Every year I say that Championship Week for Western New York boys basketball is one of the best times of year for high school sports. Every geographical corner of WNY is represented during about 12 days (Championship Week is longer than most weeks) of action, and you just know you’re going to see something to remember at some point.
There were, as always, great dunks, buzzer-beaters, overtime thrillers and upsets (Cheektowaga could win an award for technically qualifying in all of those categories).
This postseason, the greatest moment of Championship Week was one I actually didn’t see.
The Game of the Year (more on that later) had just ended. Olean had beaten East, 62-59, in the Class B final, only after East senior Jonathan Lewis’ three-quarter heave hit the back iron and bounced out.
That finish was great enough.
Then it got better.
I didn’t see it while typing away at courtside, but Depew assistant coach Dave Lyman had his smartphone rolling in the stands. He shared the video with me, and I shared it via the Prep Talk blog and Twitter. It’s enough to make your skin stand up like a pebble-grain basketball. You should join the 600-plus people who have watched it in its first 24 hours online.
The shot misses as the buzzer sounds. Olean celebrates. East is deflated.
Then Olean senior point guard Luke Hennessy takes a step toward Lewis at midcourt, and he puts an arm around his shoulder in consolation.
Hennessy and Lewis walk a few steps, slap five. Then Hennessy puts another arm around Lewis and they walk a few more steps, sharing a few words.
The video says it all, even though you don’t know what they’re saying. A kid from the city, a kid from the Southern Tier. Two basketball players just doing their thing, doing things the way they’re supposed to be done: playing their butts off, playing with great respect and great sportsmanship.
And although you couldn’t hear what was said on the video, you got an idea of the words exchanged Thursday when Lewis tweeted a screen shot of a text message exchange between the two. Hennessy: “Congrats on winning MVP, you’re the best player I’ve ever guarded.”
Lewis: “Thanks man I really appreciate it. It’s been an honor to play against you four years straight.”
Hennessy: “It’s been my pleasure. We had our battles. You’re going to do big things. Stay in touch my man.”
Along with the screen shot, Lewis tweeted: “It’s been an honor to play against my man Luke every year.”
You can’t beat it.
But I guess I’ll give it a shot. Here’s our version of One Shining Moment, the 13th annual Championship Week Awards:
Olean and East lived up to the hype, which had been building since the end of last season. The only two schools to own the No. 1 spot in The News small school poll this year put on a great show in the Class B final, right down to the last shot.
Runners-up: Olean-East was so good that it finished ahead of Nichols’ shocking upset of Canisius in the Manhattan Cup semifinals, the biggest upset since Sweet Home beat Niagara Falls and ended Jonny Flynn’s career with a loss (2007 AA final). … East, somewhat ironically, was in another of the week’s thrillers as Health Sciences put on an excellent performance in pushing the top B-2 seed to overtime. ... Cheektowaga and Amherst played an awesome Class A-1 championship game as the Warriors won their first sectional title.
Speaking of Cheektowaga’s win, it has to be the “Thud”-three by junior Zak Ciezki.
A game-winning three in the final second of overtime would make a good candidate for this category every year. But this one – thanks to a fine shooter’s excellent form and backspin, I’m sure – had the ball appear to thud to a stop on the square of the rim and against the backboard, before falling through. Every time I watch the video on the Prep Talk blog, I can’t help but laugh.
Runners-up: Nichols senior Greg White’s three from right corner against Bishop Timon-St. Jude with 1:26 left in the Manhattan Cup final were his first points of the game and gave the Vikings what would be a two-possession lead for the rest of the way. ... In the same game, Nichols junior Cam Lewis had one shot blocked by Timon’s Donte Williams in the final seconds of the third quarter, but he picked the ball back up and fired a low-arcing three-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer for a 41-38 lead entering the fourth. ... In the A-1 semifinals, Williamsville South junior Sam Castronova was fouled and knocked off balance as he crossed through the lane, threw up a blind shot over his head and hit it.
Slender, 6-foot-2 Dominick Welch of Cheektowaga looked absolutely nothing like a freshman when, going full-speed against McKinley in the Class A final, he held the ball high in one hand, in traffic, and threw down a jam that we’re not used to seeing in high school games – we’re used to seeing them on SportsCenter.
Runners-up: Jamestown’s Quinn Lee Yaw had a big two-hander in transition against Clarence in the AA final. ... Olean’s Wil Bathurst had a two-hander to finish a fast break in the fourth quarter of the B final. Speaking of ...
Olean’s Wil Bathurst threw down a two-handed jam off a lob from Nick Schmidt on the first possession of the third quarter of the Class B final, which set the tone for the Huskies coming back from a nine-point halftime deficit to eventually take control of the game.
Best halfcourt shot
Health Sciences senior Allen Wright Jr.’s buzzer-beater in the B-2 semifinals against East gave the Falcons a 41-36 lead after three quarters.
