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Big 4 doubleheader set for Nov. 29 at FNC: UB-Canisius & Niagara-Bona

By Bob DiCesare

All four Big 4 teams. In one place. At one time.


The four local Division I programs will meet in a true doubleheader for the first time since 1998 in an afternoon twinbill at the First Niagara Center on Saturday Nov. 29. Niagara and St. Bona will open at 2 p.m., followed by Canisius and UB at 4:15.

"We are excited to be able to bring a true Big 4 doubleheader to First Niagara Center," Canisius AD Bill Maher said in a release. "Setting up an event like this takes a lot of cooperation and coordination between all four schools and First Niagara Center. With four strong fan bases and alumni groups locally, and the fact that this year's event falls on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we believe this will be a must-see event for sports fans across Western New York."

What's the potential? A Big 4 doubleheader at the FNC on Nov. 30, 1996, drew 12,508.

Big 4 doubleheaders went by the wayside as the schools, members of three different conferences, pursued their own agendas motivated by maximizing home dates and revenues. However, it stood to reason that it was in their common interest to combine forces one day a year to maximize exposure for all involved.

That day is back.


Tickets for the Big 4 Basketball Classic will be available through Tickets.Com, at the First Niagara Center box office or by phone at 1-888-223-6000. Tickets range from $20-30.


Simon Gray named Niagara AD

By Bob DiCesare

Simon Gray, a ninth-year athletic administrator at Eastern Kentucky, was introduced as the new athletic director at Niagara during a news conference this morning at the university.

Gray, a Pittsburgh native, became EKUs senior associate athletic director in 2011, according to his biography on the school Web site. It says that he served as senior administrator for men's and women's basketball while also acting in a variety of other capacities.

"We are very excited to welcome Simon Gray to Niagara University to lead the Purple Eagles," Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., university president, said in a news release. "His experience as an athletic administrator and his commitment to the university's mission will be critical elements in the continued success of our athletic department. He will be a great asset to our student-athletes, and our entire athletic department, and his positive impact will be felt in the Western New York community and beyond."

Steve Butler had served as Niagara's interim AD since Tom Crowley was removed from the post in September of 2013 after just 11 months on the job. Niagara named Chris Casey to replace the departed Joe Mihalich as basketball coach during Crowley's tenure, but it's unclear whether Crowley played a significant role in that hiring. Crowley has since been hired as special assistant to the commissioner in the Horizon League.

Butler was promoted to interim AD from his role of Associate AD for External Relations. Butler has been at Niagara since May of 2009.

Gray graduated from Richmond in 1998, according to his EKU bio, and worked in media relations at Boston College and East Tennessee State before becoming director of athletic public relations at Richmond. He joined EKU's athletic administration four years later and earned a master's degree in sports administration in 2010.

"Niagara University has such a strong history of athletic achievement." Gray said in the release announcing his appointment. "I am thrilled to be coming to NU and I look forward to being a part in the continued success of the Purple Eagles. This is a great opportunity and I look forward to working with people on campus, and in the local and regional communities, to spread the great name of Niagara athletics."


Two transfer from St. Bonaventure

By Rodney McKissic

Add two more names to the ever expanding transfer list: St. Bonaventure's Matthias Runs and Jean Yves Toupane who the school announced will not return to the program.

These aren’t huge losses. Runs, a 7-foot sophomore center from Hilversum, Netherlands, played in just two games while Toupane, a 6-foot-7 forward from Dakar, Senegal, played in six and scored four points.

The only other Big 4 player who has elected to transfer thus far is Niagara's Tajere McCall.

Bonnies look to extend Schmidt's contract

By Rodney McKissic

Now that Mark Schmidt has moved on from Boston College, St. Bonaventure is looking to extend his contract.

Schmidt’s current deal runs through the 2018-19 season and the Bonnies hope to extend the coach another two years, according to a source.

