he can get up and down, and I think he can still dunk! But he didn’t always buy into what Coach Jones was trying to do. With Coach Jones you had to be disciplined in terms of being a team player and sometimes he would just get on you. And he didn’t handle that well. So he had his days, but he was a good basketball player. Jerome Freeman and Ed Lenard, they came off the bench. They gave us defense and energy. They were defensive stoppers. They were quick! They were team players.”

My essay discussing the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team and their magical acknowledged two groups of players. I acknowledged those who took the court that season. I also acknowledged those who were instrumental in building the program but graduated before the championship years. That happens with many championship teams. One of the players was Frankie Harris whom I met Coach Jones’ funeral service. In our interview, we talked about a player named Michael Brundige. He was physically gifted but butted heads with Coach Jones regularly due to his attitude and temperament. Mike was 6’5” and very athletic though. Many coaches face the dilemma of keeping highly talented players even if there will likely be personality conflicts.

Keith Hearon, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“It definitely taught me that nothing comes for free (the game of basketball). You have to work hard. You have to pay your dues for the benefit, and nothing is going to come for free. You have to work hard if you want the success. And then really life and basketball are not too far disconnected. That’s something that kind of stayed with me. They go hand in hand. Every lesson in basketball is a lesson about life.”

Keith Hearon was a teammate on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team for the 1991-92 and the 1992-93 seasons. A member of the Class of 1993, he was a year ahead of me. “Stretch” as Coach Jones referred to him my junior season was mature and even keeled personality-wise. He was a wiry 6’5” and played center for our team and was very reliable. This quote from him once again captures the essence of my book project. Hard work is involved in most anything worthwhile activity or goal in life. Finally, basketball and life are interrelated. The game teaches you about life.

Derrick Herbert, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“I think he (Coach Jones) and I got along because I was that guy who was always on the floor diving for loose balls and taking charges. Whenever “Ice Cream” (Marcus Whitfield), or Nigel (Bostic) who were some of the best players in the city at the time in the public school system, when we played those teams, I had to guard them – and I got lit up a lot too. But I think that he appreciated that I was willing to take on that challenge because I would dive for the loose ball, this, that and the third and our relationship was pretty cool. It did have its contentious times. But for the most part we had a good relationship. I pushed back a little bit, but he would always have his ways of getting his point across and in hindsight, he was always right.”

“You have to talk to D-Herb!” Jerrold “Pep” Skillon told me that I need to talk a senior from the 1989-90 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team at Coach Jones’ funeral service. I had only seen Derrick Herbert in pictures like the other members of this class. I acknowledged them in my essay dedicated to the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. They helped lay the groundwork for the 1990-91 championship season. In our discussion, Derrick talked a lot about Coach Jones, and their relationship. As with many of the players, it wasn’t a 100% smooth all the time. He ultimately appreciated Coach Jones, his coaching and his teachings though.

Reggie Hokes, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“Yes, I knew I wanted to play varsity basketball right away. I knew about Ritchie Campbell and Cliff Robinson. I knew about those guys. I heard about Christian Laettner. I was familiar with Trevor Ruffin because we had a park called 75 and they would come down and play and they’d call it ‘Live at 75’, and they used to have games down there – Ritchie and all of them would have summer league games. Ritchie actually stayed around the corner from me. He stayed in the Willard Park Projects, about five blocks from where I stayed on Emslie.”

I first saw No. 22 Reggie Hokes play basketball at the William-Emslie YMCA. He was a pass first point guard, and I was amazed at this ability to assist the ball like Magic Johnson in the open court. I enjoyed playing with him as he always looked for you in the open court on fast breaks. He came to Hutch-Tech during a bit of a youth movement where underclassmen fought to play right away. This was in large part inspired by the University of Michigan’s Fab Five. In all my interviews, I asked the guys who their influences were. Some names came up regularly in terms of the Buffalo basketball. One of them was the great Ritchie Campbell as was in Reggie’s case.

Earl Holmes, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“He (my father) said my grades weren’t up to par so he didn’t let me play anymore that year. He told me if I couldn’t keep a GPA and play, then something had to go. That sophomore year was the same and first year I played football too. So, he was like, ‘If you’re gonna play all these sports, you’d better make sure these grades are up to par. As of right now, basketball is off the shelf. I can’t do anything about football because football season is over with, but if these grades don’t improve during the school year, then you won’t be playing football either. I was an A student all my life. I just chalk it up to normal teenage rebellion. I was having some success, so I felt like I didn’t have to work as hard and I wasn’t putting all my effort into my elective courses.”

Earl Holmes was an outspoken multi-sport athlete from the Hutch-Tech’s Class of 1995 (football and basketball). We were teammates on the 1993-94 boys’ basketball team. We were almost teammates on the 1992-93 team. His father “Big Earl” took him off the team because his grades slipped below the Honor Roll level. This always stood out to me because I didn’t have a stringent requirement academically in my home. My grades were average my entire four years, and I wouldn’t have made the standard in Earl’s house. Academics tripped up a lot of players, me included that year. Some parents mandated their kids not just do enough to get by, but to excel academically. That was the case with Mr. Holmes.

Ronald Jennings, Player, Campus West and Turner/Carroll High School

“My first two years I was playing both football and basketball. I was playing freshman-junior varsity ball with coach Fred Bachelors. Fred is now the head coach at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. And then, in my junior year, I dedicated myself to football. Actually, my first two years, I played football, basketball and baseball. And then my junior year, I just played football and baseball.”

Reverend Ronald Jennings was my first ever point guard in an organized basketball setting. We were teammates for two years on the Campus West/College Learning Laboratory Bengals Boys’ Basketball Team in middle school. I looked up No. 21 and was in awe of him. I didn’t know how to develop so that I could play alongside of him and contribute to the team. This is a key theme throughout my journey/story. Ronald coincidentally assisted my first basket in an organized game, something I can still see in my mind today. While I went off to Hutch-Tech for high school, Ronald went off to Turner/Carroll. There he played football, basketball, and baseball before focusing completely on football. Afterwards, he focused completely on his Christian faith and ministry.

Brandon Jones, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“Neither of my parents were athletes, so they were like, ‘You’re playing basketball, we’ll come to the games.’ They weren’t necessarily coaching me up. So, he (Coach Richardson) was the first one to see something in me that I didn’t see in myself yet. And he rode me hard. I was not allowed to play in gym class as a senior. He’d say, ‘I want you jumping rope! I want you doing this or that. You’re good enough to play at the next level, and I think I can get you there, but you’ve got to want it. Stop being lazy!’ He was really hard on me and at the time I thought, ‘Why in the hell is he doing this?’ And now 20 years later and I can’t believe I was saying that. I can look back and say, ‘I know why he was doing that.’”

I didn’t overlap with Brandon Jones in terms playing on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. Brandon was a versatile front court player who could put the ball on the floor and shoot it from long-range. I wanted to know what the basketball program was like at Hutch-Tech after Coach Ken Jones retired. Coach Francis Daumen (above) took over for my senior year and then stepped down opening the way for Coach Richardson. Thus, it was educational to talk with Brandon to understand what things were like under Coach Richardson’s leadership. Like a lot of players, Brandon didn’t understand why Coach Richardson was hard on him. The same was true later with Coach Dick Bihr at Buffalo State College who yelled at him constantly. Later, like a lot of players, he realized that it wasn’t out of contempt or malice. It was done to get the best out of him.

