Huge crowd expected for possible game of the year
By David Yarger
High school basketball is, for the most part, quite popular in Western New York. People enjoy watching what type of talent is coming up the pipeline and possibly witnessing future stars in the making.
On Friday, Western New York high school basketball lovers are in for a treat.
Niagara Falls High School and Lewiston-Porter will battle for the first time this season in a game that has produced almost as much hype as an NBA finals game.
The Wolverines will travel to L-P boasting an 11-2 overall record (8-0 Niagara Frontier League). The Wolverines are also ranked ninth in Class AA of New York state.
The Wolverines, who haven’t lost to the Lancers since 2014, have been led by the trio of Willie Lightfoot, Jalen Bradberry and Josiah Harris.
Offensively, when the Wolverines’ jump shots are on, they’re tough to beat. NF has averaged around 81 points per game and on the defensive side of the ball, they’ve been just as good; allowing 52.5 points per game.
The Lancers come into the matchup with a 12-0 record – the team’s best start since 1977-78, when L-P won its last Section VI title – and are ranked 10th in Class A of New York state.
The Lancers have also been led by a trio of players – Roddy Gayle, Trent Scott and Jalen Duff – who have helped the Lancers average 80.3 points per game. And like the Falls, the Lancers have played well defensively; allowing 57.1 points per game.
The two teams last matched in last year’s NFL Crossover Championship, where the Wolverines took care of the Lancers, 76-46, to win the school’s 15th league title since the 1999-2000 season.
Despite the recent dominance by the Wolverines, there’s a twist to this year’s matchup.
Gayle, Lewiston-Porter’s leading scorer, was a member of the Falls team last year, which won its third-straight Section VI Class AA title.
Additionally, Bradberry comes over from the recently closed Niagara Catholic after helping the team to a state finals appearance.
The trio of Gayle, Bradberry and Lightfoot have all caught the eyes of basketball fans across WNY. The three are also the best of friends and have played the majority of their lives on the same team.
The game has garnered a lot of hype because of the talent each roster possesses, as well as it being Gayle’s first game versus NF, and one of the few times that Gayle has been an opponent of Lightfoot and Bradberry. All three players admitted it will be different facing off against one another.
“When you play against your friends, they all know your moves,” Gayle said. “I’m gonna have to do something different. I’m just looking at is another game against a great competitor. It’s going to be a tough, close, grind it out game.”
“After playing with Roddy my whole life, it will actually seem kind of odd, but the times we did use to play against each other; we battled it out every single time. I’m looking forward to this battle,” Bradberry said.
Lightfoot added it’ll be real different, but the main focus is just getting a W.
Lancers coach Matt Bradshaw and Niagara Falls coach Sal Constantino understood it would be a different feel for the three, as well, but they said each player will know what matters most come game time.
“I think it’s tough for the three of them,” Constantino said. “Your friends, at the end of the day, always wanna have the last word or whatever, but I think its been built up by adults to be honest with you. I think the kids at the end of the day … could go at each other at LA Fitness in the same thing. It’s what makes them really good players; they like to compete against the best, and they’re obviously three of the best players around.”
Bradshaw added, “Roddy is the most even-keeled kid I’ve ever met and he’s only 15. He carries himself like he’s 19 or 20 years old. Roddy doesn’t talk trash, Roddy doesn’t get personal. Roddy’s answer to me is always ‘It’s just another game.’ That’s why Roddy is so good.”
In today’s day and age, talk about the game has cluttered social media. Constantino said he stresses to his team not to get involved with the happenings on social media, but understood they’re teenagers and everything on Twitter, Facebook and more is just a way of life today. The trio of Bradberry, Lightfoot and Gayle all agreed, though, that they’ve just cropped all the hoopla out of their head.
“A lot of hype has been all around social media,” Bradberry said. “Me and the guys have just kept our cool (while) not letting it get to our head. Just taking it day by day, getting better each day.”