“We are thrilled that Mark has decided to continue as the head coach of our men’s basketball program," St. Bonaventure AD Steve Watson said in a statement released by the school. “He has done a remarkable job of building the program. We hope Mark will be our coach for a long time, and to that end, we have started discussions about an extension of our commitment to him.”

ESPN reported Tuesday morning that Schmidt was no longer an option at Boston College. A source confirmed that Schmidt spoke with former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, whose search firm is working on behalf of Boston College. According to the source, Boston College athletics director Brad Bates did not ask St. Bonaventure athletics director Steve Watson permission to speak with Schmidt, a common practice among ADs, although Bates was not obligated to do so.

Fogler spoke directly to Schmidt, who kept Watson apprised of the proceedings, the source said. Neither Schmidt nor Watson were available for comment.

Schmidt has a 106-109 record at St. Bonaventure and in 2012 he led the Bonnies to their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000. Schmidt played at Boston College from 1981-85.

“It is an honor to be the head coach at St. Bonaventure,” Schmidt said in a statement released by the school. “This is a fantastic University with passionate fans in a community my family and I are proud to call home.”

Report: Schmidt no longer an option at Boston College

By Rodney McKissic

St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt is no longer an option at Boston College, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. Goodman is also reporting that Syracuse University assistant Mike Hopkins is no longer under consideration as well.

Schmidt reportedly interviewed at Boston College last week; nevertheless according to Mark Blaudschun of, Schmidt spoke with Eddie Fogler, whose search firm is working on behalf of the school last week. Schmidt played at BC from 1981-85.

Hopkins interviewed on campus on Saturday and on Monday Ohio University coach Jim Christian emerged as a viable candidate which stands to reason because he’s one of Fogler’s clients. Christian’s head coaching stops include Kent State and TCU.  It is unknown if Christian has scheduled an interview.

Schmidt, who was unavailable for comment, recently completed his seventh season at St. Bonaventure where he has a 106-109 record. In 2012, Schmidt led the Bonnies to their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000.

Canisius-UB Game Wrap

Canisius 69, UB 55

How Canisius Won: UB captured the first 28 minutes, 49-40. Canisius captured the last 12, 29-6, by pulverizing the Bulls in every facet of the game. UB made 3 of its last 17 shots trying to attack the Griffs zone from the perimeter. At the other end, Canisius went to the basket with a vengeance and made 55.6 percent of its second-half field goals. It was like watching Popeye after he downs his spinach.

Player of the Game: Billy Baron was his usual self, scoring a game-high 23 points. And because that's so typical of Baron the honor is free to go elsewhere, in this case to co-players of the game guard Chris Perez and forward Phil Valenti. It wasn't just that the two combined for 27 points and nine boards. It's that no one on UB could match their energy level. They were all over the court.

Leap Backward: UB has lost to both Canisius and Niagara in the same season for the first since since 2000-01. That was Reggie Witherspoon's first full year as coach and the program was in its MAC infancy.

Live By It, Die By It: UB pulled out Saturday's game against St. Bonaventure by nailing four straight threes late. This time they went just 2 of 16 from downtown in the second half while trying to solve the Canisius zone. UB is now shooting less than 30 percent from beyond the arc this season. And a long season it will be if that doesn't change because . . .

What Ever Happened To: Javon McCrea. One of the best players ever to wear a UB uniform has totaled three second-half field goal attempts over the last two games. Three. UB had better find ways to utilize him away from the basket or free up passing lanes underneath before his senior year goes to waste.

Noteworthy: Chris Manhertz's game-high nine rebounds were a season high. Four of them were on the offensive glass.

Convincingly: The Griffs have spanked opponents by 14 points or more during their three-game winning streak.

Stat Check: Canisius outscored UB 32-24 in the paint andattempted 25 free throws compared to just eight for UB. How times have changed.

What It Means:Canisius improved to 6-3 while UB fell to 4-3.

In the House: The paid attendance at First Niagara was 4,703. Or about what they'd get for a Little Three jv game back in the old days.

