Remembering The Champs: Members of Schenectady’s ’98 state championship team have taken different paths through life

Coach with ball and hand high at practice

James Thomas runs drills at the Patriot Basketball Club in 2018. Thomas, a star on Schenectady's 1998 state championship boys' basketball team, later returned to the district as the girls' varsity basketball coach.

James Plowden can often be found in the Schenectady High School gymnasium when basketball is being played there, either as a fan or in his role with the Schenectady Police Department’s Community Engagement program.

Twenty-five years ago, the SPD sergeant was in the gym at the Pat Riley Sports Center for a different reason.

“I just wanted the best for the team,” Plowden said of his junior year with the state champion Patriots. “I played my role. I came off the bench. Played defense. Passed the ball. I took it seriously.”

They all did, with Plowden recalling some of the practices in that gym where a championship team bonded, got better and got bruised up, too.

“I don’t know if coach [Gary DiNola]  told you about blocking the windows and closing the doors for some of our scrimmages,” Plowden said. “The way we went at it, the games were like a break. It was really rough.”

That was only one piece of the championship journey that will forever be a part of the 12 players and the coaching staff that went through it. The other players were Willie Deane, Andrew Healy, Davidek Herron, Justin Hoffman, Adam Hover, Jason McKrieth, Patrick O’Connor, Kevin Owens, James Thomas, Jamaar Sims and Ben Wiles.

“It was an unbelievable time. Every time we talk about basketball, it [state championship] comes up,” said the 42-year-old Plowden, who with his wife Kaiulan are the parents of five young children, four of them girls. “It’s something that’s always there.”

The exploits of the 1998 Schenectady team that included three future lawyers, a history teacher, a mover in the pharmaceutical industry and a children’s book author are well-chronicled in the trophy case located outside of Schenectady’s gym. 

“Every time I walk into the gym, it hits me,” Plowden said.

The much-decorated police officer finds himself in the gym often, and while he serves there when all levels of the Patriots play, he, of course, has a keen interest in the varsity boys.

He was watching them play long before he became one, often attending games as a youngster when his sister Damonica was a Patriots’ cheerleader.

“In or out of uniform, I always come to the games. I always want to see how they’re doing,” Plowden said. “I even got to some away games this year. I’m the Spike Lee of the team.”

Plowden and McKrieth were the two key guys off the bench that DiNola called on when his Patriots needed a defensive stopper during that 28-1 season. Plowden takes particular pride in the effort he turned in when Schenectady got past Corcoran in a regional title game 53-38 before it knocked off Newburgh Free Academy (85-72) and Hempstead (61-51) for the state flag.

“I knew Corcoran was going to be a tough game. They had some big-time guys,” Plowden said. “My thought when I went in was, ‘They are not going to score. I’m going to rebound,’ and I did my part. That was my moment.”

Plowden had many more moments as a quarterback on the Schenectady football team, and he later played for the grid teams at SUNY Morrisville and East Stroudsburg with a basketball stint at Schenectady County Community College in between. His law enforcement career included six years with the Atlanta Police Department, and he joined the SPD in 2014.

In 2020, Plowden was promoted to sergeant, and this past September he was tabbed the district’s supervising school resource officer. 

“I’m getting paid to engage with the community,” Plowden said. “This is my community. This is where I played. This is where I grew up. You can’t beat that.”

1997-98 Schenectady Team Roster

Ben Wiles — Played basketball at Swarthmore where he earned a BA in Economics/Poly Sci.  Graduate of Cal-Berkeley Law School. Currently a partner at Prospera Law, LLP in Los Angeles.

Andrew Healy — Played basketball at Potsdam where he earned a BA in Political Science. Graduate of UAlbany Law School. Currently a practicing attorney in Schenectady who ran for judgeship in 2022.

Adam Hover — Earned BA in History at UAlbany and graduated from Western New England Law School. Currently a trial lawyer with Harding Mazzotti. Former lead attorney for the NYS School Board Association.

Willie Deane — Earned BA in English at Purdue, where on the basketball court he twice led the Boilermakers in scoring and was named All-Big 10. Later named one of the top 50 players in Purdue history. Played 15 years of pro ball and won championships in Bulgaria, France and Italy. The writer of children’s books was the first athlete from new Schenectady High School inducted into the SCSD Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019. Recently named the Schenectady’s park director.

Justin Hoffman —  Earned BA in History at NYU and MS in Administration at UAlbany. Scored over 1,000 points at NYU and was all-league. Also played tennis at Schenectady, where he coached the sport and currently teaches.

James Thomas — Earned BA in Youth and Community Studies at University of Texas, where he accumulated over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and was all-league. Played in the NBA and overseas in a 15-year pro career. Has held several coaching positions including a stint with the Schenectady girls.

Davidek Herron — Earned BS at Hobart, where he scored over 1,000 points and was all-league, and earned MBA at Fordham. He is currently vice president for Roche Pharma in Amsterdam, Holland, where he played pro ball.

Jason McKrieth — Earned BS at Rice University, where he scored over 1,000 points and was all-league. Played pro in Greece and in the NBA G League. Works in development for Rice University.

Patrick O’Connor — Played four years at Utica College and is currently the manager of an industrial pool supply company. 

James Plowden — Earned BS in criminal justice from East Stroudsburg, and played football both scholastically and in college. Served in Atlanta Police Department before joining Schenectady Police Department in which he holds the rank of sergeant. Coaches youth sports. 

Jamaar Sims — Earned AS at Cobleskill College and played basketball there. Currently works in Youth Services in Florida, and coaches youth basketball.

Kevin Owens — Earned BS at RPI in Business Management. Played lacrosse as well as basketball at Schenectady. Assistant coach on Schenectady’s 2001 state title team. Currently in furniture sales in Florida. Coaches youth sports.

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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