Quincy Lee, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“Curt Brooks? It was his first time making the team, sophomore year. He had a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t make it freshman year. Curt Brooks was vicious. Curt Brooks was going to go the distance with anybody. He was dedicated and the thing is, I ended up moving with my father in my sophomore year and moving around the corner from Curt Brooks. Me and Curt Brooks, you go to the park and play every day, winter time, it didn’t matter what temperature it was or what was going on, we would play every day just trying to get better to make sure the team was better. Curt Brooks never stopped trying to get better. EVER! He was a worker and definitely motivated. Jones loved him too. He loved Curt. Curt earned it though. He was a hard worker, and he was 100% into basketball.”

No. 11 Quincy Lee was one of the seniors on the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. Coincidentally he also attended Campus West but was four years ahead of me. He agreed to be interviewed after reaching out to him on Facebook. He told three of the other seniors what I was doing and opened the door for me to interview them. I looked at the 1990-91 team as a utopia. Quincy revealed that playing for Coach Jones wasn’t a bed of roses which was helpful to learn for perspective. He loved the game and wanted to play though and toughed it out. The support of his teammates and faculty members helped as well. He eventually settled in and got back to playing his game. In addition to discussing Coach Jones, he spoke very highly their point guard No. 13 Curtis Brooks (discussed above).

Pat Monti, Coach, LaSalle Senior High School

“Everyone was there – Mike Kryzewski (Duke) and Digger Phelps (Notre Dame) – all the bigtime coaches. It was a game for the ages. I can still see it as if it was yesterday, and it was 1988. Nobody led by more than four – they didn’t take us for granted this time – they were very well coached. It was back and forth, back and forth – just an incredible high school basketball game. I think that with about a minute or so left, we might’ve been up four. They came down (Christian Laettner’s Nichols team), scored, called time out and cut it to two. I only had one time out left and I’ve always taught my young coaches to save your time outs for the fourth quarter. If you know, you’re going to be in a tight ballgame, don’t waste time outs. It’s amazing how simple it sounds and how important it is in coaching.”

My first-time seeing Coach Pat Monti’s LaSalle Explorers play was in a lopsided loss they handed our Hutch-Tech team. It was in the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament in their gym. They were in the middle of 10-year run in which they dominated the Section VI Class A playoff bracket. They were our area’s regular Class A representative in the Far West Regional game with the Rochester area champion. At stake was a trip to the Final Four in Glens Falls. Coach Monti saw many great players over the years on his bench and his opponent’s. This excerpt from our interview discussed one of LaSalle’s many matchups with Christian Laettner and his Nichols teams. LaSalle won the New York State Class B Federation Championship after defeating the Vikings.

*To read the full interview, see parts one, two and three.

Roderick “Spanky” Peoples, Hutch-Tech High School

“I started playing basketball when I was about 10 and I thought I was pretty good. It wasn’t until meeting Adonis Coble for the first time and getting cremated by him and two others in a game of three on three, that I became serious about improving my game.”

Roderick “Spanky” Peoples was a first-year player along with me and other on the 1991-92 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. He played football as well and had quite the motor, bringing a fearlessness and intensity. Like a lot of guys from his Class of 1993, he had a bit of a mischievous side. I admittedly didn’t know what to make of him at times. Going into the 1992-93 season, his senior year, and my junior year, he developed significantly as a basketball player. I don’t think that season turned in a way either of us expected. In hindsight, he taught me a lot about competition and toughness.

Brian Reith, Player, Hamburg High School

“But then when the season was over, we’d pick up our baseball gloves and jump into baseball season and play baseball. And then summer would come and then there would be this interesting mix between summer baseball leagues and then pickup basketball and there was always this combination. And when fall would come, some kids played football or soccer. I played volleyball, I was one of the few people and I loved that I did that. I wasn’t allowed to play football. I wasn’t big enough to play and wasn’t going to do much good if I did, but we played three different sports and we didn’t stick with basketball all year round. So, when it came back to basketball season, some of us were lacing them up for the first time in months, which I’m sure made it more difficult for our coaches.”

Brian Reith was the only player from one of the Erie County Interscholastic Conferences (ECICs) that I interviewed. He reached out to me after reading my Carlos Bradberry interview. He and his Hamburg Bulldogs were quite familiar with the LaSalle Explorers in those days due to their many sectional matchups. It was big to talk to him because I wanted to know what it was like to play in one of the suburban conferences. I had driven past Hamburg numerous times but had never stopped there. Most of the suburbs of Buffalo felt like distant worlds to me. In this excerpt from our interview, Brian discussed what he and his teammates did in the basketball offseason. While other kids worked on their basketball games in the offseason, they played other sports. They didn’t give basketball a serious look until the next winter.

Phillip Richardson, Coach, Hutch-Tech High School

“The thing is I knew Reggie’s father. I knew Earl’s father. I knew Brian’s mother and father. His mother’s brother was married to your Aunt Melva. That was the connection. So, when I made them stay after to run wind sprints, nobody said nothing about, ‘You’re killing my kid!’ No, they already knew that I wasn’t a knucklehead and wasn’t trying to be mean. So, I knew their fathers and some of their moms, and they knew that I had their best interests at heart.”

A central theme to my project The Engineers is benefiting from the knowledge sets within your family (and not). Coach Phil Richardson is a second cousin on my mother’s side. I didn’t spend a lot of time around him in my youth prior to high school due to life circumstances. I thus didn’t learn about his vast sports history until he arrived at Hutch-Tech in the fall of 1993. In hindsight, I could’ve benefitted from his knowledge years earlier. He didn’t assume the reigns of the head basketball coach until the fall of 1994 after I graduated. He inherited a talented crop of players the 1994-95 season. Based upon similar backgrounds, he was the most well-suited coach to teach and motivate them of the coaches they’d had.

Jason Rowe, Player, Buffalo Traditional High School

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

I had already conducted several interviews by the time I got to talk to Bishop Timon’s Coach Jason Rowe. I told him that his interview was ‘the big one’ as it lent credibility to what I was doing. We still laugh about it today. He, Damien Foster and the Buffalo Traditional Bulls became a force to be reckoned with in Western New York, across the state and beyond. In all my interviews I asked the guys who their influences were. Each had players they looked up to at the college and professional levels. Jason came from a basketball family, but he also looked up to two great guards from our area. They were Trevor Ruffin and Ritchie Campbell, two of the greatest guards to ever play in the Yale Cup.

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

Bill Russell, Coach, Riverside High School

“My priority was defense. We spent a lot of time practicing that. We played primarily a lot of man- to- man, or a man- to- man trapping defense, not very much 2-3 zone. It was my least favorite defense, and we didn’t play a lot of that. Defense was my biggest priority. I think we did a good job. When I say defense, I don’t just mean man-to- man or each player was good defensively, but we really worked on the team concept of man-to-man defense. We spent a lot of time with that in practice. Offensively I had some structure. We worked really hard on having some structure. We also worked hard on having a team concept, team practiced fast breaks, so that was a big part of our philosophy as well. We worked on a lot of fast break offense, but we also had some structure to what we were doing offensively. We spent a lot of practice time on that too. Defense was a priority, but I thought we paid attention to some other details as well.”

One of my final interviews for The Engineers was with Coach Bill Russell who guided the Riverside Boys Basketball Team when I was a player at Hutch-Tech. I didn’t know much about the Frontiersman besides their clinching the Yale Cup title by beating us my sophomore year. Coach Russell turned out to be a student of the game and a basketball junkie like Coach Jones. He also cared about his players and wanted to make sure they had the best experience under his leadership.

Jermaine “J-Bird” Skillon, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“I used to go on the bus trips with them when they would play in the holiday tournaments. I used to scrimmage with them. So, when I came in, Mr. Shae knew me. The seniors then, Kev Roberson, he was from my hood, so I knew them. Flash, I went to their tournaments, and I played with him, so I knew them. When I came in, Shae said, ‘There’s a new coach.’”