What's Next: Canisius heads to the big city Saturday to face St. Francis Brooklyn. UB is off until it hits the Barclays Center on Dec. 21 for a meeting with Manhattan, the preseason favorite in the MAAC.

-- Bob DiCesare

UB's Watson signs to play pro basketball in Germany

Reggie Witherspoon (left) coached guard Tony Watson for four years.
          Reggie Witherspoon (left) coached guard Tony Watson for four years.                      Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

By Aaron Mansfield

Tony Watson was never known as the athlete who wanted to play professional basketball overseas. Sure, the University at Buffalo guard had moments he envisioned actualizing his hoop dreams, but he never seriously considered bouncing between continents a feasible career.

Something changed last winter when Mid-American Conference play started. Watson heated up and started taking over games. The smooth-stroking lefty averaged 26.3 points per game over a three-game stretch. Asked about his performance, then-head coach Reggie Witherspoon could only say, “holy smokes.” Scouts took notice, too. 

Watson has signed with the German basketball team Bayer Giants to play Pro A basketball this season. Watson, who played four years with the Bulls and was a key contributor his final three, will leave for Germany Sept. 1.

“I talked to my coaches about it, and they all said I have the skills to play over there,” Watson, 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, said via phone from Florida Wednesday afternoon. “Physically, I’m big enough to play, fast enough to play … After the season, a few agents hit me up right away and I was able to sign one who is a real professional, real honest guy. So I took the opportunity to go ahead and pursue my dreams.”

Steve James of SDJ Sports, Watson's agent, had three German teams interested in Watson, and he signed with the first one that offered a contract.

Watson averaged 11.3 points per game last year, second on UB only to first-team All-MAC forward Javon McCrea, and led his squad in minutes per game (34.9). The senior, one of two on the team and the only who received serious playing time, was called on to provide the leadership, and he answered the plea. Watson, known as the team's motivator with a tendency for slapping the floor on defense, averaged 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game while shooting a sizzling 42 percent from three-point range.

The Bulls’ season ended fittingly, with Watson weaving through traffic and driving coast-to-coast to lay in the final two points of his college career as the buzzer sounded on an 83-81 overtime loss to Kent State in the MAC Quarterfinals.

Watson played the 2 at UB, but he will go back to his original position of point guard for the duration of his professional career.

“My leadership is going to be magnified now because not only am I the point guard, but I’m one of the American basketball players on a European team,” Watson said. “They don’t necessarily look up to Americans, but they do kind of put those guys on a pedestal and expect certain things out of Americans. My leadership that I was able to acquire at UB, I’m going to take that over there with me.”

Watson is a coach-on-the-court type player with a high basketball IQ and the ability to catch fire at any time. Once he hits one three-pointer, the southpaw from West Palm Beach, Fla., has a propensity to pull up from 30 feet – and often knock it down.

At what turned out to be Witherspoon's final press conference as UB's head coach (first-year Athletic Director Danny White fired Witherspoon and hired Bobby Hurley in March), Witherspoon said of Watson: "He was really, really big for our team to have a chance to beat the teams in the top of the conference."

“This summer, I’m keeping my tools sharpened,” Watson said. “It’s all about what I can bring to that team ... I’ve been known to shoot the ball, so I’m keeping that sharp and working on my physical fitness, becoming stronger and more athletic.”

Signing with a professional team overseas is a daunting venture for any college athlete. Watson was thankful to have a mentor in the process: former UB assistant coach Turner Battle (now in the same position at Chattanooga), who played in Estonia and France before joining the NBDL and eventually the Buffalo Rapids of the American Basketball Association.

Watson also contacted several former UB teammates who play overseas now, including Titus Robinson (Australia) and Mitchell Watt (Israel), and said, “they gave me great advice.”

Several Bayer players have already reached out to Watson. The red-and-white Giants are considered among the most successful teams in German basketball history. They won the league championship last season.

Watson expects to start and he already knows who his backcourt mate will be: former Northern Iowa shooting guard Marc Sonnen, who averaged 10.5 points for the Panthers last season.

