One of the biggest factors in this high school boys basketball season is … a college.

Canisius College has Western New York’s only two early basketball signees, and it also has an increased role in two of the season’s biggest games.

Last month, Adam Weir of Canisius High and Jermaine Crumpton of Niagara Falls both signed national letters of intent to play basketball for the Golden Griffins.

Next month, Canisius College’s Koessler Center will host the first of two regular-season matchups between Weir’s Canisius team and its rival, St. Joe’s. The teams will meet twice on Saturdays at 2 p.m. The first matchup is Jan. 12 and the second is the regular season finale on Feb. 16.

The Koessler Center has hosted the Monsignor Martin Association’s Manhattan Cup playoffs for the last several years, but this is the first time it will host the rivals’ games. The move will allow more fans to attend two of the best-attended games in Western New York. The football game between the schools this season attracted more than 6,000 fans to St. Joe’s. In recent years, the gyms at both schools have been filled to capacity, with several hundred having had to be turned away at St. Joe’s.

Canisius has to be considered the favorite in those games as the season begins.

Not only does Weir return, but so do fellow senior starters Aaron White, a quick point guard who can shoot and score, and senior Matt MacDonald, an all-around standout who, like Wier, is a deadly three-point shooter. Weir was an All-Western New York first-team pick while White and MacDonald were honorable mentions.

The Crusaders have a load of talent overall. Jamel Mosely, a 6-8 senior, showed flashes last year, as did fellow front-liner Jake Cercone (6-5). Howard Washington, a talented freshman, transferred from City Honors. Junior Ryan Richards (6-2) is expected to contribute after a standout football season.

Canisius has its traditional tough schedule this year, starting with a marquee opener against Olean at the Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge at St. Mary’s next week. The Crusaders will again travel to the Georgetown Prep National Jesuit Tournament, and they earned a trip to one of the traditional showcases of the best teams in the country, the Primetime Shootout in New Jersey, where Canisius will take on a different St. Joseph’s — this one hails from Metuchen (N.J.).

Weir’s future college teammate welcomes back plenty of key players at Niagara Falls as well.

Crumpton, a 6-5 forward who can own the inside but has a sweet medium-range jump shot that makes his game one of the best in Western New York, returns with the perfect complement to an adept big man in quick point guard Jaleo Wilkins, a second-team all-league last year. Multi-tasker Ramir Burton, a 6-1 senior guard with an excellent all-around game, is coming off an impressive summer which attracted Division I recruiters. There’s plenty of good size to go along with Crumpton up front in seniors Steffon Baldwin (6-6) and Tikere Ralands (6-3).

Niagara Falls has a challenging nonleague schedule, which includes a home-and-home exchange with Rochester private school power Bishop Kearney. Last year’s Class A champions of Section V will play in Class AA this year with a loaded lineup that includes Chinonso Obokoh, a 6-9 senior who has signed with Syracuse.

Canisius’ Monsignor Martin schedule should again be filled with competitive games.

Returning for St. Joe’s is plenty of seasoned talent that split its regular season meetings with Canisius last year: Jaylen Morris (6-2 senior), Jordan Glover (5-10 senior), Dan Maher (6-2 senior), Dylan Hall (6-2 senior), Louis Oliveri (6-1 senior) and Mark Cerza (6-6 senior). The Marauders have their typically tough schedule as well, which includes hosting Bishop Kearney on Jan. 17, a home-and-home with another Section V private school power in Aquinas and several great local showdowns: vs. Jamestown next Tuesday at the Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge, at McKinley on Dec. 14 and hosting Middle Early College on Dec. 20.

The name to watch at St. Mary’s is Paul Rath. The Lancers’ new coach, replacing the departed Dan Gill, is Paul Rath Sr., while the Lancers’ top returning player is Paul Rath Jr. Rath Jr., a 6-2 senior, was the winner of the Sixth Man Award at last season’s inaugural Prep Talk/BCANY Awards Banquet. Rath has the ability to play both guard spots. He’ll be joined by key returning players Quinn Gill (5-7 senior) and Latrell Tyson (6-1 junior) as the Lancers look to reload after graduating a senior-laden lineup that advanced to its first Manhattan Cup championship.

Other new head coaches are at Bishop Timon-St. Jude, where Joe Mihalics replaces Jim Palano; at St. Francis, where Brian Ferris replaces Ed Hoak; and at Nichols, where John Reinholz replaces Jim McKinnon.