Jermaine “J-Bird” Skillon played on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team for three years. He was a member of the Class of 1992 like Reverend Dion Frasier (discussed above). He’s the younger brother of Jerrold “Pep” Skillon discussed below. He played football and basketball and had lots of game on the basketball court. We didn’t overlap as teammates. You’ll have to read my story to learn about that but talking to him was valuable. It gave me a balanced perspective of the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team under Coach Jones’ watch, like Quincy Lee’s account. It wasn’t always necessarily the utopia that I thought it was when looking on from the bleachers.

Jerrold “Pep” Skillon, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“Hey, I have a quick question for you. Did you watch John Calipari’s 30 for 30 on ESPN? Well, what he said made sense. Sacrifice so your brother can succeed too. How can you be mad? If everybody wins off of it – I thought that was big when I saw that from Calipari. That does make sense. How many players felt like I held it back? But again, you sacrificed to win, and you sacrificed so your brother can receive. That’s what makes LeBron good. LeBron is unselfish to a fault. There’s no question he’s the best player out there, but he wants to see his teammates succeed, and that gives them the confidence to certain things to help them win. Don’t get me wrong. I get it if people think they could’ve don’t better. I get it. I get it. Would I sacrifice that senior year to have a better individual career and to go to a better school? HELL naw, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I don’t know about them. I wouldn’t.”

Arguably the most fun of all the interviews I conducted was that which Jerrold “Pep” Skillon. Pep was a key piece of the 1990-91 Yale Cup and Class B sectional championship teams. Like his brother, he was a two-sport athlete (football and basketball). You could hear the enthusiasm about those times in Pep’s voice throughout our discussion. In this excerpt from our discussion, Pep shared a little-known secret in athletics and life. In many instances, you must give to get. In this context, winning in basketball involves buying into the team concept and sacrificing for your brothers. The stars on most teams all learned this at one point or another.

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

“When I went to college, I played Division III at the Coast Guard Academy. I didn’t play varsity, but instead played on the equivalent of our JV squad. We played against a bunch of junior colleges and prep schools. I’ll say that I was able to shoot the ball a lot more. I look back though, and I think if we were able to play defense like we did in high school, we would’ve been able to keep up with a bunch of those teams. So, shooting the ball wasn’t always the best policy. I would’ve liked to have scored more, but from a personal thing, I valued winning over scoring. If I could’ve scored, I might’ve finished my career 10 points a game my senior year. If I scored 15 and it takes points from someone else or leaves time on the clock – I’d rather win than get mine, and I still think some guys, they also wanted to win too, but they wanted to get theirs. And that’s a hard thing to balance when they’re 15, 16 or 17 years old.”

No. 44 Chris Souter was a member of the Class of 1992. He was one of the seniors my sophomore year on the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. In opinion, he was part of the glue that held our 1991-92 team together. In our interview he had many insightful things to say about his time playing under Coach Ken Jones. Like most of Coach Jones’ players, he teaches the same lessons and drills to his kids. This excerpt from our interview goes back to the principle of sacrificing for the team to win. He further discussed the complexities of getting a group of teenagers to buy into a common vision, especially today.

Darris Thomas, Player, Niagara Falls Senior High School

“We had motion. We had plays. He would draw it up but think about it (Coach Vazanni). The key thing in anything is adjustments because when you run a play for four quarters, they know it and they adjust. He meant well, but he wasn’t a good adjuster. When the defense adjusted, he didn’t have the smarts to adjust like Pat Monti. You knew Carlos (Bradberry) was the guy and you came out with a box and one on Carlos. Guess what, he specialized in getting Carlos open still (laughing). He didn’t just say, ‘Carlos is locked up, so we’ll go to Tim or Jody. No, I’m going to free Carlos up. I don’t care if you have a box and one. You know what I mean? That was the difference in Pat Monti. He was more daring, ‘Okay. You think you’re going to stop me, but I’m going to draw something up!’ So, what did he do? He brought Carlos off two or three screens. I remember. A box and one, you have to get through two to three screens and by that time, the defender is tired. Just strategies.”

My research for The Engineers revealed that Niagara Falls was a breeding ground for great basketball players. It turned out that LaSalle and Niagara Falls Senior High Schools had a Duke vs North Carolina-type of rivalry. LaSalle won most of those matchups, but the games were like wars. All the kids knew each other and competed in the Biddy Leagues. Darris Thomas starred for the Power Cats while I was at Hutch-Tech. His opinion was that the teams weren’t very different talent-wise. The difference was that LaSalle had Coach Pat Monti who both loved the game and cared about his kids. It wasn’t that way at every school.

Charles “Chuck” Thompson, Player, Hutch-Tech High School

“He knew what he wanted. You had to work hard. It was natural for us because we already had good skills and just needed to be molded into that direction in which we needed to go. It was a way of weeding out the players from the not so good players, but more so for us, especially me, Pep, Curt and Quincy. We already had that background in terms of being good players. We just needed that right connection in terms of putting us all together and Coach Jones had that.”

The 6’5” Chuck Thompson was the center for the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. He also attended Campus West for grade school and was a two-sport guy (football and basketball). He led the 1990-91 Engineers in rebounding and described himself as the “black hole”. When the ball was thrown into the post to him, it wasn’t coming back out. Chris Souter recalled how Thompson was clutch from the free throw line and had a soft touch for a bigger guy. In this excerpt from our interview, he discussed how Coach Jones effectively molded their group into a winner.

Dennis Wilson, Player, Turner/Carroll High School and Riverside High School

“Nah, he wasn’t a yeller (Coach Fajri Ansari). He would yell, but he wasn’t a – Faj is a good guy, I really can’t say – he was a good coach. We always kind of – and I don’t know if this is a public school thing or an African American thing, but we always had problems with St. Joe’s because we didn’t understand the Xs and Os of basketball. They were good athletes – they were probably as good athletically – we were probably a little bit more athletic, but they just understood the game. They just understood the game period. There’s a lot of fine details you have to understand as you go along in any art. Like blogging, I’m sure there’s some dos and some don’ts in terms of techniques that you use, and once you understood those, you became a better blogger. Some people just have the gift of writing, but they still have to learn the process and the craft, and for a lot of basketball players, they understand how to play, but the mental aspect of it, you have to learn and for some reason, we’re just a little bit slow in learning those things.”

Dennis Wilson played at both Turner/Carroll and Riverside High Schools. As such, he got to experience high school basketball in both a private school and a public school. In this excerpt from our interview, Dennis discussed the importance of understanding basketball as a craft. He observed that the teams at Turner/Carroll frequently struggled with the perennial power St. Joe’s. Because St. Joe’s was always proficient in terms of Xs and Os, they were able regularly best more athletic teams.

Tim Winn, Player, LaSalle Senior High School

“We all grew up playing in the Biddy League, so you were already cool with these guys. So the transition to being their teammate on the Varsity was seamless, because we were already like brothers. I lived two houses down from Carlos when I was in high school. Before I became a varsity player, I was at his house everyday playing video games. That’s the environment we were in – most of the guys who played varsity hung out together. You grew up playing against the older kids, and a lot of those guys were the older kids. So to become their teammate was almost expected, and that we would all eventually play together.”

As described in my discussion about Darris Thomas above, most of the players at LaSalle and Niagara Falls Senior High Schools knew each other before they got to high school. They not only knew each other’s games, but they also knew each other personally. This created an increased camaraderie and chemistry later. In this excerpt from our discussion, Tim Winn discussed knowing Carlos Bradberry before getting to LaSalle. This probably had something to do with the immediate success experienced once joining the Explorers that winter of 1992.

