Seniors using championship experience to guide Wolverines to greatness
By David Yarger
The Niagara Falls High School basketball program has a rich history of winning and is always held to high expectations. In the 2017-18 season, they won the Niagara Frontier League and their 20th Section VI title dating back to the old Niagara Falls High School on Pine Avenue, but this year seniors Quran Dubois, Syquan Ralands, Tazaun Rose and Marquise Miller want more than just another sectional title: they want the states.
Ralands and Miller, who have won three-straight sectional titles, each said the titles feel great, but after being so close two years in a row, they want a taste of the state tournament.
Ralands, who had a game high 12 points in the finals, said, "The first time it felt great, but now that we're on our third time we're trying to get to the states. This is something regular."
Miller, who chipped in 5 points and several offensive rebounds, added, "For me, it feels good because it's my last year, so I'll never get this again. We've been so close to states, this year we gotta get there."
Dubois added that the feeling of last year's title compared to this year's is no different and the team still needs to get to where they need to be, "which is states."
To complete the three-peat, the Wolverines defeated Frontier in the quarterfinals, 62-32, then long time rival Jamestown, 48-39, in the semifinals. In the finals, they defeated the Williamsville North Spartans, 61-42.
In the semifinals, coach Sal Constantino admitted the seniors struggled, as the four combined for just 16 points. In the finals, it was the complete opposite, as the quartet combined for 32 of the Wolverines 61 points.
Dubois and Rose said the goal was to wreak havoc on the Spartans and the praised that to their team with eight underclassmen.
"We just wanted to apply defensive pressure to turn them over a little bit and everybody was scoring, which was another thing that helped us out," Dubois, who had 9 points, said.
Rose, who chipped in 7 points, added, "We just had to keep our intensity after the half and just come out how we came from the first tip."
Ralands has played big minutes for the Wolverines the past three years, while the other three have embraced new roles in their senior year.
Dubois, who played sparingly throughout his junior year, took the role of starting shooting guard for the team and has averaged 13 points per game to go along with five rebounds per game. Dubois will be in the running for some postseason awards and he credited his success to offseason training.
"This summer I knew I was trying to be a big part of the team, so I was in the gym trying to get better, because I knew I could start and I wanted to take on that role," Dubois said.
Rose, who's averaged 7 points and 4 assists per game, has had one of the more drastic role changes, as after missing a few games he was relegated to the role of sixth man.
Rose said, "I wanna give a shoutout to the eighth-grader (Willie Lightfoot) that stepped up for me. ... I'm just playing my role, so whatever I have to do to help us win, I will."
Miller made the transition from guard to forward this season and has been an energy guy in the post for the Wolverines. Miller said the transition was proposed by Constantino leading up to the season.
"Sal came to me and told me he seen that I could make an impact playing the big, so I made a sacrifice for our team and I did that so we could win," Miller said.
Constantino said he believed the transformation of Miller, who stands 5-feet-10-inches tall, from guard to forward would end up paying dividends for the Wolverines.
"We thought with his athleticism and aggressiveness he could be so successful, especially at the high school level around the basket and he bought in," Constantino said.
Constantino mentioned that the public expects the Wolverines to be good year in and year out, due to past success from players like Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris. The expectations could add a bit of pressure to the Wolverines, but Constantino said he just wants his players to play their game and set their own mark on the program.
The four seniors said they don't let the noise get to them and they just act like themselves on the court.
"I just play my game," Rose said. "A lot of people say this about Jonny and Paul, well we're just trying to get where they were at."
Dubois added, "We're not Jonny, we're not Paul, we're just trying to play our game."
Miller and Ralands both said the team is focusing on creating their own legacy in the Niagara Falls program
The win over Williamsville North sends the Wolverines to a third straight Far West Regional game versus the Class AA Section V champion. In 2015, the Wolverines lost to Aquinas, 65-42, and then last season they were defeated by Fairport, 63-32. All four seniors have experience playing in the Far West Regional, but they don't want the same result as the past two.
Rose said, "We gotta have heart. We can't be scared. Offense wins games; defense wins championships and that's what we're about."
Ralands and Miller said the team needs to come out hard and "be the aggressors" and they hoped the third time would be the charm for the Wolverines.
Standing in the Wolverines' way of reaching the state tournament for the first time since 2009 is McQuaid Jesuit.
Niagara Falls defeated McQuaid in their second game of the year, 76-54. Constantino said, "We beat McQuaid kind of good at our place, so we want to guard against us being overconfident."
McQuaid is playing some of their best basketball at the right time, as they head into regionals winning 12 of their last 13 games.
The four seniors and the rest of the Wolverines will look to advance to the state tournament at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Buffalo State arena.