Ten of Timon’s 14 players were part of the Tigers’ very successful — but very lengthy — football season. Its first practice was Nov. 19. Mihalics like how senior Bryant Fulton (6-3) can do everything offensively and defensively. Junior Donte Williams (6-3) showed flashes of explosiveness late last year and has had a standout summer. Manny Welch, a 5-10 senior, has serious three-point range. Timon will be without Ryan Dougherty, a solid inside-outside player and football quarterback who is having surgery to repair a torn ACL.

St. Francis showed how deep the Monsignor Martin league is with a home win over St. Joe’s late last year. Ferris welcomes back three starters from that team: senior point guard Cory Cullen, senior shooting guard Brennan Macey and junior small forward David Kennedy. Newcomers include a 6-8 junior transfer from Montreal, Treyvon Holness, and Lackawanna transfer Maurice Burse, a junior, as well as 6-7 junior Austin Taylor up from JV. Ferris also brought in a new coaching staff full of former Red Raiders (including Jim Negrych, who recently signed a baseball contract with the Toronto Blue Jays and Buffalo Bisons).

Just when you think the league was competitive enough, Reinholz has Nichols off to an impressive start after beating Cleveland Hill and Maryvale to win the Lancaster Tipoff. Reinholz, a former player at Fredonia State, spent the last three years assisting Ron Torgalski with the Vikings girls team, on which Reinholz’s daughter, Kylie was a standout.

Big parts in both early Nichols wins were seasoned sophomores with size in Christopher Miner (6-5) and Cameron Lewis (6-6). Both started last season (when Nichols went 10-15, 3-9 in league play), as did 6-2 senior guard and three-year starter Liam Ryan. Junior Tom Nuttle (6-3) provides some more size as he arrives from JV.

As for Niagara Falls’ competition in the Niagara Frontier League, Kenmore West loses many key players from the team that shared the title with the Wolverines. Kenmore West lost four starters and eight seniors from that squad, but welcomes back first-team all-leaguer Quinton Campbell. Alex Price, a junior who was called up late last season, will replace Martin Bailey at point guard.

Another top returning player in the league is Niagara-Wheatfield’s Jack Mulcahy, a 6-4 senior and first teamer who averaged 15 points and eight rebounds last year. Coach Erik O’Bryan says he is coming off a very good summer.

North Tonawanda returns just four bench players from last year, and sixth-man Ian Gilhousen is out until Christmas with an illness. Up from JV is 6-7 sophomore Adam McNeill. NT will be tested in nonleaguers against Tonawanda, Cleveland Hill and Amherst.

Ron Krystof, who was the JV coach at NT the last two seasons, takes over at Grand Island for Nate Beutel, who is now the women’s coach at Niagara County Community College. Kenmore East has a new coach in David Idzik.

Yale Cup I even tougher

Having Middle Early College in Yale Cup’s Division I will make an already tough league even tougher. MEC, which has lost the OTC (Occupational Training Center) prefix from its name, has three very talented players back from the team that was the state’s Class C runner-up. Senior Keir Anderson is a 6-2 guard who has excellent three-point range, and, like many Kats before him, is a strong force on the boards. Kevin Briggs (who legally changed his last name from Reese), is a 5-10 junior who is an excellent shooter who also creates for his teammates. Bri’an Brown, a 6-4 junior, was a spring-loaded double-double machine last year. The Kats are playing another tough schedule, which does not include a school its size (Class C) until the postseason.

Defending Yale Cup I champion McKinley is expected to provide its usual frenetic pace and scoring, particularly with three all-league first teamers returning in the explosive 5-9 Reyzon Jordan (Yale Cup I Player of the Year last season), 6-3 sharpshooter Marcus Morris and multi-talented 6-3 Lovell Smith. The Macks also welcome back forward DeaQuan Warren and Deonte Bell while senior guards Samuel Smith, Stephone Johnson and Nazareth Sutton will be part of their always-deep rotation.

East and Riverside will offer tough tests, as always. East returns 6-8 junior Tyree Tyson, who has improved his defense and shot-blocking over the summer. Johnathon Lewis, the quick, 5-9 guard who was at the point last season, moves to shooting guard. St. Mary’s transfer Percy Bryant, a 5-8 sophomore, takes over the point.