The Pictures Used In This Offering

The pictures used in this offering come from several different sources. Some came from the late Coach Ken Jones. This project wouldn’t have been possible without the vast basketball records he kept. Some pictures came from Coach Pat Monti. At least one came from Laura Lama, a classmate from Hutch-Tech high school who still had all her yearbooks. Some came from my own records. It wasn’t clear what pictures to use and as you can see the final lineup is an assortment of pictures of players, box scores and visuals from some of Coach Jones’ materials. Some are location shots from Western New York.

Just like the players and coaches I interviewed, the pictures are a snapshot of that time and era in the Western New York high school basketball scene. I think this is appropriate because my book project, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story is just one story in the entire fabric of that time. Likewise, during that time, I looked around and saw other players teams either excelling or going through the same struggles I experienced (or some mixture of the two) during my own unique journey.

While I attempted to give each interviewee a picture that related to them, I also sprinkled in pictures of other notable players of the time whom I didn’t interview. Some of them include Fredonia’s No. 24 Mike Heary, Kenmore East’s No. 22 Mike O’Bryan and Cleveland Hill’s No. 23 Carlton Holder. The thumbnail for this piece is Cardinal O’Hara’s No. 12 Ryan Cochran whose team went on its own magical run during my senior year. Interestingly, I hadn’t heard of Cardinal O’Hara High School until that year. This offering also features the first image of myself that I’ve used in any of these writings. Can you identify me?

Closing Thoughts

The opening excerpt/quote for this piece comes from Coach Samuel “Quinn” Coffey. I highlighted it because I think captures the essence of my book project and life itself. One of the ingredients to being successful in the great game of basketball is hard work. Depending upon your circumstance and situation, your hard work could go unrecognized. You must figure out how to push forward though. And just because your work is unrecognized in that moment, it doesn’t mean it always will be. It also doesn’t mean that it won’t pay off at some point.

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.

More Related Content

I’ve 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 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 with some 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. You can also email me at bwllcnl@gmail.com to register as well. Regards.

The 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team: An Inspiration For My Story And My Life

“Don’t get me wrong. I get it if people think they could’ve done better (individually). I get it. Would I sacrifice that senior year to have a better individual career and to go to a better school? HELL NAH! I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I don’t know about them. I wouldn’t!”

Another Promotional Essay For The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story

This essay is another promotional piece for my two-part book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. To learn more about the project, visit the overview page I created for it here on Big Words Authors. As described in earlier pieces I’ve created surrounding book, I’ve conducted considerable research for this project. A part of this research involved interviewing 30-40 players and coaches from Section VI, and from my era. For those unfamiliar, Section VI is the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s (NYPHSAA’s) western-most section, encompassing the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, and Orleans.

Some of the pictures used in this essay come from an archive of Section VI basketball. It was assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones. Other pictures were taken from yearbooks from Hutch-Tech High School from the early 1990s. Coach Jones is discussed throughout this piece and is hyperlinked to a previous essay. Finally, a video about him from my sports YouTube channel is embedded at the end of this essay.

The Story Of The 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team

“That was a great feeling being around a group of guys who played together and really liked being around each other!”

During my freshman year at Hutch-Tech High School, the 1990-91 Engineers went on a magical run winning our city league, the “Yale Cup” with a record of 13-0. They then marched through the Section VI Class B playoff bracket to win that championship. Their season ended one game short of a berth in the State Final Four in Glens Falls, NY, which I’ll discuss later. From my vantage point at the time, it was a very big deal. Afterwards I dreamt of doing what they did.

Interestingly, my research revealed multiple points of view on that magical season. It also revealed the significance of the 1990-91 team’s accomplishments relative to those of other Section VI teams of that era. In my book project, there is an entire bonus chapter dedicated to the 1990-91 Engineers. However, I also wanted to create a promotional/teaser piece just dedicated to them.

We Didn’t Do Anything That Spectacular! A Perspective On The Story

“When I heard you wanted to interview me, I was thinking, ‘Man, we weren’t a special team. We didn’t do anything that spectacular,’” said No. 13, Curtis Brooks (pictured above guarding Mike Mitchell of Williamsville South High School). He was the starting point guard and one of the leaders of the 1990-91 team. It was a summer-fall day when I interviewed him in downtown Washington, DC at L’ Enfant Plaza. We sat outside at lunch time, and you could hear the flurry of government workers and contractors walking by as well as the commuter trains coming and going in the background.

One of the most exciting interviews for me was that with No. 13. In The Engineers, I describe him as the ‘engine’ that drove the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys Basketball Team during its magical season. Interestingly, while I looked back at Brooks, his teammates, and their accomplishments with reverence, he surprisingly wondered what they had done that was so special.

Keep in mind that we were both in our 40s at the time. We both travelled the country and had many experiences outside of Buffalo. Furthermore, in all honesty, when you think about high school state championships, NCAA championships and NBA world championships, how big a deal is it to win your city league and sectional championships in high school? In comparison to the former three accomplishments, maybe it isn’t that big a deal. However, for a freshman just coming into the school with little understanding of the game and its multiple contexts and layers, it was a very big deal.

We Still Don’t Know How Ya’ll Did That!

“We weren’t the most talented team, but we knew each other. What that team had been through with Jones (Coach Ken Jones), we were comfortable with the system, and everyone had gotten better. We had played together,” Jerrold “Pep” Skillon said regarding the 1990-91 team’s championship run. “To this day, some of the players from the other the Yale Cup teams still say, ‘We still don’t know how ya’ll did that!’” I laughed at this revelation by Skillon as I could imagine the disbelief of players from the other schools continuing years later. How did Hutch-Tech of all the 14 Yale Cup schools do that?

“We did have some good players but even if you were better talent-wise, we had better team chemistry! That goes back to what you were saying in terms of the teams you played on – they didn’t have that chemistry. It was like everybody for themselves,” Skillon continued contrasting his experience with mine. “Well, we didn’t have that! These were my boys. We all came up in high school together, and we hung out after games. We were boys!”

Going 13-0 In The Yale Cup

By the way, how common was it to go 13-0 in the Yale Cup? In some of our last talks, our late coach, Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, a central character in my story, asked me to investigate who had done it before his beloved 1990-91 team. Approximately four years earlier, the Trevor Ruffin-led Bennett “Tigers” did it on their way to the State Class B Final Four in Glens Falls, NY.

I believe the Buffalo Traditional Bulls, led by Damien Foster and Jason Rowe, did it in their magical senior seasons in 1995-96 (all their seasons were magical in my opinion). It also turns out that Hutch-Tech had done it back in the 1970s. Someone on Facebook who commented an earlier Engineers team had done it when I shared the overview page for The Engineers in the group, “You know you’re from Buffalo, NY if……”. Regardless, it was a head scratcher for many at the time that the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team got it done in the fashion they did.

Losing To Buffalo Traditional By 49 And Marcus Whitfield Scoring 50 Points

“I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t embarrassed. I remember to this day, the Traditional game sophomore year. They beat us by 49 points. I never lost a game like that game in my life! We were embarrassed. My cousin went there, and Traditional had a bunch of pretty girls,” Pep Skillon said reflecting on a lopsided loss to Buffalo Traditional his sophomore year, Coach Jones’ first year. “We go in there and everybody’s got their hair cut, all that. We got stomped!

“Don’t get me wrong, they were one of the best teams in the area at the time. They went on a run to the states that year, whatever, but I remember that. They stomped us. I’ll never forget that game, they stomped us out. That was an embarrassing game sophomore year.”

“Marcus Whitfield, he scored 50 points on us! We were losing but we were like, ‘He’s not going to get 50 on us,’ but then he got 50 on the nose. We did have some pride, but we didn’t have the horses,” Skillon continued. “I remember that Burgard game where they blew us out because he scored 50 and the Traditional game. Those games stood out because that was the first time, I was embarrassed on the basketball court. We didn’t fight hard. Traditional beat us by 49 points and he put up 50 points again us (Whitfield).”

