It has been almost a year since boys’ basketball was being played in Western New York. New York State has given “high-risk” sports a go, putting players and coaches back into the gym, getting their players as ready as they can for this unusual season.
As we wait for the start of the regular season, it is time to take a look at some teams that will be put into unique spots from their own respective. Some of these teams are coming off championship runs while some are looking to win their section title for the first time in years.
(I want to say before I go into this, this list is not to say that these are the best 15 teams in Section VI. I went through each class and looked at some teams that caught my attention. Also, I wanted this list to be fair as possible and did not want to create any type of favoritism towards certain areas of Section VI).
With that being said, here are my top 15 most interesting teams in no particular order:
1.) Health Sciences – Head Coach Ty Parker led Health Sciences to their most successful season in recent memory. Winning 23 out of 24 games with the only loss coming from a Jalen Bradberry, game-winning layup against The Park School. The Falcons went onto to win the Class A title against North Tonawanda and could have went far, but COVID-19 cancelled regional and state championships. Now, Parker will have a new challenge ahead of him and that is coaching a team with almost a brand-new roster. Health Sciences lost eight seniors due to graduation, but they do get back Ja’Vaughn Jones who will be a senior. Jones was one of the main scorers on the team last year. I do not want to say that this team will be a step back because we don’t know how they are going to perform. Once a couple of games are underway for this squad, the team’s identity will be revealed and it will give a better understanding of how they will perform.
2.) Sherman – Sherman finished last year winning the Class D title, their third one since 2013. Along with Panama, Sherman have become the two juggernauts in Class D; the Wildcats did lose six seniors, in that mix was CCAA II West second-team honor Justiss Hannold. Coming back will be senior John Swabik and junior Gerald Carris; both guys were the two scoring leaders from last season. Senior Keith Gormley returns with his arsenal mainly being rebounding and blocking shots in the paint. Senior Derek Sears will also be a contributor, last season he came off the bench but suffered an ankle injury. It’s hard to count this team out when the playoffs roll around. Head coach Cory Emory, who is coming into his 23rd year, said that what made last season’s team so special was how the players understood that they wanted to get better. If this team can keep up with that type of commitment, they will be back in the Class D finals.
3.) Lewiston Porter – The Lancers saw an early exit last year as they finished with an overall record of 12-9. Sophomore and Ohio State committed Roddy Gayle led the way for Lew-Port and showed everyone watching that he is one of the best basketball players in Western New York. However, due to COVID-19 and New York State pushing back “high-risk” sports, Gayle took his talents to Wasatch Academy in Utah and has been doing very well since. Now the challenge for head coach Matt Bradshaw is to see who is going to be the next man up. Sophomore Jalen Duff returns after receiving first-team honors as a ninth grader. Bobby Beilein returns as a sophomore while a core group of seniors will be back as well. Some will say there will be a regression because of Roddy Gayle’s departure, but only time will tell once the Lancers get out on the court.
4.) Ellicottville – Ellicottville had an exceptionally good run in the 2019-2020 campaign, finishing with 17 wins and falling to Holland in the semifinals. They are in a great situation as the majority of the roster will be returning. Seniors Lief Jimerson and Clayton Rowland were the stars last year and won CCAA II East first-team honors as juniors. Senior Wyatt Chudy received the league’s second-team honors as a junior. Jimerson and Rowland can provide scoring while Chudy and Rowland will be the anchors on defense. Randolph took the C2 title after a marvelous 21-1 season; it becomes challenging to count them out but losing Tyler Hind due to graduation may put the odds in Ellicottville’s favor. The competition in Class C will be strong and Ellicottville has the squad this year to possibly run the table.
