Niskayuna boys’ basketball seniors hope long road ends in Section II Class AA title

Niskayuna boys basketball head coach Mike Grasso speak to his players during the high school basketball game against Saratoga at SSHS in Saratoga Springs on Jan. 11.

Niskayuna boys basketball head coach Mike Grasso speak to his players during the high school basketball game against Saratoga at SSHS in Saratoga Springs on Jan. 11.

Jack Allen, Gabe Eldaye, Darian Parker and Owen Evans have seen this coming for a long time.

The four started playing basketball together in third grade, and as they grew together, they knew the potential was there for something special when they got older.

Now, as the core four seniors for a resurgent Niskayuna boys’ basketball squad, that long-held belief has come to life. Nearing the midpoint of the season, the Silver Warriors boast an unbeaten record in the Suburban Council and have serious ambitions of bringing home the school’s first Section II boys’ basketball championship since 1978.

“This has been our plan for the last eight years that we’ve been playing together,” said Allen, who leads Niskayuna in scoring at 12.9 points per game. “The four of us, especially, since we were super young — from third grade up — we always had one goal, and that was to win a sectional championship. Now that it’s our senior year, it looks like it’s finally panning out.”

Niskayuna’s a perfect 7-0 in the Suburban Council so far this season, and while the team suffered its first blemish of the season Friday night with a 63-61 setback against Mekeel Christian Academy, the Silver Warriors remain on solid footing heading into the meat of their schedule.

All four seniors were contributors two years ago when Niskayuna made a run to the semifinals of the Section II Class AA tournament — Parker and Eldaye were both starters as sophomore — and they’ve continued to build since that season thanks to a no-nonsense, hard-working mentality.

When gym time was unavailable in 2020 due to shutdowns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Eldaye said that he and his classmates would head to the park — “the only place we could go” — at 8 a.m. to get offseason work in.

This season, Niskayuna opened its campaign by beating Shenendehowa 57-51 on Dec. 10, the program’s first win over the Plainsmen since the 2005-06 season, and head coach Mike Grasso’s team has continued to grind out wins since then.

“Our focus has just been to win games,” Parker said. “To get to the point where we have a target on our backs, that’s a bonus.”

The victories have come, but they haven’t necessarily been pretty.

Through Friday, five of Niskayuna’s eight games have been decided by seven points or less, with the Silver Warriors sporting a 4-1 record in those contests — wins by six points over Shenendehowa, four over Albany, one over Guilderland and seven over Saratoga Springs prior to Friday’s two-point loss to Mekeel Christian.

Success in those tight games has come down to the team’s balance, Grasso said. The team’s scoring is spread out, with Allen, Evans (10.6 ppg) and Eldaye (10.4 ppg) all averaging double-digits, with Parker just behind at 8.9 ppg.

“It’s been a different guy stepping up every game,” Grasso said. “It’s comforting to know there’s multiple guys that can make plays down the stretch.”

Niskayuna’s also been able to rely on a tenacious defense. They’re allowing just 46 points per game this season, and Friday’s game against Mekeel Christian was the first in which the Silver Warriors allowed an opponent to put up more than 53 points.

“That’s something we pride ourselves on,” Eldaye said. “Even if our offense isn’t going — which it hasn’t been, these last couple games — if we play defense, limit turnovers and rebounds, we don’t think there’s a team that can beat us.”

“That’s what we hang our hat on,” Grasso said. “Defense travels, and we know that if we play defense, we have a shot to win every single game.”

The area postseason is still more than a month away — Grasso said the team’s first priority is getting to the top of the Suburban Council during the regular season — but for all four seniors, there’s a strong allure to being the group to end the school’s long boys’ basketball championship drought.

“We’re going one game at a time,” Evans said. “but it’s definitely in the back of our mind.”

“That’s our goal, and if we’re short of it, we’re going to be disappointed,” Eldaye said. “That’s just how it is.”

Categories: High School Sports, Sports


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