Experiencing Sobering Losses Early On: Iron Sharpening Iron

“I think we went 3-15. It was miserable in the sense that you never want to be part of a losing team. That was the year – I played against Ritchie Campbell, Marcus Whitfield – we played Burgard at home that year and I think we lost by 60 points (laughing),” said Reverend Dion Frasier of his freshman season. “Man, these cats – Ritchie was throwing the ball off the backboard and ‘Ice Cream’ was catching it and dunking it.

“They KILLED us! Ice Cream was Marcus Whitfield. They waxed us but that was a memorable game for me because that was the first time, I ever played in a varsity game. I got in the game because we were getting blown out and that’s when I scored my first two points. It was miserable, but it was fun!”

These two excerpts from my discussions with Pep Skillon and Dion Frasier, were fun to listen to and educational as well. The core players of the 1990-91 Engineers not only grew up in Coach Jones’ system together, but they also experienced several difficult losses early on which helped galvanize them as a team. Furthermore, they got experience playing against some of the Yale Cup’s all-time greats including Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield. I’d heard about the legend of Ritchie Campbell before, but this was my first time hearing about Marcus Whitfield’s brilliance.

The “Risk Factor”: A Key Ingredient To The 1990-91 Team’s Success

There were several keys to the 1990-91 Engineers’ magical season. One was the hands-on experience against some of the area’s greatest players just described. The term “The Risk Factor” came also back to me as I was writing this essay. Coach Jones shared the term with me when we discussed his beloved 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys Basketball Team. As I’ll describe, it involved one of his key basketball teachings, disciplined ‘man to man’ team defense.

“We were small,” said Reverend Dion Frasier reflecting on the 1990-91 season, his junior year. The 1990-91 Engineers weren’t the biggest or most physically talented team that ever took the floor in the Yale Cup. A part of their secret to success though was the disciplined and staunch man to man team defense that they played, particularly their backcourt.

In addition to the above-mentioned No. 13, Curtis Brooks, there was also No. 40, Paul Saunders. Neither guard was taller than 6’2”, but they were stellar defenders. In fact, Coach Jones attributed the team’s success in large part to No. 13’s and No. 40’s defensive tenacity. Their long arms and quick feet allowed them to take ‘risks’ or anticipate/gamble for steals. Likewise, they recovered easily whenever they anticipated incorrectly. Their play created lots of easy baskets for the team, a key ingredient to its success that season. This was one of the ways they were able to score 100 points or more multiple times that season (or close to it).

Was It The Chemistry?

“It was the chemistry that made that team successful, NOT the coaching!” Most of the content I’ve created surrounding my project has lauded Coach Ken Jones. In fact, there are many of us who still look back on him with gratitude and reverence. That said, as described in my piece entitled, Lasting Lessons Basketball Taught Me: Different Things To Different People, he did have his share of detractors and critics. Some of them sat on the bench with him wearing the maroon gold Hutch-Tech uniforms. To learn some more about Coach Jones and his legacy, once again see the embedded video at the end of this essay.

The last quote regarding the team’s chemistry came from a player whom most of us knew around school as ‘J-Bird’. J-Bird was No. 34 Jermaine Skillon, the younger brother of the above-mentioned Pep Skillon. His was another one of my favorite interviews due to the levity in our discussion. J-Bird was yet another talented player on the 1990-91 team, and he was from my brother’s and the above-mentioned Dion Frasier’s Class of 1992. Let’s just say that J-Bird didn’t always see eye to eye with Coach Jones. Looking back, he believed it was the chemistry amongst the core of the 1990-91 team that led to its success that season and not the coaching per se.

I’ve shared this not to stir controversy, but to note that for a given piece of history, there are often multiple points of view, and I think J-Bird’s is worth considering. I experienced the importance of team chemistry during my short basketball journey, and what happens when you don’t have it. It’s also something I’ve witnessed play out in sports as a spectator years after high school. This spans across all levels: high school, college, the pros and even in the Olympics. It even plays a role in work settings.

Playing Both Yale Cup And Fundamental Basketball

“On defense you ANTICIPATE, and on offense you REACT!” This was one of Coach Jones’ most fundamental teachings. Other players in fact attributed the 1990-91 team’s success to Coach Jones’ fundamentals, principles, and his system. As described in many of my writings and videos, Coach Jones’ hallmark teachings were fundamentals, team defense, and both disciplined and unselfishness on offense. He encouraged taking good shots on offense and ‘working’ the ball for uncontested layups. Having played under him for a brief period, and after conducting my many interviews, my conclusion is that the 1990-91 team’s success was a mixture of both the team’s chemistry and Coach Jones’ system.

J-Bird’s brother, Pep, acknowledged that the 1990-91 Engineers were equipped to play multiple styles of basketball. They could play a more ‘up and down’, ‘racehorse’ style of game that the Yale Cup was known for. They were also trained to play the slower more disciplined suburban-style which involved set offenses, often to counter zone defenses. Many Yale Cup teams played zone defenses to prevent penetration and to avoid individual players getting into foul trouble. Many of the suburban teams also played zone, but for the purpose of countering the more athletic style played by most Yale Cup schools.

When necessary, the 1990-91 Engineers were trained to methodically ‘work’ the ball to find good shots for the team. They routinely did this instead of hoisting up the first available shot or driving to the basket with ‘reckless abandon’ as they say. Working the ball was a term Coach Jones used for patiently finding quality shots on offense, and not taking a shot early in a possession if unnecessary. Likewise, many of the suburban teams were astonished to see a Yale Cup school play this way as it was out of character for our league.

More On Chemistry, Competitive Will And Killer Instinct

Again, the chemistry was critical too. If you look throughout sports, the players on most championship teams enjoy being around one another. They often hang out together in their spare time. They unselfishly accept their roles within the unit even if it means not being in the spotlight. If certain players within the team are struggling, the others have a way of encouraging them. Carlos Bradberry, of the LaSalle Explorers, noted this in my interview with him regarding team chemistry.

“Curt Brooks was a warrior! He was at the park every day in the summer before our senior year practicing in a weight jacket,” said another senior from the 1990-91 team, No. 11, Quincy Lee. Brooks was humble about this as well when I asked him about it. It was something he did for a competitive edge and to make up for the hours he spent at his job that summer of 1990, and away from the basketball court.

This is significant because as I learned in my own basketball journey, regardless of how thorough a coach’s system is, it can’t completely cover up a lack of talent and ability, bad team chemistry and a lack of camaraderie. It can sometimes cover up for injuries and having lesser talent. It also can’t give players a sense of drive, killer instinct, or passion. The core of the 1990-91 team had these qualities.

The “Mighty” Hutch-Tech

“On the news at nighttime they called us ‘The MIGHTY Hutch-Tech’!” I was a freshman that 1990-91 season so I didn’t witness all the fanfare surrounding the team. A low grade in one class prevented me from participating in the program early that season as their momentum gradually built. I just watched a few games from the sidelines and listened to the morning announcements, not understanding the significance of everything. The above-mentioned Quincy Lee, one of the seniors on that team shared with me during our interview that one of the news stations gave them a special nickname as they continued winning that season.

“I can’t believe they had us ranked third in the state,” Coach Jones said in my first year on the team (the 1991-92 season) and then years later. After two early season losses to the Willie Cauley-led Niagara Falls Senior High School “Power Cats”, they went on a 17-game winning streak, during which it seemed they couldn’t lose again. That winning streak included going 13-0 in the Yale Cup. They won four more games in postseason play in route to the Section VI Class B championship. They knocked off teams including: Maryvale, Clarence, Kenmore East and Williamsville South. By the way, for all of you basketball junkies out there, Willie Cauley turned out to be the father of the University of Kentucky’s and the NBA’s Willie Cauley-Stein. One of the players from the 1990-91 team revealed this to me in our talks.