Riverside has one of the most dynamic players — not only in the league, but in Western New York. Six-foot guard Justice Feggans can go on scoring streaks like few other players. Also back for the Frontiers are point guard Willie Smith (5-1) and senior Shawn Johnson (6-0).

South Park, which has four seniors including football standout Tyrell Mitchell, signaled a turnaround in its program with a victory over I-Prep on Monday.

I-Prep will be young and its schedule will only get tougher (Lockport Tournament, St. Joe’s Tournament). Junior Damon Boykin and senior Justus Radford — the only players remaining from the Presidents’ run to Glens Falls in 2011 — are rejoined by sophomore DaQuan Evans.

Seneca, which has a scoring hole to fill with the graduation of Aaron Frasier, welcomes back starters 6-2 senior JaVaughn McNabb and 5-8 junior RayShawn Jones.

A young City Honors returns three junior starters in Marqell Massey, James Miller and Yusef Burgos, who will be joined by sophomore guards Matt Cieslik and Jordahn Summers. The Centaurs have early tests against Lackawanna, St. Mary’s and Oracle Charter. Bennett’s roster includes 6-3 freshman center Brendan Benjamin. A young Olmstead squad, which competes in Class C this postsesaon, has just four seniors.

Jamestown leads ECIC I

Jamestown returns a very strong unit that will be favored to defend its ECIC I crown and advanced deep in the Class AA playoffs, where it lost to Niagara Falls in last year’s final.

Senior guard Tommy Campion — the only senior on the team — returns after earning third-team All-WNY honors and co-Player of the Year honors in the league after averaging 18.6 points per game. Other starters are heady 5-9 sophomore Zack Panebianco and big man Quinn Lee Yaw (6-6 junior). Branden Kellam, a 6-5 sophomore, is a player to watch after an eye-opening season as the Red Raiders’ freshman sixth man. Jamestown opens its ECIC schedule at Orchard Park on Dec. 14 and will play in a holiday tournament at Irondequoit of Section V (Rochester area), which is the team it beat in the 2011 Far West Regionals.

The player that shared the league’s Player of the Year award is Sterling Taplin of Williamsville North, who was a first-team All-WNY selection as a sophomore. The talented 6-1 guard played with top AAU team the Albany City Rocks this summer (he was the only 16-year-old playing on the U17 squad) and he has already received scholarship offers. He starts the season with 1,010 points and might surpass North’s all-time scoring record as soon as next month. North will head to the Albany area to face Green Tech, a team which includes Maurice West, a City Rocks teammate of Taplin’s.

Senior guard David Berkun returns alongside Taplin in the backcourt while sophomore George Attea will be a presence in the middle (6-4, 235). Tenth-year coach Chuck Swierski said high-energy senior guard Aman Washington has made big improvements over the summer.

Lots of turnover in ECIC II

The only returning all-stars in ECIC II are first-teamers Chaq Nettles (Williamsville South senior) and Nate Wilkinson (Iroquois senior) and honorable mention Jeremiah Bill (Hamburg junior). Sweet Home moves in from ECIC I and Lake Shore moves out to ECIC III.

Williamsville South had a high-profile coaching change as longtime local college assistant Gabe Michael was recently hired to fill the vacancy created when Williamsville Superintendent Scott Martzloff controversially decided late this past summer to remove longtime successful coach Al Monaco.

Wilkinson runs the point for the coach Sean Lauber and the Chiefs, who intend to build on their first winning season (12-7, 8-4) in eight years. Kunior shooting guard Phil Bowen, senior small forward Matt Keating and 6-7 senior Dave Tharnish are back. Sophomore Zach Emer (6-1) should make an impact.

Williamsville East is aiming to continue last season’s success (co-champions with South) as it welcomes back sophomores Cort Williams and Nicholas Clough and senior Michael Spina. Senior guard Zachary Bischel could be a key contributor. The Flames will test themselves with nonleaguers against Middle College (Wednesday at the Pastor-Cooper), St. Joe’s (Friday at Lockport) and rival Williamsville North (Feb. 14).

Hamburg, which was also in the top half of the league last year (7-5) and notably had a win over South, returns seniors Kyle Violanti (5-11) and Andrew Sardinia (6-2) and juniors Griffin Ryan (6-2) and Bill (6-5).

