The Daily Gazette All-Area boys’ basketball honors for the 2021-22 season include five players making first-ever appearances on the top team.
Albany’s Isaiah Austin, Albany Academy’s Keyshaun Tillery, Cohoes’ Royal Brown, Green Tech’s Dayshaun Walton and Shenendehowa’s Mason Courtney were each big-time scorers for their respective teams, and contributed in a variety of other ways to help their clubs win games. This year’s top-five players include three seniors, one junior and a sophomore.
Here’s a look at the accomplishments of this season’s first-teamers.
ISAIAH AUSTIN, ALBANY
Albany returned to the upper echelon of Section II Class AA boys’ basketball this season in winning the Suburban Council Gray Division championship and making its first appearance in the area final four since 2011.
Isaiah Austin had a lot to do with that as the Falcons’ entertaining senior scoring leader, who piled up points with short and long jumpers, drives and slam dunks.
In helping his team achieve success, the 6-foot-2 guard enjoyed a bunch of individual honors, as well, including co-MVP of the Suburban Council after making the league’s second team as an 11th-grader.
“We had a pretty good group of guys who wanted to play with and for each other,” said Albany coach Sean Brown, whose team’s 16 wins were the most at Albany in two decades. “He was the cherry on top.”
Austin led the Falcons in scoring for the third year in a row with a 23-point average, and turned in games with 39, 37, 35 and 32 points. He scored those 39 in a 62-60 loss to Newburgh Free Academy when he nailed a school-record eight 3-point baskets, and finished the season with a school-record 57 3s.
“People tell me all the time, ‘I love to watch him play.’ If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I’d be in Hawaii,” Brown said. “He can create his own shot. He can score in transition. His pull-up is fantastic. He can get to the rim. He’s a game-changer.”
Albany reached the Section II Class AA final four with a 63-59 quarterfinal win over Shenendehowa when Austin netted 17 points to boost his varsity career total to 1,001. He added 10 more when Albany lost to eventual state runner-up Green Tech 78-53 in the semifinals, and was named to the all-tournament team.
“I told him he had the ability to be a 1,000 point scorer but he had to prepare himself mentally and physically for the rigors,” Brown said. “He came in prepared. He wanted to reach that milestone and he wanted to help Albany be a successful program. To his credit, he did that.”
While facing every kind of defense imaginable, Austin managed to score 511 points, which is No. 2 on Albany’s single-season list. He also averaged two rebounds and two assists per game, and just under two steals per outing.
“Teams played a box-and-one on him. They were physical. They tried to deny him the ball. It was good for him,” Brown said. “He got a lot better at moving without the ball.”
Brown can envision Austin’s game taking several more steps forward at the next level. Austin is considering several options to continue his basketball career next season.
“He hasn’t reached his ceiling yet on offense or on defense,” Brown said. “He is able to do things defensively that others can’t because of his basketball IQ and skill level, but he’s got more in him.”
KEYSHAUN TILLERY, ALBANY ACADEMY
Albany Academy head coach Brian Fruscio has brought plenty of special players through his program — four former Cadets, in fact, were on NCAA tournament teams this season — so it says something with just how effusive Fruscio is with his praise of sophomore guard Keyshaun Tillery.
“He’s a really super-talented — super-talented — young man,” Fruscio said.
It says even more when Fruscio’s immediate comparison for Tillery is a young version of Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving.
That comparison, Fruscio said, comes from Tillery’s innate ability to get to the basket at will.
“He can get to the basket,” Fruscio said. “He shoots it well, but he really can get to the basket. He plays at a different speed. He changes speeds. To give you a look, he’s a young Kyrie.”
The 6-foot-0 guard largely played shooting guard this season for the Cadets, putting up dynamic numbers — 22.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.4 steals per game while shooting 38.2% from 3-point range — and capping off his season impressively last weekend with a 30-point effort in the Cadets’ win over New York City public school champion Murry Bergtraum.