5.) Niagara Falls – The Wolverines finished with a strong 17-5 record and fell to Lancaster in the second round. It ended a run that saw Niagara Falls win four consecutive Class AA championships. Once Lancaster claimed their prize as champions last year, Niagara Falls decided to switch things up a bit. Carlos Bradberry became the new head coach while his son and first-team All-WNY honors Jalen Bradberry will be playing in the blue and gold once again. Bradberry played on Niagara Falls as a sophomore and then transferred to Park School as a junior. Senior Faybion Prather will be another guy to look out for. Prather shown to be a great shooter while also displaying great playmaking and defensive skills. Getting Bradberry back was key for Niagara Falls as they will look to get back into the Class AA finals.
6.) Kenmore West – With four seniors graduated from last year, this season will showcase nine seniors and nine juniors returning. Mike Meetze will no longer be the varsity head coach and taking his spot is will be the former boys’ junior varsity head coach Ryan Hogan. Hogan said it is a dream for him to be under this helm and wants to become one of many excellent leaders before him like Meetez, Jim Badgely and Dick Harvey. This team will have size, speed, talented shooters and depth at almost every position. Immediate impacts from the group will be seniors Jamai Jackson, Matthew Gugliuzza, and Kenneth Mosely. Jackson is tall and can be a challenge to guard in the paint, along with tremendous dribbling skills for his size and isn’t afraid to hit the mid-range jumper if he is open. Gugliuzza is a guard who makes smart decisions on the court, can lead by example and could be a nightmare on defense. According to Hogan, Mosely is arguably their hardest worker and will not shy away from guarding the best players on the court.
7.) Canisius – The Crusaders pummeled their opponents last season, cruising to a 23-3 record and crowned Manhattan Cup champions. Dewayne Vaas won Monsignor Martin Class A player of the year, but won’t be returning due to graduation. Seniors Joe Ciocca and Max Dowling return after averaging double digits in points per game last season; Ciocca and Dowling also received all-catholic honors. Head coach Kyle Husband mentioned and praised about sophomore Shane Cercone. He believes during the next three years, Cercone will turn out to be one of the best players in Section VI. Then you have seniors Eric Geisler and Malik Jemison, plus junior Declan Ryan, there is a lot of upside to this squad. Canisius won the Manhattan Cup last year and I do expect them to be there, but there will be a challenge along the way.
8.) Olean – The Huskies secured the Class B title in a close battle with Allegany-Limestone. Covi James and Jason Brooks won CCAA I West first-team honors while Jah’Karee McClain, Dan Klein and Zion James received honorable mentions. Olean lost three seniors due to graduation (James, McClain and Klein), but those players were key to the team’s title run. Senior Jason Brooks and junior Zion James look to be the two important pieces to the puzzle. Second-year head coach Tim Kolasinski will have his biggest challenge to get Olean to become the team to beat; with this season shortened, it will make precious time during practice and games to be used wisely. However this is Olean we are talking about, their basketball program has been consistently good for a while. Kolasinski and his players know what the stakes are; when they head back onto the court, Olean will try their best to defend their crown.
9.) Cardinal O’Hara – Finishing 10-16 last season, this is a team whose record is deceiving as they faced very tough competition. Avion Harris was the star on this Hawks team, leading in scoring (11.7 ppg) and became an all-around player. Harris went on to become the Monsignor Martin Class B player of the year. Also, he was the only senior on the roster that was consisted of six sophomores and five juniors. Now the team looks to the next player to step up and lead the charge. Junior Chris Wright averaged almost a double-double last season (10.5 ppg and 9.9 rpg) and has displayed all-around talent. Junior Jimmie Green III and senior Jaden Washington can provide scoring multiple ways while also pressuring their opponents on defense. Cardinal O’Hara, with this young core, lost to Bishop Timon in the Woj Cup Final last season. Seeing how young they still are heading into this year, it will be a fun team to watch for the next couple of seasons.
