The Niagara Falls boys basketball team is again ready for prime time.
The Wolverines will return to the Prime Time Shootout, an elite annual showcase which includes many of the nation's top teams and players, in February 2012.
Falls will play two games at Kean University. On Saturday, Feb. 11 the Wolverines are scheduled to play New Jersey power St. Benedict's at noon; Falls is also scheduled to play at noon on Sunday, Feb. 12 when it takes on Colts Neck of New Jersey.
Other teams playing that weekend include national powers St. Anthony's and St. Patrick's of New Jersey, Lincoln and Boys & Girls of New York City and Oak Hill Academy of Virginia.
"It's all about challenges and we certainly got one," said Niagara Falls coach Sal Constantino, who was an assistant for Falls when the program made several trips to the Shootout in the mid-2000s. "We've built good relationship with the Primetime, and [Primetime director Jeff Hewitson] was good enough to bring us on board. I'm really excited and the kids are, too. I've been telling the kids that I've been trying to get us a game, and we got two. And we hit the jackpot [with the opponents]."
Constantino said the trip will benefit the team in several ways.
"Obviously we'll have very tough, competitive games to end the regular season and it can only help our playoff run. From an individual standpoint, our players are going to be seen by college coaches who would never have seen them otherwise.
"And it's the experience of a lifetime. I still tell people about seeing Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard. With Oak Hill and St. Pat's there you would think there are going to be future NBA guys."
Constantino said he has let the district know that he won't be requesting additional funds for the trips and that his team will fund-raise to cover the costs.
"It's not fair to ask for money to go play basketball especailly with budgets the way they are now," he said. "We'll fund-raise the bus, hotel and meals -- between now and then we can do it. And our boosters have been really great helping us with what we're trying to do."
The Primetime games will constitute Falls' final two games of the season. With Falls limited to four nonleague games -- its Niagara Frontier League schedule takes up 14 of its 18 games -- these games lock up their schedule. Falls will tip off in two games during its Cataract Classic in early December against Bishop Timon-St. Jude (Dec. 9) and Rochester's Bishop Kearney (Dec. 10).
"We've got to start working in the gym," said a laughing Constantino, "that's all I've got to say."
Niagara Falls made three trips to the Primetime Shootout in the mid-2000s, including during the Wolverines' 2005 state Federation championship season. That year, Falls' only loss came at the Shootout to Vashon of St. Louis. In 2004, Falls lost to St. Anthony's of New Jersey.
In 2006, the Wolverines and then-junior Jonny Flynn were to take on Vashon in a rematch at the Shootout, but the trip was canceled by a snowstorm. In 2007, Falls and Flynn lost to Linden (N.J).
Nichols is the only other team from Western New York to have played in the Shootout, in 2009 and 2010. Like Falls, a Primetime stop was included during its state Federation championship season (2010).
I think it's an excellent thing for Falls, for the same reasons Constantino cited: great on-court experience for the team heading into sectionals; great chance for players to impress; great off-court experience for the team to take a trip like that.
Now, let's be clear -- just because I mentioned "Federation championship" twice higher up in this post certainly doesn't mean the Wolverines will even be the best team in Western New York next year (they might not be second or third with Jamestown, Canisius and several other teams poised for good seasons -- we'll just have to wait and see).
With that said, a program that has been one of Western New York's best since the school was formed in 2000 is certainly worthy of competing in this event. Not every year yielded even a local championship for WNY teams which went to the Primetime, notably Falls in its final trip (loss to Sweet Home in Section VI final) and Nichols in its first (loss to Canisius in Manhattan Cup final).
It's a great move for Falls to pursue and attend an event like this. Their participation sets the bar for themselves at a very high level -- not just for that game, and not just for the season, but for the entire program.
To have super-high goals like that is good for everyone connected with Niagara Falls basketball. That includes from the community to its players -- all the way down through its youth leagues -- not to mention all of Western New York.
taggedBasketball | Niagara Falls