“He’s learning the point guard position, which I think he’s going to play in college,” Fruscio said. “He’s super fast at the basket and can get downhill. He guards [on defense], he plays hard, but I would say his speed and athleticism are huge keys for him.”
Tillery already has Division I scholarship offers from UMass and UMBC, with interest from other programs including both UAlbany and Siena, as well as Marquette and Maryland.
In the interim, Tillery’s future at Albany Academy remains bright.
“He’s got two more years to keep me smiling,” Fruscio said.
ROYAL BROWN, COHOES
Royal Brown’s role with the Cohoes basketball team, above all else, is to deliver points, and he did that so well and in so many ways this season in leading the Tigers to the Colonial Council championship and a 21-2 mark.
“He’s just a scorer. He knows how to put the ball in the hoop,” Cohoes coach Jeff Huneau said of the 6-foot-2 junior point guard, whose junior resume included 95 3-point baskets. “I remember him playing modified and he averaged almost 40 points a game, as a seventh-grader.”
Brown made up for lost time after a shortened sophomore season with a junior campaign full of highlights — and wins. Both came together in the regular season finale when Brown scored a school-record 47 points in an 84-71 victory over eventual state Class B champion Ichabod Crane.
Brown had a pair of 43-point outings, a game with 38 and three others with 37 before that contest, and averaged a Section II-leading 34.3 points when his season came to a close in the Section II tournament semifinals.
“He was unreal that night,” Huneau said of the Colonial Council MVP’s 47-point night that included seven 3s. “He defended really well, and helped really well.”
Huneau said Brown came into this season with each piece of his offensive package better than the season before when he averaged 31 points in eight games. The smooth lefty with great speed and a quick release on jumpers never scored below 21 points in a game this season, and reached the career 1,000-point mark along the way.
“He can shoot it from NBA range,” said Huneau, who saw Brown sink eight 3s in a win over Mohonasen and seven 3s two other times. “He has a great touch off the glass and a floater in the paint. He got a lot of and-ones. In transition, he’s a nightmare. He can get by so many kids.”
While Brown scored big, he was also a key distributor in a potent Cohoes offense that averaged just under 70 points per game.
“When you’ve got a scorer like we have, he’s got to be given the opportunity,” Huneau said. “He also bought into, ‘Good teams move the ball.’ When teams played box-and-one — and we saw that a lot — he would tell guys to be ready to shoot because the ball is coming.”
Brown was an improved player in a lot of ways this season, when his contributions included 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
“He really improved at the defensive end of the floor. That was commitment and his believing that defense wins,” Huneau said. “And his leadership skills came out more. I only had two senior starters and our sixth man was a sophomore. He was a more vocal leader.”
Brown has already received offers from Division I schools such as Miami, Seton Hall, DePaul, Creighton, Texas A&M and North Carolina A&T.
DAYSHAUN WALTON, GREEN TECH
It’s been a memorable four years for Green Tech senior Dayshaun Walton.
After his freshman year, he thought he might want to transfer out of the charter school. But coach DJ Jones talked him out of it.
“Dayshaun’s like a son to me,” Jones said. “He was considering transferring because he didn’t think he could be the type of player he wanted to be. Here it is, three years later, and look where we are.”
Where the Eagles landed was as Section II Class AA champions and state runners-up to 12-time-champion Mount Vernon.
Walton, a 6-foot-5 forward, was a four-year varsity player and three-year varsity starter. This season, a typical game for Walton included 20 points, eight or nine rebounds, and five or six assists.
“He was our best player as a point forward, in that he was able to rebound and get us in position to score,” Jones said.
With his size, Walton was also a tricky defender who could frustrate guards and forwards alike.
Walton had a memorable playoff run. He scored 23 points in the Section II championship win over CBA. He made the go-ahead basket in the regional final win over Liverpool. Against Mount Vernon, he scored 20 points.
Jones said Walton provided great senior leadership and was good at executing the coaches’ mantra of focusing on one possession at a time.