Doing It A Different Way

As described earlier, other teams had gone 13-0 in the Yale Cup and went on to make deep runs in postseason play. I’m thinking about the above-mentioned Bennett High School, in addition to Burgard Vocational and Buffalo Traditional High Schools. It was probably how Coach Jones, and his 1990-91 team did it that season that was so impressive. And again, as a novice at the time I didn’t understand everything I was seeing. Researching the entire series of events years later though, it was remarkable in my opinion.

Again, most of the players on that team admitted that athletically, they were small in terms of size. Their tallest player, No. 55, Charles “Chuck” Thompson, was 6’5”. They also didn’t play a flashy style of basketball with lots of high-flying dunks and no-look passes like you would see in some of the old And1 Mixtape Tours, by players like Rafer Alston, best known as ‘Skip 2 My Lou.

A Winning Formula

Instead, they played a patient and disciplined style as described above using fundamentals, disciplined man to man team defense, methodical offensive sets and unselfishness across the board. They talked on defense, boxed out and rebounded the ball, and created an abundance of easy baskets for one another.

“Games are won and lost on the free throw line!” They were also a solid free throw shooting team, one of Coach Jones’ other basketball gospels. They didn’t win every game decisively and it was their free throw shooting which secured some of their close victories. Some victories required late timely baskets by No. 13, Curtis Brooks, from close range or out beyond the three-point arc. Others were due to team efforts where there were balanced point totals, assist and rebounds.

Unselfishly Putting The Puzzle Pieces Together

“Basically, it’s like I said. Everything was a piece of the puzzle. Like me for example. They used to call me the ‘Black Hole’, because they knew that if they threw the ball down to the me that I was going to shoot it! That’s the way that I was when I got the ball,” said Charles Thompson, the center for the team.

“Not everyone had that scoring mentality. I had it, Pep had it, Curt had it. Quincy was the outside three-point shooter. Everybody was learning how to play their role to get us to a point to play better,” Thompson continued. “Because after Frankie (Harris) left, it was just us there, the original people that came in that freshman year. The entire starting five, we could now work together, and we did good.”

It Wasn’t A “Star” System: No One Was Looking To Be A Star

“So that’s what his structure was. We didn’t really have – it really wasn’t like a pro-offense. It wasn’t about dumping the ball down to one person. It was like that, but it wasn’t designed for that,” Curtis Brooks said during our interview. “He (Coach Jones) never said, ‘Get the ball. I want you to SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT!’ He’d say, ‘Move the ball and if you’re in that area, that’s your shot!’ It wasn’t a star system!”

Of the many fascinating aspects of my discussions with Curtis Brooks, none was more fascinating than that of Coach Jones’ offensive philosophy. Still a novice and a ‘project’ at the time, I didn’t understand everything. In a nutshell, Coach Jones taught a team-oriented style of offense where no one player was featured. The focus was on moving the ball and creating good shots for everyone, especially “uncontested” layups. He also encouraged easy baskets off created turnovers.

This arguably conflicted with players who wanted to play “isolation-style” basketball which we learned by default on Buffalo’s playgrounds. It also conflicted with what I call in The Engineers, the ‘Fab Five Era’. It was the era where highly talented younger players came in and immediately demanded to play based upon their talent levels, but not necessarily embracing the coach’s culture and teachings.

A Special Group Of Players

“Jones was looking for a certain kind of kid, a coachable kid!” I could attribute this quote to a single player, but because multiple people stated it, I consider it a recurring, underlying theme. Coach Jones was in fact not looking for the most talented kids, but instead kids who would submit to his coaching and culture, and sacrifice for their teammates.

Keep in mind that this was all at our city’s lone technical high school which required an entrance exam for admittance. In writing my story, I’ve pondered that while Coach Jones knew his fundamentals and was a “true student of the game”, he also gathered a special collection of players at the right time. Interestingly, many of these players decided to attend the school before he got there (see my Kevin Roberson piece). They were coachable, driven, had good chemistry as described above, and they loved playing the game. The latter point is important because some of them went through hard times and pondered quitting but didn’t.

That said, Coach Jones gathered those players in such a way that they all grew up together in his program. They stayed together, and this created a bit of a family. It wasn’t a smooth ride for every player, but they loved each other and the game enough to persevere through the early losing they experienced. They also persevered through their knowledgeable, but at times onery coach, who admitted that if he could go back that, “I would be just as demanding, but more understanding!” He ran the entire program by himself with no regular assistants and no formal modified or junior varsity program feeding him trained up players. Again, remarkable.

“You have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good,” Coach Jones said to his players often among other things. Arguably, there was a bit of luck and circumstance in what the 1990-91 Engineers accomplished. A bit of a ‘vacuum’ was created in the Yale Cup that 1990-91 season. Super stars like the great Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield from Burgard, Trevor Ruffin from Bennett, and Chris Williams from Buffalo Traditional had graduated. This left the championship “up for grabs” as my Uncle Jeff used to say. The next year in the 1991-92 season, the Riverside Frontiersman won the Yale Cup with a record of 11-2. The year after that, the McKinley Macks and the Seneca Indians shared the title with a similar record. The Buffalo Traditional Bulls dominated the league for the next three years.

The Difference One Team Can Make

“It was a nice chapter.” As described in the opening of this piece, Curtis Brooks, the engine who powered the 1990-91 Engineers initially felt that what they did wasn’t that big a deal. I interviewed him twice. The second time we spoke, he acknowledged that for our school at that time, it was in fact a big deal. While they were in Coach Jones’ program doing what they had been groomed to do the previous two to three years, others of us looked on in amazement. When you’re in a little fishbowl like a high school and one of your sports teams is winning in dominant fashion, it is a big deal. It also means something when you see the guys on that team up close around the hallways of the school in between classes. You can start to dream of doing it yourself.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve never forgotten the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Engineers. I learned of them two to three years before getting to Hutch-Tech through my brother Amahl’s yearbooks. Once I got to the school, I wanted to be just like them. I first saw them play in their 93-90 thriller they pulled out against the Grover Cleveland “Presidents”. That day they wore their white tank tops, and their maroon and trunks. They mostly wore black sneakers like the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Yellow ribbons were pinned into their laces in tribute to our military servicemen and women fighting in the Persian Gulf (Operation Desert Storm).

Did I accomplish that goal of being just like them? Well, I would encourage you to check out my book project once its finished. I’ll just say that it was a lot harder than it looked for a number of reasons. The 1990-91 Engineers did, however, inspire me to strive for something for the first time in my young life. They helped teach me a set of lessons that arguably carried me through the rest of my life into multiple arenas.

The Class Of 1992 Seniors: The 1990-91 Team’s Unsung Heroes

“I loved Michael Mann. His head was always in the game!” I couldn’t finish this essay without acknowledging the 1990-91 team’s unsung heroes. On any championship team, there are players in the background contributing who may not get as much recognition.

The times I saw the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team play, I observed that Coach Jones kept a ‘tight player rotation’. He typically subbed in three juniors: No. 21 Michael Mann, No. 24 Dion Frasier, and No. 44 Christain J. Souter. They had been in the program since day one when Coach Jones took it over two years earlier when they were freshman. Like the Class of 1991 seniors, they literally grew up in the program.

Michael Mann usually spelled Curtis Brooks at the point guard position albeit not for long. In our discussions Coach Jones always spoke of Michael Mann affectionately. He always noted that, “His head was always in the game even if he wasn’t on the floor.” The next year I found that he also supported his teammates even when he was sidelined by injury and unable to play. He always kept a positive attitude, something not easy to do.

