This is the 12th straight year I’ve put together our Prep Talk Championship Week Awards, based on the boys basketball semifinals and finals that always make this one of the best times of the Western New York high school sports year (and yes, it’s technically more than a week).
This year, as many of you might know, was a little different for me.
For my wife and I, the unquestioned One Shining Moment of the last week was the birth of our first child last Wednesday, which caused me to miss some Championship Week action for the first time in my career. Very thankfully, mom and baby are healthy, with son Evan weighing in at 9 pounds and 22 inches. His father has already been hit with several good-natured emails, tweets and text messages, predicting the boy will end up an athlete in various sports programs at different area high schools.
The reason that I think Championship Week is the best event of the high school sports year is that it is a week-long community event, where people of all segments of Western New York join together in the name of basketball. This year, that sense of community knocked me over as if I was taking a charge in the lane.
I certainly missed not being around for three days, but it was quite overwhelming that, upon my return to Buffalo State on Tuesday night, there were good wishes from coaches, assistants, scorekeepers, clock operators, officials, fellow members of the media and many other familiar faces. To those who I know through the work I do, whether they greeted me Tuesday, wrote cards or sent many an electronic congratulation my way over the last few days, my family and I can’t express our appreciation enough.
And while I wasn’t around for all of the action, I saw most of it, and I’ve consulted the work of those who covered very capably in my absence to put together this year’s awards.
Best game: Tuesday night, I thanked the high school hoops gods for delivering the Class A final upon my return. Those who saw all of the games of Championship Week not only said that no other contest surpassed it, but that the local season finale might have been the Game of the Year. McKinley’s 64-61 victory had a game-winning shot in the final seconds, a tremendous back-and-forth fourth quarter, but most importantly it had two teams playing with the kind of effort, intensity and energy that make sports so compelling. It was a highlight show early and late, and while there were some unpretty patches here and there, they were made by two teams playing their you-know-whats off. A fantastic high school game.
Second-best game: Talk about great bookends. In the first game of Championship Week last Monday evening, Fredonia overcame a highlight show from CSAT senior Darnell Carson with a 66-62 win in the B-2 semis, thanks to a three-pointer by sophomore John Piper and a steal on an inbounds pass by senior Jon Fletcher.
Best dunk: McKinley senior Lovell Smith set the tone for the Game of the Year with a steal and elevated for an emphatic one-handed jam in which he posterized an unfortunate Amherst defender. Runners-up: A few by Olean junior Wil Bathurst.
Best pass: Amherst sophomore Dorian Billups drove the left side, spun and his blind delivery found Alex Turecki for a layup in the A-2 semis.
Best shot: McKinley’s Marcus Morris let the shot clock wind down, then used some screens on a dribble-drive to the right side before pulling up for a swished, tie-breaking jumper in the final seconds of the Class A game.
Worst call: We don’t do this unless we have to. And we have to. With about four minutes to go in the Class C final, Middle Early College was down four when Keir Anderson burst past defenders into the lane with a great drive, scoring while avoiding much of the contact with a Silver Creek player, who stood in the lane and flopped backward to the floor. It should have been a no-call or a blocking foul. It was called a charge.
Best disclaimer: Overall, as usual, the officials had a great week.
Best league: The Yale Cup reorganized its divisions so that its best teams all played in Yale Cup I, and five out of the seven ended up at Buffalo State: A champ McKinley, B-2 champ East, C-1 champ Middle Early College, A-1 semifinalist Hutch-Tech, A-2 semifinalist South Park.
Stan Wier MVP Award (named for last year’s winner from East Aurora who is currently redshirting his freshman season at the University at Buffalo): Silver Creek senior Zed Williams.
All-Championship Week team: Williams, Olean juniors Wil Bathurst and Sam Eckstrom, Middle Early College senior Keir Anderson, McKinley senior Marcus Morris, Canisius senior Aaron White.
A’aron Mungro Hustle Team (named for the 2003 City Honors state champion who packed 7 feet of heart into his 5-10 frame): St. Mary’s senior Quinn Gill, Middle Early College junior Tarron Scott, Olean senior Max Portlow, Lackawanna senior Shaquille Brooks, Silver Creek junior Kaine Kettle, East senior Jonathan Kinley.
Can’t-wait-til-next-three-years (or more) team: Amherst freshman T.C. Brown, Maryvale eighth-grader William Lamar, Middle Early College freshman Joseph Staton (he’s 5-5 and wears No. 55), Canisius freshmen Harold Washington and Stafford Trueheart, St. Joe’s freshman Justin Jones, CSAT freshman Quinton Lamar.
Best comeback: Bishop Timon-St. Jude senior Ryan Dougherty suffered a knee injury in the first game quarterbacking the Tigers this season. After rehab, he made it back for the last few football games and helped Timon get to the championship game. A returning starter in basketball, he was thought to be lost for the season after undergoing surgery. But there he was, playing about 10 minutes in the quarterfinals before providing crucial points, passes, rebounds and poise as Timon provided one of the few surprises of the postseason with a Manhattan Cup semifinal victory over St. Joe’s.
Best mascot: The dancing South Park bear.
Best bands: Niagara Falls continues to receive a lifetime achievement award. South Park had a small but enthusiastic group for the A-1 semifinals.
Legend leaves the gym: Official Mike Lonski, who has been a familiar face (especially if you are/were a fan of Tony Orlando) at local high school and college basketball games for decades, refereed his final game Tuesday night in the Class B final. After he watched the thrilling Class A game, I saw him in the locker room hallway and confirmed with him how many years he has been at it — the number is an amazing 43. He then smiled, said “it’s been a great ride,” and he and his roller-bag headed toward the exit.
Snapshots: Maryvale coach Mark Kensy giving the refs a hard time during the Class A final – from the first row of the bleachers behind the bench of Amherst, coached by his son Chris. Starling Bryant, a Hall of Famer when it comes to sideline comments, was told to “relax” by an official during the B final. “I need a whistle!” Bryant yelled back. “Then I’ll relax!” Impassioned Chris Kensy directed instructions to his team and worked the refs all game. But when Marcus Morris hit one of many difficult fadeaways in the A final, offered a simple, respectful, “He’s tough.” Prior to the Manhattan Cup semifinals, St. Joe’s coach Mark Simon sought out the knee-brace-wearing Dougherty during Timon’s layup line to greet him with a congratulatory welcome-back handshake. Williams in tears on the Silver Creek bench in the moments after leading his team to the Class C title.
In the bonus: There are more awards and observations in the buffalonews.com version of this column.
More memories to come: Seven teams continue their seasons on Saturday away from home. Jamestown (AA), McKinley (A), Olean (B), Silver Creek (C) and Sherman (D) each play for a berth in the NYSPHSAA final four when they take on the champions of Section V in the Far West Regionals at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. Canisius (A) and St. Mary’s (B) play for state Catholic championships at Fordham University. Those games will be previewed in Friday’s paper.