Buffalo’s semi-pro basketball team took the court at the Canisius College Koessler Athletic Center for its season opener on January 3rd, and Head Coach John Fitzpatrick couldn’t have been more proud.
Hired on December 21st, with just 5 practices to get in before the Premier Basketball League (PBL) team’s first game, Fitzpatrick said, “I’m happy with the effort and pride of the team. The loyalty, conviction, maturity and coach-ability is exactly what it needs to be.”
Fitzpatrick pointed to the fact that the team won 98 – 95 after being down by 20-points in the first quarter. “With 2 seconds left, 2 foul shots put us up by 3.” That’s entertainment.
“It’s a great family night,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s very affordable and entertaining, with a high level of play from guys that would be in the NBA Developmental League – along with local guys.” He attributes the “great game-time atmosphere” to the graciousness of Canisius College, in allowing the team to use their newly renovated auditorium, as well as the event planning skills of the team’s owner, former concert promoter, Vincent Lesh.
“Our guys will aspire to get into the NBA summer league or high-level European ball from here,” Fitzpatrick stated. “We’re still forming the roster and will add a couple of players. We’ve got 15 guys between active and inactive.”
There’s a lot of local interest in this team too, with three of the top players coming from Riverside High School; Mark Price and brothers Edmond and Karl Rainey. He’s also got 6’10” Center Kyle Cuffe, who comes to the Stampede from St. John’s, and 6’9″ Kevin Ross (presently on the injured list) from Cleveland State. The team was also lucky enough to acquire Dain Swetalla, whose Romanian team folded just prior to Christmas, and Lamar Castile, who scored 59 points in the last game he played with his Continental Basketball Association (CBA) team.
“As an expansion franchise team in a 1st-year venture, we’re getting it right,” Coach Fitzpatrick said. “We’re a blank canvas, but we’re going to make an impression on the people of Western New York in the tradition of the Buffalo Braves. I believe there’s a group of people out there who’ve been waiting for this.”
Fitzpatrick himself returns to WNY after 30 years of being away. A graduate of Williamsville South in 1975, he went on to Bowling Green, and then to Division 1 coaching jobs at the Naval Academy under David Robinson (when the team was 6th in the country), Fordham University with NIck Macarchuk of Canisius, Witchita State in Kansas, Ball State in Indiana, U of Houston, U of Virginia and Wright State in Ohio.
Fitzpatrick says he’s back due to his “great love of Western New York.” He brought his wife, 8th-grader and 5th-grade twins with him. “The kids want to claim to be Texans,” he said, “but they’re acclimating well. This is a great family community.”
The next home game is this Saturday, January 24th, after away games on the 17th and 18th. Click here for the entire Stampede schedule, ticket prices and up-to-date information.