10.) Fredonia – Fredonia played phenomenally well last year, finishing with 17 wins and losing in a close game to Allegany-Limestone in the semifinals. As Allegany-Limestone won the B2 title, Fredonia regrouped and now enter this season with a strong core of players. Senior Tyler Putney and junior Nick Whitfield return as their two best players; leading the way in points per game and rebounds last season. Whitfield and Putney also received first-team honors in their league. Head coach Nick Betrando mentioned senior Dom Gullo as another impactful player; his skills at the point guard position and leadership can help the team move along in the right direction. There are couple of teams that can pose a threat in the B2 playoff bracket, but Fredonia has the team to match up well enough that they have a shot to win the section championship.
11.) Jamestown – Jamestown finished last year with a 15-7 record and 10-2 in league play, losing to Orchard Park in the semifinals. With this season getting closer and closer, Jamestown is eager to get back into playoffs right away. Returning will be senior Demarri Jones who was ECIC I player of the year last season as a junior. Senior Elijah Rojas returns after winning second-team honors as a junior. Then there is senior Tyler Swegles, sophomore Trey Drake, junior Jaylen Butera and junior Jaral Farmer, a young core that is going to be battle tested. It wouldn’t be a shock to see this team punching their ticket into the Class AA finals.
12). Nichols – This is a team that went 6-19 last season but looking back they probably had one of the toughest schedules by a Section VI team. Aidan Horan, who made Monsignor Martin Class B all-catholic honors, became the driving force for his team and led in scoring (20.4 ppg). When Horan went down with an ankle injury, the team had to adjust and faced some growing pains along the way. Horan and Charles Newman both graduated and now Nichols will look for other guys to provide the spark. Senior Hugh Purks, who was second in scoring last season (15.3 ppg) and was also all-catholic honors, senior Jesse Adamu will be a scoring threat while junior Ryan McCarthy will provide an offensive threat and will be great grabbing rebounds. Third-year head coach Joe Michalics sees this young roster being mature and will display a style of basketball that will not give up. Monsignor Martin Class B is going to be very tough and Nichols will hope to land a spot in the Woj Cup finals.
13.) Clymer – Clymer saw an early exit in the 2020 Section VI Class D playoffs, falling to Sherman in the first round, who would go onto to win the class title. Head coach Irv King will be entering his second season while also bringing back most of his team. Leading the way will be senior Hunter Wassink who led the team in scoring and in steals last season. Wassink also received CCAA II West second-team honors. Along with Alex Dunnewold, Matt White and Bishop Kopta, this core four of seniors will provide a challenge in Class D and want a shot of getting to the title game. Sherman has a strong and consistent boys’ basketball program and is considered the favorite to win the whole thing. However, this year’s Clymer team might have something to say about that. Depending on how the seeding goes, I expect Clymer and Sherman to be in it for the Class D title.
14.) St. Joe’s – Canisius had St. Joe’s number last season, but it might once this season gets underway. St. Joe’s finished with a 20-win season and falling to a dominant Canisius team in the Manhattan Cup. They lost a couple of seniors due to graduation including Daesean Ashley who won all-catholic honors. With that being said, this team brings back a lot of talent that is ready to claim a Manhattan Cup title of their own. Senior and star player Jaden Slaughter will be back along with juniors Josh Haskell and Justin Glover. Third-year head coach Gabe Michael talked praise about seniors Will Beilein, Jamaar Thompson, Charlie Carlone and junior Soloman Jackson. Michael said that these four players have consistently gotten better in practice and have taken tremendous strides. Canisius had their number last year, with this core St. Joe’s has under their helm, I could see both teams back in the Manhattan Cup finals.
15.) Park School – Playing as an independent school during the 2019-2020 season, they finished with an overall record of 18-6. Senior Jalen Bradberry transferred out and returned to play for Niagara Falls. Also, John Orogun graduated after becoming one of the best bigman defenders we have seen in a long time. Keonjay Carter, Desmond Davis and Caleb Hutchins all return as seniors and will most likely be Park’s most talented players. With Bradberry gone, this team will have to rely on their core players last year and will hope to have a deep bench in order to produce a similar record they put up last season.
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