On keeping the focus on the game, Lightfoot replied, “Just wanting to win. That’s all we care about is winning the game, so we’re not worried about nothing else.”
Gayle added, “It’s just fans rooting for their own team. I get it.”
Despite what is seeming to be deemed the most hyped up NFL game in some time, Constantino and Bradshaw gave no attention to the outside drama and, as coaches, view the battle as another game to win.
“It’s just another game on our schedule to be honest with you,” Bradshaw said. “We need the power points to get a good seed (for sectionals); that’s how I’m looking at it.
“It’s unfortunate that its being made out to be the way it is – Roddy versus the other team. I find that ridiculous. Roddy’s 15 years old. This is Lewiston-Porter – 14 guys versus 12 guys on Niagara Falls for another game in the league and that’s just how I approach it.”
“We kind of laugh about it – how this is such a big game in the Niagara Falls community. Just another game for us. At the end of the day, the only thing is, we’re a little more familiar with the players on the other team. … The state championship is not gonna be won on Friday,” Constantino said.
Lightfoot, Bradberry and Gayle each had similar comments that it will be fun and competitive Friday night, but in retrospect, it’s just another game. Gayle commented that fighting tough against the Wolverines would be big for the Lancers, though. Additionally, Bradberry said he’s looking forward to facing Gayle, Duff and Scott.
With two of the best offenses in WNY set to square off, both Constantino and Bradshaw said it will be a battle between two dominant squads.
“They’re good; I mean, they’re good at every position,” Bradshaw said of Niagara Falls. “Willie is a heck of a point guard; Jalen Bradberry is a great two player; Harris is shooting it; (and) guys inside are doing their job. They play great pressure defense.
“I think we hope we can catch them on a cold shooting night. Just try to control the pace of the game a little bit and again, maybe they’re not going to shoot the ball as well in our gym as they would in their own.”
“They can definitely score the ball,” Constantino said of the Lancers. “Trent’s been there; he’s a very good player. Roddy’s arguably one of the best players in Western New York, for sure. … They got some good role players. … They’ll be a good matchup. I’m hoping our guys realize – we’re thinking it’s going to be a really big crowd, and that the insanity that is outside the lines, we don’t let that affect us inside the lines.”
Despite two of the top teams in WNY facing off, both coaches didn’t view the battle as a ‘win makes a statement’ type game.
Constantino said, “They’re just another team that we’re playing. One of the kids said, ‘It is a big game,’ and I said, ‘For who?’ and he said, ‘Well, for them.’ I get that, but for us its same old, same old. … Business as usual we keep saying. But, again, I think my biggest challenge on Friday will be not so much the kids and our abilities, but how we handle it emotionally.”
“I wouldn’t call it a statement game,” Bradshaw said. “We got 6 points in power points section (with a win), that’s all I would call it. I will continue to say, we are 12-0 with a 14- and 15-year-old. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. No statement game, just another game in the schedule.”
With the fast-spreading word on social media and word of mouth, buzz has flown around all of Western New York and fans are expected to show up well before the 7 p.m. tipoff, which will create a jam-packed atmosphere inside the Lewiston-Porter gymnasium.
“Just based on what I’m hearing, it’s supposed to be pretty rocking,” Bradshaw said. “But let’s just not forget, this is a game with kids in it. That’s what we need to look at – it’s not personal. It’s everybody come cheer for a good game.”
As the road team, Constantino said the hostile environment will be a good experience for the team, but the team has already endured settings like the one expected Friday night.
“I always think that hostile helps your team grow. That’s why we went to Syracuse. We had about four fans there and then we went to McQuaid. I think it sets us up down the road for bigger moments,” Constantino said.
Gayle, Lightfoot and Bradberry each expect a packed house, as well. Bradberry remarked, “The whole town is coming out to see this one. It will be one to remember.”
The gym is expected to fill up fast in anticipation for the contest. The junior varsity squads will battle at 5:30 p.m., with varsity set to tip at 7 p.m.