Chris Souter and Dion Frasier got in to play defense and took the occasional open shots that year. The three of them were the tri-captains, the next year for the 1991-92 team, my sophomore season and first year on the team. They were arguably the last remnants of the culture Coach Jones originally established when he got to Hutch-Tech.

It Was The Culture

“It was the culture. Jones set the culture,” Pep Skillon said discussing the basketball program Coach Jones created at our school. In hindsight it was a mini-college program. One of the main pillars of that culture was perseverance. That is staying focused and hopeful during adverse stretches. The 1991-92 team likewise experienced struggles that the 1990-91 did not. Somehow though, it rebounded for a deep sectional run of its own. In my opinion, this was due in large part the above-mentioned tri-captains, and things weren’t the same once they graduated.

“That was a great feeling being around a group of guys who played together and really like being around each other. Those guys were great. They were great teammates as well as great guys off the court – a very close-knit group (the 1990-91 team). They were friends as well as teammates.” The second opening excerpt for this piece is from No. 23 Adonis Coble who played on both teams. He was also a member of the Class of 1992. His words expressed the importance the culture of that 1990-91 team. He led our 1991-92 team in his own way during some difficult stretches the next year.

Their Final Game: The 1991 Far West Regional

The 1990-91 team’s final game was a lopsided loss to the Newark “Reds” from the Rochester area. It was the 1991 Class B Far West Regional or the Super-Sectional. There the winner earned a trip to Glens Falls. The Reds were a physically bigger, stronger and more experienced team. They defeated the Kensington Knights also from the Yale Cup in the same game the previous year.

As often is the case in sports, there are multiple explanations for what happened. There were rumors of the core the 1990-91 team staying out late the night before the game. My research revealed that this wasn’t altogether true. It further revealed that the team was late getting to Rochester’s War Memorial Stadium. There was an accident on the I-90 expressway. They started changing on the bus and got to the arena with little time before tipoff to settle in before the challenge at hand. It was a loss that Coach Jones lamented until his last days.

How Would They Have Fared Against The Dominant Buffalo Traditional Teams?

One of the most fun (and nerve-wrecking) parts of sports is speculating on matchups that we’ll never see. In the movie Rocky Balboa, there’s a scene where a sports network simulates Rocky matching up with the current much younger champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon. The computer likewise predicts Rocky knocking out the younger fighter, setting up the movie’s plot. Likewise, we speculate on how Mike Tyson would’ve fared against Muhammad Ali. We speculate on how players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry and their teams would’ve fared in the 1980s NBA when the game was more physical. We speculate on how today’s NFL champions would’ve fared against the more physical 1980s and 90s teams.

I’ve likewise wondered how the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team would’ve matched up with the above-mentioned legendary Damien Foster– and Jason Rowe-led Buffalo Traditional teams which dominated the Yale Cup from 1993 to 1996 (and other notable Yale Cup champions). The Bulls were athletic, tall, and highly skilled. Most of their players could shoot the ball from long-range and they eventually made two trips to Glens Falls, winning the federation championship the second time. It would’ve been an interesting matchup as the 1990-91 Engineers had a level of athleticism and physicality of their own. They were fundamentally sound though on both ends of the court. Many would give the advantage to Coach Joe Cardinal’s Bulls, but I predict the 1990-91 Engineers would’ve been a formidable foe for them.

The Players Who Contributed To That Season But Graduated

The Damien Foster– and Jason Rowe-led Buffalo Traditional teams seemed to instantly ascend as champions. In contrast the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team gradually built up to that point. As described, there were numerous lumps along the way leading up to that season. For many teams that evolve to become champions, there are often players who contribute along the way who don’t ultimately get to hoist the championship trophies.

For the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball team there was Adrian Brice of the Class of 1989. The lone senior on the 1988-89 team, he played point guard the year Coach Jones took over the program. He came up in numerous interviews, and his nickname was “Flash”. From the Class of 1990, there was Ed Lenard, Jerome Freeman, Frankie Harris, Derrick Herbert and Michael Brundige. One of Coach Jones’ favorite stories to tell us was that of Frankie Harris passing up uncontested layups. He embellished the story for humor, and used it as a teaching tool.

Closing Thoughts On The 1990-91 Engineers

“Curt Brooks’ work ethic was unbelievable. He would wear a weighted flap jacket during basketball practice. Although he was ‘the star’, he didn’t slack off during practice, or during the games,” said Jermaine Fuller, one of two sophomores on the 1990-91 team. His words reflect the lasting impression No. 13, Curtis Brooks made, and it reminds me of a quote that Brooks shared with me that Coach Jones told them all the time. That quote said, “Every person can make a difference, and everyone should try!”

I also want to acknowledge the other players on the team that I didn’t mention. In the book, the names are changed for those who didn’t agree to be a part of this work. For historical completeness however, I want to mention the other guys here. They are Jason Parrish and Juno Patterson both from the Class of 1992. There was also Andre Huggins from the Class of 1993. The 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team was very close to Coach Jones’ ideal make up of a team. This consisted of five seniors, five juniors and two sophomores.

I’ll divulge that it’s a rule that he bent his final two years at Hutch-Tech. To learn about that and how those of us who tried to continue what the 1990-91 team’s success fared, you’ll have to read The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. I’ll just say that it turned out to be a lot harder than it looked for everyone. And again, there were a number of reasons for that.

I spoke of Coach Jones numerous times throughout this piece. If you want to learn some more about him and his importance my story and my life, take a look at the at the video below from my sports YouTube channel. If you watch it, please give it a like and leave a comment.

Acknowledgements And Final Words

The opening quote for this piece is from the above-mentioned Pep Skillon, which I think underscores a major theme of this account, unselfishness. I want to acknowledge a lot of people without whom this essay (and others) would not have been possible. Thank you to the players and coaches I interviewed. There is also Coach Jones and the Jones family. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge all the team managers who were critical parts of the basketball program during those years.

I also want to acknowledge Laura Lama from my Class of 1994. The second picture of the 1990-91 Engineers as a team is from our 1991-92 yearbook the next year, which Laura kindly shared with me. There was a back forth to get the image just right, and she had more important matters to deal with at the time. It’s missing one player, but it was always one of my favorite pictures of the team. You can see the old and antiquated gym we played in which no longer exists. Finally, I want to thank the previously mentioned Michael Mann for the visual of his gold jacket he shared from the 1990-91 team’s championship season.

Thank you for reading this piece. I intend to create more promotional/teaser pieces for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. These will be both via print and video as I journey through the final steps of the book’s completion. As described, 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. I will be for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. I plan to share numerous things. They include 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 promise to protect your personal information and privacy. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. You can also email me bwllcnl@gmail.com to subscribe. Regards.

A Tribute To Kevin Roberson: The Hutch-Tech Engineer Who Started It All

“K was a good dude. Yes, trust me. It was one of the hardest days of my life when he passed. That was tough for me. That was tough.”

The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story

Up to this point I’ve left subtle hints that I’m working on a book project chronicling my high school basketball experience, what it taught me about life, and what sports teaches its participants in general, both in and outside the lines. Well, let me tell you some more. The title of the book is “The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story”. It’s a two-part project.

Writing-wise, it is a creative non-fiction piece based upon real life events and many of the names will be changed. If you were there and are not averse to being a character in the story, feel free to reach out as it is not finalized yet. As recommended by author John U. Bacon, I’ve changed the names of most of the people who weren’t interviewed. People mentioned in the newspaper were fair game and all the 30-40 players and coaches I interviewed, all agreed to be characters, major or minor.