The shot supplied a dose of the best feeling every year: The Buffalo State buzz that happens when a possible upset is in the air.
Best almost fullcourt shot
Jamestown’s Quinn Lee Yaw looked like Red Raider quarterback (and News Player of the Year) Jake Sisson as he cocked his arm back and hit a longggg halftime buzzer-beater in the AA semifinals against Lockport.
“It felt like we couldn’t be stopped after that.” – Lee Yaw after hitting that shot.
Johnathon Lewis with a behind-the-back, fast-break dish to Percy Bryant for a big basket in overtime of the B-2 semifinal win over Health Sciences.
Runners-up: Take your pick from about 20 by Hennessy throughout the week. Not too far behind were Olean teammate Bathurst’s dishes in the B-1 final against Fredonia.
Junior Darien Lowe of Amherst got a piece of what looked like an open Cheektowaga layup in the final seconds of regulation of the A-2 final, forcing overtime.
Best clutch free throws
St. Mary’s Takal Molson went 2-for-2 at the line in the final seconds to help force overtime with Bishop Timon-St. Jude in the Manhattan Cup semifinals. Worst call
We don’t do this every year, and we don’t do this unless we feel we have to. Thank goodness this didn’t affect the endgame, but late in the final seconds of Health Sciences’ upset attempt of East in the B-2 semifinals, and Health Sciences needing to foul, they did, and an official stunningly called it an intentional foul.
Runners-up: A few charges that were called by officials who haven’t gotten this year’s memo that when in doubt, it’s a block or a no-call, especially when there’s a obvious flop involved. You can check my Twitter feed for #stoptheflop.
Overall, as usual, the officials had a great week.
Worst treatment of officials
East coach Starling Bryant made a move towards the officials as they left the floor following the B final, then chose to openly criticize them in his postgame comments.
Runner-up: One coach is tremendously lucky didn’t get T-ed up for this gem: “I worked my [expletive] off to get here and this is the officiating crew I get?” Disgraceful.
Zed Williams MVP Award
Named for last year’s winner from Silver Creek, who is currently starting for the University of Virginia’s undefeated, second-ranked lacrosse team:
Lewis (both of them, no relation). Nichols junior Cam Lewis and East senior Jonathon Lewis.
Bishop Timon-St. Jude senior Donte Williams, Jamestown’s Quinn Lee Yaw (senior) and Zack Panebianco (junior), Nichols junior Chris Miner, Olean senior Wil Bathurst.
Second team: Lockport junior Colin Dougherty, Middle Early College seniors Kevin Briggs and Bri’an Brown, Cheektowaga junior Zak Ciezki and freshman Dominick Welch, Olean seniors Sam Eckstrom, Nick Schmidt and Luke Hennessy.
Honorable mention: Randolph junior Bryce Morrison, Sherman senior Ryan Robson, Cleveland Hill junior Jermaine Hairston, Fredonia senior Dylan Meyer, McKinley senior Varin Lenard, Health Sciences senior Allen Wright Jr.
A’aron Mungro Hustle Team
Named for the 2003 City Honors state champion who packed 7 feet of heart into his 5-10 frame:
Cheektowaga senior Preston Summers, Fredonia senior Cody Cunningham, Middle Early College senior Tarron Scott (repeat pick), Nichols senior Greg White, North Tonawanda junior Nehemiah Stone, St. Mary’s senior Matt Wrobel.
Not 100% but giving 100%
East senior Tyree Tyson, “a great effort on one leg,” tweeted Brian Smith (@BSmith713) after I requested suggestions for Championship Week Awards. Indeed. Tyson gutted it out as he returned from about two months off for the B-2 semifinal, final and B final.
The Bishop Timon-St. Jude Tiger scored a playful (at least I think it was) takedown of the Nichols Viking.
As there often is at Jamestown Community College, there was an enthusiastic group that included grade-school students adding their musical touch to the outstanding environment at that venue. This year it was Panama’s band, which joined its student section in an excellent staccato chant of “Dribble! Dribble! Pass! Pass!” while Sherman was on offense during the D final.
There were great turnouts from Clarence, Lew-Port, Hamburg, Cheektowaga and Salamanca at Buffalo State and the student sections from Nichols and Bishop Timon-St. Jude had fun at the Manhattan Cup final. Randolph and Maple Grove went back and forth at Jamestown CC, as did Panama and Sherman.
Best fan back-and-forth
During the Manhattan Cup semifinal, St. Mary’s cheerleader Danielle Hockwater was outstanding during timeouts. At one point she flipped 22 times in a row.
Timon’s fans responded by doing a somersault or two on the floor.
Amherst’s “Jungle” has a great name and great enthusiasm. But I’ve never seen a worse decision than their fans collectively throwing a huge LeBron-like puff of powder up in the air late in what was an outstanding A-2 final. The game was delayed twice and an injury could have occurred as the floor became slippery.