Watson missed time in his college career with ankle injuries, but he is hoping to have a lengthy pro career. 

“As long as my body lasts and it’s worth it as far as bringing in enough money and isn’t causing too much wear and tear on my body, I’m going to continue to play,” Watson said. “The average professional basketball career is only three years, but I would like to play more than that. As long as it’s worth it, I’m going to continue pursuing my dream of playing professional basketball.”

Watson graduated with his management degree in May and interned his senior year in UB’s athletic department.

* * *

Click here to read Rodney McKissic's Feb. 22 article about Watson's hot streak. 

* * *

Follow reporter Aaron Mansfield on Twitter @aaroncmansfield.


Ortega, Dixon and Wilson will not return to St. Bonaventure

by Amy Moritz

St. Bonaventure's leading scorer will not return for her senior season. Doris Ortega along with guards CeCe Dixon and Tatiana Wilson were dismissed from the Bona women's basketball team.

"Obviously we wish them well," Bona coach Jim Crowley said. "It just didn't work here."

Crowley said all three have been granted their release and play at any school they wish. He also added about the departure, "I wouldn't say it was mutual."

Ortega started 27 games for the Bonnies last year, averaging 12.1 points. Dixon played in 24 games, missing five after being suspended for what was called an "internal team issue." The Bonnies seemed to be fighting through internal issues and chemistry problems at times last season. Combine that with a young team and several injuries and the program that went to the Sweet 16 in 2012 finished up 2013 with a 10-19 overall record and a 3-11 Atlantic 10 mark.

Wilson, who would have been a junior at Bona, averaged 9.1 minutes and saw action in 26 games.

Ortega and Dixon had been key components of the Bonnies run in 2012 as sophomores but seemed to stumble as juniors with the ability to take their game and leadership to the next level.

With their departures, Bona now returns just eight players -- two seniors and six sophomores -- with two freshman on the roster for next season.

Among those returning are seniors Ashly Zahn and Chelsea Bowker, who sat out last year as a medical redshirt with an ankle injury.

Among the sophomores returning are Katie Healy (Lancaster), Nyla Rueter and Emily Michael, all of whom saw significant playing time as freshmen.

Crowley said the team has responded very well to the loss of their teammates.

"From the time it happened, they have focused on moving forward," Crowley said. "We've gotten some great work ethic and leadership from people. They've had a solid spring and summer. We lost talent. Over the last two years we've lost a lot of it, but we have good talent here. We're getting used to each other, to playing together and for each other. Each day we're a day closer."


Source: Cline will transfer to Richmond

By Rodney McKissic

The mass exedous from Niagara in the wake of Joe Mihalich's departure continues with freshman T.J. Cline giving a verbal commitment to attend Richmond according to a source.

Cline, the son of Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, visited Charlotte last week and informed the 49ers staff on Saturday that he would attend Richmond. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Cline was named to the MAAC All-Rookie Team after averaging 7.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 33 games. He also led the Purple Eagles in 3-point shooting percentage with 33.6 percent.

Cline must sit out the 2013-14 season per NCAA transfer rules, but will have three seasons of eligibility remaining. The news comes just days after Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley joined Mihalich at Hofstra.

The Ins and Outs at Niagara


Niagara coach Chris Casey has landed his first recruit as he strives to stablize a Niagara basketball program that continues to be hit by defections.

Niagara has signed Karonn Davis,  6-2 combo guard from Friends Central near Philly, but sources say the Purple Eagles are losing senior-to-be Malcolm Lemmons, who has elected to transfer. Lemmons, a reserve guard, joins All-MAAC guard Juan'ya Green and rebounding leader Ameen Tanksley on the transfer wagon that's crowding since coach Joe Mihalich was announced as the new head coach at Hofstra. Sources say Green and Tanksley are preparing to visit Hofstra, which was not forbidden when they were granted their transfers by the Purple Eagles.

Could another defection be forthcoming?

Continue reading "The Ins and Outs at Niagara" »

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |