As you can see on the right side of this page, The News boys basketball polls came out for the first time today. Since it’s also boys hoops’ turn under the Scholastic Spotlight, we have decided to use our poll ballot to focus on which are the teams to watch this year.
Every week at the Prep Talk blog, we explain our votes in the basketball poll in our “How The News voted” post.
Here’s an expanded version of this week’s post as we explain which teams are in our opening ballot, based on which players they have coming back and how they’ve tipped off their season.
There 10 votes in each poll, and here are ours:
Our large school top 10
1. Canisius (3-0) [last year’s final ballot: 2] – There are a lot of unknowns, a lot of excitement and a lot of parity entering this season. The Crusaders have pretty much a new (and very young) team to start this season, but their fine start, including the Keenan Classic title win over Nazareth of Brooklyn, definitely earns them this spot.
After graduating a core of first-team All-Western New York pick Adam Weir (winner of The News’ Allen Wilson Player of the Year award) to Canisius College, second-teamer Aaron White to Brockport and third-teamer Matt MacDonald to Fairleigh Dickinson (he hit a game-winning three against Rutgers) a new crew is at the center of things.
Sophomore Howard Washington is at the point after a summer in which he received six Division I scholarship offers, while 6-foot-6 classmate Stafford Trueheart (who like Washington was invited to the New York Top 24 camp in September) is a talented big-man who had an excellent game in the win over Nazareth, which beat Canisius in last year’s state Catholic final. LaTerrance Reed, a 6-foot-1 junior, displayed some major ability in limited action late last season and has already been very impressive.
Canisius’ lone returner who logged major minutes is football standout Ryan Richards (6-2). There are other football impact players, including 5-11 returner Josh Huffman, whose on-ball defense is as excellent as his work at defensive back. TJ Wheatley, the 6-6 major football recruit, certainly provides a significant presence.
“Every team is different,” said Canisius coach Kyle Husband. “What I keep saying is that it’s a long journey, it’s a long season. We have to define roles. We have to figure out who we are as a team. We’re clearly not last year’s team — four guys playing college basketball, five guys that played huge minutes. Only one guy right now that played huge minutes last year. It’s a completely different team. But our potential is great. As long as we keep working and growing, we’ll be fine.”
Said Washington on being part of the new young core: “It’s just a good thing to live up to: Me, LaTerrance and Staff are all more than capable of taking accountability.
“We’re just getting started, we’re starting to get our chemistry … Me and Staff, we play AAU together … there’s a little bit of chemistry there. Everything starts with chemistry, everyone is starting to learn their role. Like coach says, the sky’s the limit. Obviously we fell short last year, this year our goal is to win states.”
2. McKinley (2-0)  – Followed impressive win over Kenmore West at the Pastor-Cooper Memorial with a typically furious start in Yale Cup action Monday. The names have changed as many from the Class A state title team have graduated, but the Macks have done this before in winning the last two Yale Cups.
3. Clarence (3-0)  – Red Devils’ road win at Williamsville North last week is the most impressive win on a very impressive early resume: At its own tournament, Clarence beat Amherst and North Tonawanda, two teams with some poll buzz of their own. Tyler Funk is a major scorer and competitor.
4. Bishop Timon-St. Jude (2-2)  – A fine win over North at Cataract Classic and a fine effort against Aquinas at home early on during the Tigers’ always-tough schedule. Donte Williams is a must-see player, a scorer who might be the toughest player to guard in Western New York. Freshman William Lamar, a transfer who was a standout as an eighth-grader at Maryvale last year, had a fine game in the win over North.
5. Jamestown (1-1)  – Clarence gets the top ECIC I nod partly because it’s played more quality games early on. We’ll learn about the Red Raiders tonight when they make an early visit to Williamsville North in a game that has often helped decide the league title along with AA playoff seeding.
6. Williamsville North (1-2)  – Two losses to two teams above. There are several football players on a roster headlined by Sterling Taplin, which has helped contribute to North’s slow start (the losses are to Timon and Clarence) as they were busy playing past Thanksgiving on their way to the state football final. If the football players can get the team-first mojo infused into this talented-but-not-quite-yet-cohesive group, look out.
7. St. Joe’s (2-3)  – A nice Lockport tourney win to open the season has been followed by losses to pretty good competition near (at home to Aquinas) and far (two losses to undefeated teams on Long Island).
8. Kenmore West (2-1)  – A very nice early win at North Tonawanda Friday night for a group that has some key players returning from the squad that won at Will North in last year’s quarterfinals.
9. Lockport (3-1) [NR] – Nice effort against St. Joe’s (OT loss in its Lockport final), and some believe they’ll be the best in the Niagara Frontier League this year, but there’s not enough for us to place them ahead of West at this point.
10. Amherst (2-1)  – Like last year, an early loss to Clarence. It endangers the Tigers (in ECIC III among smallest of large schools) will be looking up at ECIC I teams on this ballot.
On this ballot’s bubble:
• Hamburg after starting 2-0 to win the Lions Club tourney, some team named Niagara Falls (very young team started 0-3 including loss at home to North Tonawanda) and Cheektowaga (very nice start with win over Depew at Pastor-Cooper).
