When the Niskayuna boys’ basketball players filed Wednesday into the high school’s Blatnick Gymnasium, so, too, did a gentleman with his young grandson Colin McMahon. As the teenagers shot around, few paid much attention to their older visitor dressed in dark clothes.
That was fine with Barry Kramer, likely the most-accomplished basketball player in Capital Region history. Now 73 years old and a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Kramer — whose basketball brilliance brought him from Linton High School to New York University to the NBA — was nervous that Niskayuna head coach Bryan Mattice had asked him to speak to the Silver Warriors.
“I was kind of surprised Bryan asked me to do it — but, pleasantly surprised,” Kramer said. “I’ve never talked like this to a team before. I just hope I can give them something that helps.”
Mattice was more confident in Kramer, who played for the San Francisco Warriors and New York Knicks during his one-year NBA career, the 1964-65 season.
“Talk about anything you want,” were Kramer’s instruction from Mattice, a 2000 graduate of Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons who grew up hearing stories about Kramer from his father.
Quickly, Kramer gained the attention of the Niskayuna players. Casual mentions of playing with Wilt Chamberlain — “He could pick me up like a toy,” Kramer said — and Willis Reed, who Kramer still calls, have a way of drawing interest from basketball-minded folks of any age.
But the heart of Kramer’s message eschewed name-dropping. Rather, the Niskayuna resident spoke about persevering, referencing how so many people throughout his hoops career doubted him; one college coach, Kramer remembered, repeatedly told him he was overrated after he was named a Parade Magazine All-American as a high school senior.
“I won’t tell you his name. It doesn’t matter, anyway. He’s dead,” said Kramer, allowing the laughs to subside before continuing.
Jared Signor, a senior guard for Niskayuna, sheepishly admitted he did not know who Kramer was before Wednesday’s meeting. But, Signor said, Kramer’s message to never give up inspired him.
“That sticks,” said Signor, whose Silver Warriors (4-1, 4-1) play host tonight to Shaker (3-2, 3-3) in a Suburban Council meeting.
For more than 20 years, Kramer has worked as a judge. School, he said, was never something he took seriously growing up, and he cautioned his audience that his biggest regret in life was not taking his academics more seriously as a youth.
“I know you love sports, but you have to do something academically,” Kramer said. “You have to use your brain.”
Kramer spends most of his free time watching the NBA with his lone grandson, who plays for Niskayuna’s fourth-grade travel basketball team. Kramer has the league’s cable package, and Colin comes over several times a week to watch games. No longer playing in men’s leagues, Kramer said his grandson is his basketball outlet.
“I play with him, now,” said Kramer, smiling. “I can play him 1-on-1 — and I can still beat him.”
HUERTER PASSES HAVER
When Kevin Huerter scored his 1,000th career point last Friday against Guilderland (4-1, 4-1), the Shenendehowa senior guard joined exclusive company as only the fourth Plainsman to hit that milestone.
Two of the other Shenendehowa players — 1987 classmates Greg Koubek and Brendan O’Sullivan, who later played at Duke University and Dartmouth College, respectively — are well-known entities in Capital Region hoops as the pair that brought the Plainsmen their first state title. The other? Dan Haver, a 1996 graduate who starred at Shenendehowa in both basketball and football before playing hoops at the College of Saint Rose.
There are many similarities between Haver and Huerter.
Like Huerter, Haver’s family has a deep connection to local basketball. While Huerter starred alongside his older brother Thomas last season and is the son of former Siena College player Tom Huerter, Haver had three of his siblings play Shenendehowa basketball while older brother James Haver played at Shaker, where he now coaches.
Also, Dan Haver was a member of the 1996 team that won Shenendehowa’s last Section II title before Kevin Huerter’s team won one earlier this year.
Most striking, though, is that neither Haver nor Huerter ever set out to join any type of elite scoring club.
“I never cared how many points I scored,” said Haver, a line Huerter echoed. “I wanted to win, and that just happened to take place.”
Haver, now 38 years old and working in sales in Charlotte, N.C. finished his Shenendehowa career with 1,032 points. Huerter passed Haver Tuesday night, and now has 1,039 points.
Huerter said he grew up hearing stories from his father about players like Koubek, Haver and O’Sullivan. Knowledge of their successes, Huerter said, has made this past week extra special.
“Being in the same sentence as those guys as a kid to come out of Shen and do some different things is really cool,” Huerter said. “I’ve looked up to those guys my whole life because I’ve always heard about them.”
BROTHERS, PAST & PRESENT
After Huerter and Shenendehowa (5-0, 5-0) play host tonight to Saratoga Springs (4-1, 4-1), a largely homegrown rival will take on the Plainsmen next Tuesday.
That’s when CBA (4-1, 4-2) comes to Clifton Park. While the first-ever Suburban Council meeting between the two teams offers up enough intrigue, adding extra flavor to Tuesday’s main course is that five of CBA’s players — seniors Noah Sausville, Ian Schultz, and Dave Kopyc, plus juniors Nick DeBrino and Kris Kopyc — call Shenendehowa their hometown district.
“For us five, we’ve been particularly looking forward to this game,” said Sausville, whose uncle Mark Sausville won a state championship as the head coach at Schenectady.
When the schedule came out, “We were all talking about how we wanted to go back there and play Shen,” Kris Kopyc said.
It's common for a CBA away game to turn into a homecoming for a player or two. Head coach Dave Doemel usually cautions such a player to play within himself, but he’s not worried about his Clifton Park/Halfmoon brood.
“Those five guys are about as steady . . . as you can get,” Doemel said. “They don’t get too high or too low.”
Led by stars Sloan Seymour and Mike Wynn, CBA has rebounded this season from a 1-2 start with a three-game winning streak.
“We’ve started to put it together. We’re playing smarter,” Schultz said.
CBA will play host to Troy (4-1, 4-1) tonight. When that game is complete, the Brothers' attention will turn to Tuesday's contest.
“I’ve got a couple [Plainsmen] I’m close friends with,” said DeBrino, listing off Shenendehowa juniors Jaia Benson, Luke Hicks and Mike Pizziketti.
“Then,” finished DeBrino, flashing a smile, “there’s a couple guys I really want to beat.”