Starpoint, which went 1-18 last season, has a new coach in longtime St. Joe’s assistant Ben Scaffidi.

Amherst favorite in loaded ECIC III

Amherst is a team to watch in this always-grueling league as it welcomes back almost all of its key players, including four seniors: first-team pick Johnathan Belton, second-teamer Alex Turecki and honorable mentions Dion Lewis and Jonah Heim.

The Tigers advanced to the Class A-2 final, where it lost to league rival East Aurora.

EA loses Player of the Year Stan Wier (University at Buffalo) but has several standouts back in 6-6 junior Brendan Cox, 6-3 senior James Ritchie and 6-5 senior forward Ian Allen. Grant Haffenden, a 6-6 junior, is expected to contribute. EA, which opens at Section V’s Pittsford-Sutherland Saturday at 2, hosts a quality foursome in its holiday tournament (Dec. 27-28) when Hutch-Tech plays CSAT and EA hosts Pioneer. EA also hosts Section V toughie Batavia on Feb. 6.

There was yet another finalist at Buffalo State from this league in Depew (which lost to Olean in B-1). The Wildcats return a high-quality guard in 6-2 Derek Sekuterski, a junior entering his third year as a starter, and a high-quality big man in 6-6, 300-pounder Mike Lamb. Senior 5-8 guard Nate Hyman is also back. The Wildcats have an intriguing opener on Wednesday as it faces Amherst at the Pastor-Cooper in a contest which will count as a league game. Its Christmas Tournament is a fun one with Depew hosting Lancaster in the first round while St. Mary’s is in the other bracket.

Lake Shore joins the league, moving down from ECIC II, and coach Dan Gerken says, “The drop in the divisional breakdowns does not mean that there is any decline in the talent level.” Another reason for that comment? Cheektowaga also made it to Buffalo State last year, losing to Amherst in the semifinals.

Lake Shore is hoping the winning ways from boys volleyball season, which saw the Eagles finish as a state runner-up, continue with players from that squad like seniors Clark Brueckl (6-1, 10 points per game) and 6-3 Ryan Joslyn. Last year’s team MVP, ECIC II honorable mention Wade Bergum, is coming off a soccer season in which he set the school record for goals in a season.

Pioneer returns honorable mention and All-WNY first team lineman Connor Johnson (6-5, 330) as well as senior Terik Lewis (6-4, honorable mention) and three juniors 6-5 or taller in Adam Benzel, Justin Bliss and Cole Connelly (6-6).

Maryvale’s rotation includes 5-9 eighth-grader William Lamar.

ECIC IV up for grabs?

Cleveland Hill is aiming to return to the top after sharing last year’s title with Tonawanda. Jared Watkins was a second team all-league pick on a team that went 16-3 and 11-1 in the league. Tonawanda has inside-outside threat Clayton Hess back after he earned first-team honors, but he suffered an ankle injury in the team’s opening win over Christian Central. Sophomore Tristan Bolling (17 vs. CCA) is one player who will help fill the void left by All-Western New York third-teamer Jesse Lalka.

Lackawanna looks to get back in a divisional race this year after a rare absence — last year was its first away from the final four at Buffalo State in 10 years. The Steelers have eight players back, including 5-10 senior Ahmad Abdo, a key reserve on the Steelers’ B-1 title team who transferred back to Lackawanna after a year at West Seneca West. Shaquille Brooks, a 6-3 senior, led the team last year with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Alden has several key players back, including several from the No. 1 small school football team, and had a strong JV team last year. JFK has second-teamer Nick Anderson (6-0), the Bears’ standout quarterback in a historic division championship season, back along with eight other seniors.

CSAT’s Carson top N-O returner

The league race should be another competitive one, but there is not much argument about the top returning player. Super-quick senior guard Darnell Carson was an All-WNY honorable mention last season as he helped lead his team to a memorable Buffalo State run to the B-2 title. He is 211 points away from the 1,000 mark. Sophomore Dylanta Carson causes havoc in the backcourt with his older brother.

Akron returns seven seniors and one junior, including four returning starters in Noah Diebel (junior guard), Austin Mietz (senior guard), Connor Ladd (senior forward) and Gowah Abrams (senior forward). Steve Poodry was a key player off the bench last year; added to the group is 6-5 senior forward Sturgis Sundown. The Tigers won’t open until Dec. 18, when it takes on Hutch-Tech as it hosts its Jack Silvernail Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament (St. Mary’s meets Alden in the other game).

Newfane returns 5-11 senior Connor Sears, who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds per game last year, including over 16 points in his final 10 games. Also back for what is expected to be a typically deep team is 6-0 Bryan Giese, who earned MVP honors at last year’s Jolly Boys Tournament at Williamsville South.

Another top individual in the league is Barker 6-4 junior Jake Haight, who can handle the ball, shoot and get to the line. Depth may be an issue, but they are a team to watch.

Also in that category is Medina, which returns 6-4 junior Dan Brown, 6-1 sophomore Jason Hellwig and has dynamic athlete Lonnie Taylor (6-4; 21.3 points in 14 games last year) who was an all-around senior standout during football season.

Roy-Hart returns senior Brad Bobbit, an all-league first teamer last year and a three-year starter. He’s joined by fellow senior co-captains Blake Copella and Ryan Farewell.

Wilson, which has won or shared the league title the last three seasons, lost all five starters and has seven sophomores on its roster — and one of three returning seniors, Liam McIntosh, is out until January with a broken wrist. Senior Matt Baker should lead the way. Albion is on the young side.

Olean very strong — again

Olean is seeking a second straight wire-to-wire stay atop The News small school poll.

The Huskies return almost every player from its rotation after a season in which it advanced to the Class B state final four in Glens Falls.

Sam Eckstrom, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound junior, averaged 15.3 points last season as a sophomore, along with 9.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Wil Bathurst, a 6-3 junior, averaged 11.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.6 blocks; 6-0 junior Nick Schmidt averaged 11.1 points and 3.0 assists and 5-8 junior Luke Hennessy averaged 4.5 points and 4.1 assists. Also back are: 6-1 senior Pat Scholla, 6-0 senior Max Portlow and 5-10 senior Evan Ryan.

Olean also has a loaded schedule, starting with a marquee matchup with Canisius a week from today at the Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge at St. Mary’s. The Huskies also travel to Rochester’s East High on Feb. 1. It has a possible matchup with Buffalo’s East High in its own Olean Tipoff this weekend.

The best of the remaining teams in CCAA I should be Fredonia, which welcomes back 6-2 junior guard Dylan Meyer, who was a first-team all-league pick as a sophomore, and second-teamer Nick Johnston, a 5-8 junior who was a second teamer. Southwestern is ready to challenge with 6-1 senior Kyle Radack (20 points per game, all-league first team) and 5-10 senior point guard Alek Peck.

Allegany-Limestone returns juniors Ryan Vossler and Dom Saglimbem after both started several games as sophomores.

both started some games last year as sophomores.

Around the CCAA

Silver Creek, with lacrosse standout Zed Williams again back to excel in what can be a very similar sport, had a tremendous season last year, finishing fourth in the state poll after giving Middle Early College a great run in the C-1 championship game.

A team that is a familiar face in the postseason is CCAA II rival Randolph, which welcomes back league honorable mention Bryce Morrison (6-0 junior), one of many contributors to the state championship football team. Talented Tanner John (6-3 senior) is back for Salamanca while Josh Watson (6-3 senior) returns for Portville.

Perennially strong Maple Grove will be led by Aaron Germain, Will Soffel and Austin Goerke. The Red Dragons should be challenged by Westfield, which welcomes back 6-1 junior John Coe, who was last year’s only underclassman on the CCAA III first team.

Chautauqua Lake, which has finished third in CCAA III for the last two years, has returning players in seniors Cody Thomas, Jeremiah Russin and Jordan Briggs as well as junior Ian Clute (second team all-league; 10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg).

Our league should end up with Maple Grove and Westfield 1 and 2 respectively.

Panama, the defending Class D champion, moves up from CCAA IV to CCAA III and welcomes back all-CCAA IV second-teamer Alec Blose and Dan Odell.

Clymer has multi-tasking big man Dan Lictus (6-2 senior) back. Rival Sherman has Andrew Graham (5-9 junior) back after he made all-league second team last year. West Valley returns its top two scorers from last season (Mike Grigsby and Colton Myers) and our top three rebounders. Ellicottville has Cameron Wilson (5-10 junior), Storm Wilson (6-2 senior) and Alex Steinbroner (6-1 senior) back.