Runners-up: The knuckleheads who briefly engaged in a skirmish on the concourse prior to McKinley-Cheektowaga game. In the 14 years I’ve covered Championship Week, that’s the first time I’ve witnessed an incident such as that one during games. ... Leading the always head-scratching, head-shaking category of worst adult fan was a man from Williamsville South who un-endeared himself to those on the scorer’s table with constant obnoxiousness. There was some similar ear-aches caused by adults from Hamburg complaining about officiating at, apparently, the first game they had seen all season.
Best fan singing performance
Maple Grove fans literally turned into a chorus when Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was played between the third and fourth quarters of the C-2 final at JCC. They continued with a few stanzas even after the song was done playing over the PA, through a few possessions of the fourth quarter.
Worst DJ performance
For some mysterious reason, Journey’s “Faithfully” was played at LEAST five times during the second half of the C-2 final. There was an awesome crowd on hand literally ready to dance in the bleachers, and the same ol’ slow song kept spinning.
Somehow even worse DJ performance
On Saturday at Buffalo State, there was no music for at least one entire game and pregame. These things have to be considered by organizers. More fun = more fans = more ticket sales.
The Buffalo State Sports Arena and its staff was excellent again, including none other than facility manager Brent Ford stepping in himself with a broom to help clear the floor of Amherst’s aforementioned powder.
“Get back to your bench, will ya?” – a grandmotherly Olean fan to East coach Starling Bryant during the B final.
“Everybody and their mom know that he’s red hot – get him the ball.” – McKinley coach Zaire Dorsey to a player.
“Knock it in.” – Cheektowaga coach Pat Cullinan, as junior Patrick Plummer let go a three from the left corner at the halftime buzzer of the A-2 final, which he nailed.
“FIVE! FIVE! FIIIIIIIIVEE!” – Dorsey, trying to get a five-second call on an inbound play in the A final.
Before the tip of the Manhattan Cup semifinal of Nichols at Canisius, when I (and the rest of WNY) was anticipating a Canisius win, Nichols’ Cam Lewis and Chris Miner were all smiles before the tip as they greeted their Canisius counterparts. At the time, I remember thinking that was very strange. Now, it makes sense.
Tweeted by Chad Andrews (@centercourt42): Jamestown’s Zack Panebianco banked in a three-pointer in the fourth quarter of the AA semifinal against Lockport, then put his hands up like Michael Jordan as if to say, “I don’t know.”
Canisius coach Kyle Husband honestly and directly answering questions after his team’s huge upset loss to Nichols in the Manhattan Cup semifinals.
Many coaches, like North Tonawanda’s Ryan Mountain, working with the officials to make sure they got subs in an seniors recognized in the final moments of a loss.
Several players not being able to hold back the tears upon a loss, especially some seniors. One from Hamburg let go of the emotions a few steps before the bench after being subbed for in the final seconds.
McKinley players all standing and clapping throughout the A-1 championship postgame ceremony – not for them but for their opponents, Williamsville South.
More Mack applause: This time from their alumni. The starting five of last year’s state championship team – Lovell Smith, Marcus Morris, Daquan Warren, Reyjzon Jordan and Sammy Smith – stood together behind one of the baskets, rooting on McKinley during the A-1 semifinals.
It was great to see Buffalo Public Schools superintendent Pamela Brown was in attendance at Tuesday’s overall finals (which featured three Yale Cup teams).
Getting with the program
Section VI did an outstanding job in having the programs ready for Monday’s tip-off of Championship Week, something that for some reason was a struggle for years.
This year the Class AA semifinals were moved to Monday, in place of a tripleheader, in an effort to have fewer teams have a quick turnaround from Friday’s quarterfinals to Monday’s semifinals. Moving a pair of games to Monday is a good move, but we think the marquee AA semifinals should have stayed on Thursday, which creates some great build-up for the week.
Best deja vu
Jamestown (AA), McKinley (A), Olean (B) and Sherman (D) are all repeat winners from last year. Last year Silver Creek beat Middle Early College in the C final; this year Middle College beat Silver Creek in the C-1 final.
The Yale Cup had three champions and the CCAA had three. The Southern Tier was a big winner when you throw in ECIC I’s Jamestown with Olean (we’re still calling them CCAA although they played an independent schedule), Randolph and Sherman.
More memories to come
Seven teams are still playing, with six in action Saturday and five of those in the Far West Regionals back at Buffalo State: Jamestown (AA), McKinley (A), Olean (B), Middle Early College (C) and Sherman (D) each play for a berth in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four when they take on the champions of Section V (Rochester area). Nichols plays in the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association Class A semifinals against Holy Trinity at Kellenburg (L.I.) High Saturday. St. Mary’s, the Monsignor Martin’s Class B representative, will play next weekend.
In tomorrow’s News
Capsules previewing Saturday’s six state playoff games.