Falcons roster list 3 returners, 9 new faces
By David Yarger
Last season, the Niagara-Wheatfield boys basketball team struggled after a 3-0 start to the season. Throw in the fact the team lost six seniors, including team captains Anthony Ruffino, who was the team's leading scorer, and Ben DeVantier, it made some people question how successful the 2018-19 season will turn out.
Despite the turnover, coach Erik O'Bryan and his Falcons basketball team is coming into the new season refreshed and ready to start a clean slate.
The team will look to improve after its 6-15 season from one year ago. In doing so, O'Bryan will have a plethora of new faces, along with three familiar faces.
"We have nine new faces," O'Bryan said. "I do know the kids are battling in practice right now. They're excited. It's an energetic group, which I love. Instead of them feeding off me, I feed off of them, and I haven't had that, which is a lot of fun for me. I'm an energetic guy, I use that enthusiasm and these guys bring it out of me sometimes now, which is a good thing. You need that out of a team, you can't be the guy that supplies the energy all the time."
Amongst the new faces include Raejaun Smith and Roman Wright, who transferred from the recently closed Niagara Catholic High School. O'Bryan said the transition from NC to N-W has been smooth for the duo.
"They fit in perfect," O'Bryan said. "Niagara Catholic made that announcement and Roman, as a Wheatfield resident, right away contacted me 'I'm coming here.' And that was great. So, he was able to play all summer with us. I feel bad for the two of them. They gotta transfer out of their senior year. Their senior year, they have to go to another school. So, we're trying to make the best of it for them.
"Raejaun brings that energy, Raejaun brings that smile. ... He brings that tone to practice sometimes where it's just nice where all of a sudden he smiles and everyone just calms down. They both bring leadership and we'll see what they bring to the table. ... They fit in well chemistry-wise, and that's important."
Also new to the roster is Andy DeVantier, Ryan Mellerski, freshman TJ Robinson, Ben Salomon, Jay Smith, Clay Ruhland and Joey Woroniecki.
The team's biggest struggle last season was putting the ball in the basket. Ruffino carried a bulk of the workload last season for the Falcons, but with him gone, O'Bryan said it would be intriguing to see who stepped up to take his place.
"I believe we have more than just that one guy that can put the ball in the basket. I really don't know who's going to lead us in scoring. I think it could be someone different a lot of nights. We're watching practices and you can play nine to 12 guys, and I love that. It's competitive; kids are going at each other.
"There's gonna be some ups and downs, but we'll see. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We'll see how it plays out throughout the whole season," O'Bryan said.
O'Bryan's three returners from last year include, Cam Miller, Zach Stanley and Davon Ware. Stanley and Ware will likely be two of O'Bryan's top guards this season, and O'Bryan was looking forward to the seasons they could post.
"He's (Stanley) a program kid; he brings everything to the table. He's that glue guy for us. ... On the floor, he's that guy you can always look to, he's the multi-faceted guy who does a little bit of everything.
"I told Davon we're all in. ... He brings a lot to the table, just some nights he's gotta remember to just play within himself and set the table for others, don't worry too much about who you're going up against and not make it a one-on-one thing. ... If he can do that, I think he's one of the better guards in the league, hands down, and we got some good ones in our league," O'Bryan said.
Something unique to this year's squad, O'Bryan answered quick with one word: competitiveness.
"They really beat the heck out of each other every day," O'Bryan said. "Coach Miller Sr. just said 'I love what I'm watching.' That's fun. ... I'm not coaching effort and that goes a long way. It adds a little bit of years onto your life when you don't have to come to practice everyday and coach effort or coach energy. They're doing it for you. It makes coming to practice a lot more fun."
The Falcons recently won their first scrimmage versus St. Joes and players were upbeat about the showing. The team's first regular season matchup is at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at Wilson.