Our small school top 10
1. Olean (4-0)  – As was the case most of last season, putting the Huskies in this spot is probably our easiest pick on either ballot.
The Huskies return four seniors: Wil Bathurst, Sam Eckstrom, Nick Schmidt and Luke Hennessey. It was a good season for Olean to play an independent schedule, a move that was also precipitated by a structural change in CCAA’s divisions that would have made its schedule even weaker; Olean had been dominating in league play as it was.
“Last year we won our league games by an average of 44 points,” said Olean coach Jeff Anastasia, who said for now the independent move is just a one-year deal. “What ends up happening is you go out, you’re playing these games and your starters are sitting out over half the game. We had colleges who were looking at Sam, and the college coaches weren’t even seeing him play.
“It’s for the kids sake, going independent has allowed us to increase the level of competition. … Hopefully we’re better prepared for the playoffs. Maybe a couple of those side-out plays, or those inbound/underneath plays that we didn’t have to run during the regular season last year we’ll be running this year. It helps you prepare.”
2. East (2-0)  – Ton of returning talent and a whoa of a start with a rout of Timon. Tyree Tyson is a 6-9 defensive force while 5-10 junior and 5-8 senior Jonathon Lewis can both be explosive.
3. St. Mary’s (1-0)  – Bunch of talent back on a team that has played some very good team ball in recent seasons. Back are seniors Tyler English, Corey Kiebzak, Matt Wrobel and Latrell Tyson along with junior Dione Strong.
Lancers had a nice start to the season with win over ...
4. Middle Early College (1-1)  – ... the Kats, another small-school poll staple who return an tremendous senior inside-outside duo in Bri’an Brown and Kevin Briggs along with a ton of others.
5. Randolph (1-0) [NR] – Mitch Maycock (quarterback) and Bryce Morrison connect from long-distance as well as they did during the football season with each other. Both are major scoring threats from three-point range. This is also a nod to the success of CCAA schools of this size after Silver Creek’s great runs the last two years. Randolph was the most competitive league team with Silver Creek a year ago. Football-like blowout of usual CCAA power Maple Grove (72-19) served notice.
6. Fredonia (1-0)  – Was a big fan of their game at Buff State last year and they’ve got nearly all their key players back, including Dylan Meyer.
7. Nichols (2-2) [NR] – The big got bigger this season as junior talented All-WNY honorable mention forwards Chris Miner and Cam Lewis were joined by Clarence transfer Tanner Schmit.
8. Silver Creek (4-1)  – They lose a lot, namely Zed Williams, but they a have a (literally) big returner in junior center Bill Brooks.
9. Barker (3-0) [NR] – The Raiders, who will be led by all-round talent and first-team All-Western New York football player Jake Haight, got off to a great start in Niagara-Orleans play with something quite rare: A rout at Newfane.
Coach Dave Carson on Haight: “What I like most about him is his ability to transition – you don’t see many guys go up and get a rebound, then get up and out and ahead of the other nine playres so quickly. He can put it on the floor, he can post up, he can shoot it. He just knows the game.”
10. Lackawanna (3-0)  – The Steelers have had a decent start, they play a very nice nonleaguer tonight when they host Fredonia.
We were considering Park for this spot (and higher) but the Pioneers’ record went to 2-5 after some games were forfeited. One of Park’s wins came against Health Sciences Charter, another team to watch this year which is off to a good start.
Depew and Cleveland Hill will certainly be contenders for the small school top 10 again, as always.
Around the gyms
• This year’s major classification changes have made these teams large schools as all move up from Class B-1 to A-2: Maryvale, Albion, Springville, East Aurora. Moving up to Class B (B-2) from Class C are: Oracle, da Vinci and Salamanca (all from C-1) and Health Sciences (from C-2).
• The new coaches this year: Ron Killinger, South Park (for Telly Forcucci); Roland Davis, Riverside (for Killinger); David Nieves, Hutch-Tech (for Dave Rappl); Scott Gill, Eden (for Gary Vara); Justin Abel, Orchard Park (for longtime News pollster Bob Rumschik); Brett Lyford, Lake Shore (for Dan Gerken); Steve O’Brien, Dunkirk (for Jerome Moss); Michael Putney, Chautauqua Lake (for Chris Dole); Brennan Meakin, Albion (for Charlie Croff); Brandon Woods, Global Concepts.
• This week’s ADPRO Sports Public/Private Challenge at Canisius (which replaces the Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge formerly held at St. Mary’s) includes some great matchups, including: Nichols vs. Depew (7 p.m. Thursday); Clarence vs. St. Mary’s (7 p.m. Friday) and two excellent ones on Saturday: St. Joe’s vs. McKinley (2 p.m.) and Olean at Canisius (3:30).
• The third Prep Talk/BCANY Awards banquet will be held April 7, 2014 at Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant in Blasdell. The event will again be supported by The Buffalo News, the Basketball Coaches Association of New York, ADPRO Sports, UNYTS and high school sports advocate Dick Gallagher. For those interested in sponsorships, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.