Collegiately, Jones said Walton is weighing his options.
MASON COURTNEY, SHENENDEHOWA
For all the numbers that Shenendehowa’s Mason Courtney put up on the basketball court, what stood out to coach Paul Yattaw, who took over the program this past season after serving as a longtime assistant, was Courtney’s leadership.
Yattaw noted that in about the first third of the season, the 6-foot-4 senior Courtney was averaging nearly 30 points per game because he had to, as a young Shenendehowa team found its identity.
“We started out against Niskayuna and because we were so young and because of COVID [restrictions], some of these guys hadn’t been in a gym with a lot of people for a while, and he just led us and took on some of the burden,” Yattaw recalled.
“We could have started 0-7,” he added, “but he rose to the occasion to make us better as a team.”
For the season, Courtney averaged 21.2 points, nine rebounds and four assists as a game, helping the Plainsmen to a No. 4 seed in the Section II Class AA tournament.
He was nominally a shooting guard, but played all five positions at times and could defend any position on the court.
Courtney, the co-MVP of the Suburban Council, finished in 12th place on Shenendehowa’s all-time scoring list, seventh place for single-season points, seventh place for single-game rebounds, fifth place for career 3-pointers and second place for single-season 3-pointers.
Courtney will attend Siena as a preferred walk-on to the Division I program. As much as Yattaw will miss his on-court production, he’ll miss more the young man’s giving spirit.
“He’s more than just basketball,” Yattaw said. “We were at Averill Park, and I turned around and he’s, like, ‘Coach, let’s put the chairs away for the custodian.’ He was the head coach of the modified unified basketball team. That’s the kind of young man he is.”
Isaiah Austin, Albany, 12; Keyshaun Tillery, Albany Academy, 10; Royal Brown, Cohoes, 11; Dayshaun Walton, Green Tech, 12; Mason Courtney, Shenendehowa, 12.
Zaveon Little, Green Tech, 12; Peyton Smith, Hudson Falls, 11; Brett Richards, Ichabod Crane, 12; Zahki Fallen, Mekeel Christian Academy, 12; Owen Evans, Niskayuna, 12.
Ceasar Thompson, Amsterdam, 11; Nick Verdile, Ballston Spa, 11; Robert Jordan, Fort Plain, 12; Zachary Rice, Tamarac, 12; CJ McNeil, Stillwater, 12.
SUBURBAN COUNCIL: Luke Haluska, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, 11; Ayden Harrison, CBA, 12; Mitchell MacKissock, Guilderland, 12; Gabe Eldaye, Niskayuna, 12; Daniel Covington, Troy, 10.
FOOTHILLS COUNCIL: Kellen Driscoll, Glens Falls, 9; Giorgio Glionna, Gloversville, 12; Benjamin Swartz, Hudson Falls, 12; Owen Sherman, Schuylerville, 12; Benjamin Kline, Scotia-Glenville, 10.
COLONIAL COUNCIL: Darien Moore, Catholic Central, 8; Alex Schmidt, Ichabod Crane, 11; Adam Meyers, La Salle, 11; Kyle Cornell, Mohonasen, 12; Carson Carrow, Voorheesville, 11.
WASAREN LEAGUE: Greenwich, Jesse Kuzmich, 12; Mechanicville, Colin Richardson, 10; Robbie Bolen, Saratoga Catholic, 12; Jaxon Mueller, Stillwater, 10; Joey Poulin, Tamarac, 11.
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE: Mark Edwards, Berne-Knox-Westerlo, 12; Jeff Mulhern, Duanesburg, 9; Nick Hastings, Fonda-Fultonville, 12; Levi Thomas, Fort Plain, 12; Mason Snell, OESJ, 12.
OTHER: Bobby Chandler, Albany Academy, 11; Shamiere Green, Albany Academy, 11; Caleb Nelson, Granville, 11; Cameron Orr, Lake George, 12; Joe Roddy, Mekeel Christian Academy, 12.