Jamestown High School boys varsity basketball coach Ben Drake was running the Red Raiders through a late-afternoon practice on Thursday afternoon when they broke into two lines - one for layups and the other for rebounding.
When the buzzer sounded, the kids did the drill, which highlighted a fast pace, crisp passes and plenty of communication, again.
Zack Panebianco and the rest of the Jamestown Red Raiders, the state’s 10th-ranked Class AA school, will entertain No. 22 Williamsville North at 5:30 p.m., Saturday at McElrath Gymnasium. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
It was apparent that Drake was trying to simulate what the Red Raiders will face Saturday night when they meet Erie County Interscholastic Conference Division 1 rival Williamsville North in a showdown of two of the state's best Class AA schools.
The Red Raiders (6-0, 2-0) are ranked No. 10 in this week's New York State Sportswriters Association poll, while the Spartans (6-1, 2-1), fresh off Thursday night's 77-76 upset loss to Clarence, are No. 22.
Varsity tip-off is at 5:30 p.m. at McElrath Gymnasium.
''We'll have a couple good battles against them this season, that's for sure,'' Drake said. ''They're a great team and they have a great player. We've had some really, really good games against them the last several years and I would expect Saturday would be another one.''
For basketball lovers, this one has the makings of something special.
Williamsville North junior Sterling Taplin is a returning second-team all-Western New York and third-team all-state selection, who has already drawn the interest of some Division I collegiate programs.
''He's as good as it gets for Western New York,'' Drake said. ''He's very good and he's improved. He's bigger and stronger than he's been in the past. It's going to take a team effort to limit him.''
Spartans coach Chuck Swierski could be saying the same thing about Jamestown senior Tommy Campion.
A returning third-team all-Western New York and seventh-team all-state choice last season, Campion is even better this year as he closes in on 1,000 career points. In six games, he is averaging 25 points per game and has pushed his career total to 828, which is No. 14 on the school's all-time list, one point behind R.J. James (1997-01).
''He's just playing great this year,'' said Drake, who is one win away from the 250 milestone for his career, which would tie him with Roland Taft (1937-57) for the most victories in school history. ''Scoring 1,000 points in high school is tough to do and not a lot of guys have done it. ... It's quite a feat and it says a lot about him and how hard he's worked.''
What typically happens in games like this, however, is that other players step up, too. And while Campion has garnered much of the publicity, his teammates have done a nice job supporting him. In Jamestown's last game - a 54-52 victory over Bishop Timon - Campion poured in 22 points to garner most valuable player honors in the United Way Tip-Off Tournament, but three teammates - sophomores Zack Panebianco and Branden Kellam, and junior Quinn Lee Yaw - were named to the all-tourney team, and a fourth, sophomore Stephen Carlson, hit the game-clinching free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining.
''It showed we had a lot of maturity,'' Campion said of the win over Bishop Timon. ''It showed our team can pull through in a close game.''
Here's guessing that Saturday's showdown against the Spartans will be another nail-biter.
''They've always had a talented team, especially with Taplin, and they've always played us tough,'' said Campion, who hit a game-winning layup in the final seconds to beat the Spartans on the road last season. ''You always know what you're going to get when you play them.''