A Project Of Discovery

The project has admittedly taken a while for a myriad of reasons. I am convinced though that the finished product will be quality and will have been worth it. A major component of this project has been the research, particularly the above-mentioned interviews of players and coaches who were there in Western New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

From my vantage point, my story initially started with seeing Michael Jordan hit “the shot” against Cleveland in the 1989 NBA playoffs. I then saw Coach Ken Jones turn the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team into city and sectional champions during the 1990-91 season, which was my freshman year at Hutch-Tech High School. Both were important events for me. The truth though, which I didn’t know when starting this project, is that the story started before Coach Ken Jones and the players on the 1990-91 team all arrived at Hutch-Tech High School.

It started with one young basketball player from one of the neighborhoods in the “Central Park” area of Buffalo. He influenced his peers from multiple schools, some of whom I knew before I got into high school myself. He mentored them in the great game of basketball and in life. That player was the late Kevin Roberson.

The Kevin Roberson Award

As I describe in my story, I didn’t learn about Western New York high school basketball and its rich history until I was in high school and looking to earn a spot on our varsity team. That was admittedly on the late side for a prospective basketball player. Thus, I didn’t hear of the likes of Ritchie Campbell, Marcus Whitfield, and Trevor Ruffin until I was part way through high school and beyond. You can also throw Christian Laettner in there whom I didn’t become familiar with until his legendary four years on the basketball court at Duke University.

Likewise, I didn’t hear of the name Kevin Roberson until my senior year at Hutch-Tech when my basketball dreams crashed and burned and were in tatters. I, personally, was unable to get anything significant done on the hardwood and I had no city or sectional titles to show for my time in the maroon and gold, which is what I aspired to in my freshman year. I did, however, win an award late in my senior year, interestingly the “Kevin Roberson Award”.

It was great that I won another award. I won the “Best Practice Player Award” as a sophomore and “Most Improved Player Award” at the Ken Jones Basketball Camp just before my junior year, so I had won a couple of basketball-related awards. But who was Kevin Roberson? And why was I winning this award in his name?

Pictures Of Kevin

There was a picture of Kevin on a plaque on the first floor of Hutch Tech High School with other trophies, awards and pictures. I recall it being posted during the 1993-94 school year, my senior year. The picture of him was on the basketball court at the University of Vermont standing under the basket looking up for a rebound (see the initial image for this essay). The range of years beneath the picture indicated that he had died recently. Unfortunately, there was no announcement at school that I recall and none of my coaches had talked about him. Being a senior myself in 1994, any basketball alumni from the late 1980s were long gone and hadn’t really come back to the school to mentor the younger players.

I also found a picture of Kevin on the fourth floor of the school with the other senior portraits near the cafeteria. In my final days at Hutch Tech, I actively sought out his picture with the graduating Class of 1988, and often stopped and looked at it. Sure enough, there he was, smiling in his black jacket and bow tie like the rest of the boys in his class. The girls wore pearls and black dresses.

A Great Guy

“He was a great guy and played basketball just like you,” said Ms. Unger, my sophomore year math teacher. A great guy just like me? I don’t think Ms. Unger, or her family, will mind me mentioning her in this story. Ms. Unger, by the way, taught me a critical lesson or two about how to approach my academics, but that’s a different story. In any case, Kevin had made a lasting impression on her, and other faculty at the school it seemed.

So, he was a great guy like me, or the other way around. But what did that mean? What was great about me during my senior year? What seemed to make this Kevin Roberson great was that he had the skills to go on and play Division I Basketball at the University of Vermont. I didn’t have that. It turns out, there was more to him than his basketball skills.

A Leader And Inspiration

Years later when working on my book project, my interviews and research interestingly revealed a common figure who inspired quite a few basketball players at Hutch-Tech, and other schools, such as Turner/Carroll High School. This figure was none other than Kevin Roberson. That’s right. The guy whose name sake award I won in my senior year, was the inspiration and mentor for many of the guys I played with and or looked up to at that time. The following are words about Kevin Roberson that came up in my interviews. They give you feel for his character, leadership, and selflessness.

Curtis Brooks, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991

“Kevin Roberson, I’ve got so much love for that man. He had that horrendous car accident and was taken from us short. He was the best athlete and could’ve possibly been in the league!”

Ronald Jennings, Player, Turner/Carroll High School, Class of 1994

“And then across the street from me on Manhattan Avenue, there was a guy named Kevin Roberson. I’m sure you’re familiar with Kevin Roberson. He lived across the street from me. As I got older and Kevin came home for the summertime getting ready for college, I was his workout buddy. He would get me up and make me go ride the bike with him to shoot free throws. He saw something in me that I didn’t quite see in myself and just brought that out of me in terms of basketball. It just increased my love of sports in general, but in terms of both basketball and football. He was the one that really got me playing ball.”

Quincy Lee, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991

“The guys getting most of the minutes in my first year were Kevin Roberson, who died in a car accident, Kevin Lee, “Rabbit” Jackson whose name I think was Anthony – I think he was the point guard. Those three, but I can’t think of who the other starters were.”

Jerrold “Pep” Skillon, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991

“I knew I was going out for the team. Actually, I had a friend on the team, a guy I grew up with from my neighborhood. It’s not like I had an ‘in’ or anything like that. He just told me what to expect. It was Kevin Roberson. Me and Chuck grew up in the same neighborhood with ‘K-Robe’ and we used to go to the park together. K was a good dude. Yes, trust me. It was one of the hardest days of my life when he passed. That was tough for me. That was tough.”

Charles “Chuck” Thompson, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991

“The only thing I did was play for Campus West and I played for them my sixth, seventh and eighth grade years. But really where I learned all my skills was in Central Park at the basketball court. I used to play ball with – you ever heard of Kevin Roberson? If you want to say he was my mentor, he was my mentor, because we were in Boy Scouts together. We grew up together and I played a lot with him. He and his sister passed away in a car accident right here on Kensington. You know what, we played a little bit as freshman, but it was mostly watching because we already had a good team with Kevin Roberson.”

Leaving His Mark At The University Of Vermont

During his senior season at the University of Vermont in the 1991-92 season, the Buffalo News wrote a feature on him entitled, “Roberson Matures from a Scrawny Kid into a Top Shot Blocker” (see the image above). Robert J. Summers wrote it and discussed his senior season at the university and his potential NBA career. He averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game that season. In 2020, the Burlington Free Press published an article on what would’ve been Roberson’s 50th birthday. The paper shared that he and his sister died in a head on car crash with a drunk driver on the east side of Buffalo on May 18, 1993. It was two weeks before he was going to receive his diploma from the University of Vermont. That coincided with the ending of my tumultuous junior year at Hutch-Tech High School.

Concluding Words

This will conclude my piece about Kevin Roberson. Just as I was surprised to win the award in 1994, I had no idea that this project would lead back to him. I want to thank the 20-30 players and coaches I interviewed, but especially the five gentleman who shared their stories about Kevin Roberson. No. 21, Ronald Jennings was my first ever point guard and our leader at the Campus West/College Learning Laboratory on the middle school team, the “Bengals”. He assisted my first ever basket in an organized game which I still remember to this day. He went on to play basketball and football at Turner/Carroll High School.

The other four gentleman, No. 13 Curtis Brooks, No. 11 Quincy Lee, No. 32 Pep Skillon and No. 55 Chuck Thompson were key cogs on the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. They won the Yale Cup Championship with a record of 13-0, and the Class B sectional title in my freshman year, also a major inspiration for my story. Again, the stage for all of this was set by the late Kevin Roberson. Salute to you sir and rest in power.

Future And Related Works

I intend to create more promotional/teaser pieces for The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. These will be 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 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. 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. It will be 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. You can also email me at bwllcnl@gmail.com if there is an issue with the sign up form. Regards.