There was a sign of respect during the hand-shake line following the McKinley-Williamsville South Class A-1 boys final, more than just a typical good-game-type of hand slap between McKinley star Mansa Habeeb and South's sensational little point guard Mark Coppola.
That's because the well-respected Coppola earned even more from Habeeb, who witnessed what the little 5-foot-6 point guard could do two years ago when the two teams faced each other in sectionals.
While Habeeb willed the Macks to their third straight title with a career-high 40 points, Coppola did his thing -- running the Billies' offense amid constant double teaming and physical defense from McKinley. All Coppola did was finish with 12 assists and 14 points, scoring seven points in the fourth quarter and canning a late three-pointer in the second overtime that gave the Billies a glimmer of hope when it seem like all was lost.
Coppola also led a defense that flustered a quick Macks team into more mistakes than usual with its man-to-man pressure.
Habeeb had nothing but praise for the potential All-Western New York candidate.
"He's a great player," Habeeb said. "Hopefully next year he'll win that A-1 [championship]. I remember when we played him two years ago. He was good then, but he's even better now. ... I like the little fella."
Habeeb isn't the only one impressed with Coppola.
"Coppola could definitely play in the Yale Cup," McKinley coach Zaire Dorsey said. "He's faster than what we thought and he's a good ball handler."
One more thought on the game, as thrilling as it was watching these two teams run and gun for most of the 40 minutes they battled on the court, it was frightening watching these teams shoot free throws. They went a combined 38 for 68 from the not-so-charity stripe, with South making 20-of-37 shots.