One of the best boys basketball matchups of the season takes place at one of its best events when Canisius and McKinley meet Saturday at the MLK Classic at City Honors.
If that sounds familiar, it should.
The teams have been involved in the MLK Classic, the Buffalo Public Schools-run event, in nearly all of its nine previous editions. The teams have matched up three times in the last six years, with Canisius winning all three matchups, including last year’s 76-60 victory when the Crusaders were ranked first in The News large school poll and the Macks were ranked third.
Both teams are in the exact same spots in the poll, which is remarkable considering the immense amount of talent lost from two teams which had terrific seasons, ending with both tied atop last year’s final poll.
Canisius was the No. 1 large school most of the year, won the Monsignor Martin Association title for the third straight year and reached the state Catholic Class A final.
McKinley won its second straight Yale Cup and went on to a memorable postseason run that included the New York State Public Schools Athletic Association Class A title in Glens Falls.
The teams’ seniors combined to account for six of last year’s top 20 All-Western New York selections: Canisius’ Adam Weir (Player of the Year) and McKinley’s Marcus Morris on the first team; Canisius’ Aaron White on the second; McKinley’s Lovell Smith and Canisius’ Matt MacDonald on the third and McKinley’s Reyjzon Jordan on the fourth.
The Macks graduated eight seniors and all five starters, but here they are at 6-1 and there they were Wednesday night winning at East, 78-74, against a team with a ton of returning talent which is ranked first among small schools and was regarded as this year’s Yale Cup favorite.
Seniors that were part of the Macks’ deep rotation last year – like Dante Thompson, D’Andre Steward and Varin Lenard – have stepped up in to bigger roles, while there are plenty of new contributors making up the same kind of wear-you-down lineup, including sophomore Jaylen Prophet, junior Devin Morris, senior Jeremy Kelley and juniors Jorge Melendez and Shaquan Jones.
“I think what’s special about this year’s team is there’s not one key guy,” said Morris, who is the younger brother of Marcus Morris. “We have plenty of people on this team for defense, rebounding, shooting and for big plays.”
Canisius has a loaded lineup again, but instead of three stalwart seniors who are now playing college basketball in Weir (Canisius College, where he has not played and may redshirt), MacDonald (having a terrific season at Fairleigh Dickinson) and White (18 minutes per game for 9-1 Brockport), it has three underclassmen at its core: sophomores Howard Washington and Stafford Trueheart and junior LaTerrance Reed. The Crusaders’ lone returning starter is senior Ryan Richards, while senior Michael Keenehan has stepped into a starting role while junior football standouts Josh Huffman and TJ Wheatley have been impactful off the bench.
Despite that turnover, Canisius is 9-2, with its only losses coming to out-of-area teams. The Crusaders most recent local game, like East’s, was a major statement against a major rival as it routed St. Joe’s, 73-51, last Saturday at Canisius College. The Crusaders, who have been No. 1 in the large school poll all of this season, fell at Rochester power Bishop Kearney on Tuesday.
Canisius and McKinley’s meeting in last year’s MLK Classic was talked about very much at the end of the season — when the Macks’ run to the state title put them in position for the No. 1 spot in the poll. Canisius supporters pointed to the regular season matchup as evidence that the Crusaders should be first, others (like me) felt McKinley playing at an extremely high level at the end of the season and to win a rare state championship was worthy of the reward of No. 1. Eventually the poll gods arranged for a shared title as they both tied in total points (although McKinley had more first place votes).
Will today’s meeting be one that is remembered for the rest of this season? The way these teams are playing thus far, I’d say so.
• The MLK Classic begins tonight at City Honors (City Honors vs. Tapestry at 4:30; I-Prep vs. WNY Maritime at 6; and a nice battle of No. 6 small school Middle College and Cheektowaga at 7:30).
On Saturday, the tripleheader begins with St. Francis playing Hutch-Tech at 11 a.m., followed by a fine matchup of East against No. 9 large school Sweet Home at 12:30.
Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for students, with proceeds benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer.
• Other top games tonight in what should be a busy one at our #PrepTalkLive blog have Nichols visiting Park at 6:30 in a top 10 battle of small schools in the Monsignor Martin Association, and a highly anticipated rematch of No. 2 large school Clarence and No. 6 Williamsville North at 7:30; this time the teams are at Clarence, which won at North in December.
Alden academic state champs
Alden football has certainly been one of the best programs in Western New York, if not the state, over the last several years, including Section VI championships from 2010-2012.
That’s why it’s that much more impressive that this week the school was notified that the football team had earned the state championship in the classroom as New York State Public High School Athletic Association Scholar Athlete State Champions.
The NYSPHSAA notified Alden that it had the top academic average – at 95.91 – among 282 football teams in the state which had an average of 90 or better. The school believes it is the first time Alden has earned an award like this in the 23-year history of the state’s scholar-athlete program.
“Everyone is just as proud of this award as they have been of any sectional championships,” said Alden athletic director Matthew Librock.