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Western New York: NBA basketball haven?

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Western New York isn’t known as an area that churns out NBA basketball players. Buffalo’s best high school players often wind up at Division III colleges, while the area’s college stars typically head overseas to continue their careers.

A few shining lights have led the way, from St. Bonaventure’s Bob Lanier and Niagara University’s Calvin Muprhy in 1970 to Nichols’ Christian Laettner in 1987 to Niagara Falls’ Jonny Flynn 20 years later, but standout basketball talent has rarely used the Western New York area—whether it’s high school or college—as a stepping stone to the NBA.

The future is a little brighter now for Western New York basketball, though, at least in terms of quantity of players rising to the next level. As the Oklahoma City Thunder staged a standing ovation for Kevin Durant by removing him from Game 5 with 1:37 left and the Lakers soundly beaten, a rather unheralded player checked into the game, a high school product from now-defunct Buffalo Traditional High School.

Lazar Hayward, who played four years with Marquette after leaving Buffalo Traditional for prep school, was initially only recruited by SUNY Fredonia. I saw him play in high school several times as a prototype small forward who was remarkably smooth as an athlete, but never did I expect that I’d be watching him on TNT in the NBA Playoffs seven years later.

Now, while he’s certainly not an NBA star, Hayward’s only 25, collects a pro paycheck and sees spot minutes for one of the league’s most compelling teams. Hayward may not have even earned a touch in last night’s cameo—share the ball, Royal Ivey!—but he was on the floor in an NBA playoff game with Kobe Bryant. How many former WNY basketball players can boast that? 

The positive Buffalo news continued after the game, as CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman tweeted that the Boston Celtics would work out St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson today along with a slew of other big men like Michigan State’s Draymond Green and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones. Nicholson is projected to go 23rd overall to Atlanta in NBADraft.net’s most recent mock, while Boston—looking for a younger big to challenge Brandon Bass and Greg Stiensma for minutes—picks 21st, 22nd and 51st. Nicholson will participate in the NBA Draft combine June 7 and 8 in Chicago.

As we’ve mentioned before, University at Buffalo center Mitchell Watt is a likely second round pick in this year’s draft, as he elevated his stock with a strong showing at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. Watt’s currently stationed at 52nd to Golden State, a team he’s working out for tomorrow, in NBADraft.net’s mock.

He may have been passed over in the 60 players invited to work out in front of NBA general managers and scouts, but Watt tweeted (@KillaWATT21) a flight ticket to work out with Golden State. The Warriors’ organization certainly seems intrigued by an under-the-radar big man to pair with Ekpe Udoh, but how can they not after dealing with Andris Biedrins for eight years?

It’s easy for Buffalonians to use the excuse “but there’s no one local to root for!” when watching the NBA, but this may not be a valid reason much longer. Sure, Western New York won’t surpass California, Texas or New Jersey in terms of regularly producing pro talent, but with Hayward, Nicholson and Watt—along with Jonny Flynn in Portland—the 716 is headed in a positive direction.

(Header photo courtesy of Vootar.com)

TAGGED: lazar hayward, nba playoffs, oklahoma city thunder, western new york basketball

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  1. Patrick May 22, 2012 @ 12:55pm

    Another great article Ben!
    It’s great to get an update on some local Basketball talent. I believe that people don’t realize the untapped potential that WNY has when it comes to Basketball. Local Hoopsters have gone on to do some great things: James Starks (Super Bowl Champ), Hubie Brown and Calvin Murphy (Basketball Hall of Famers), and even Chistian Laettner, Paul Harris and Johnny Flynn have gone on to have outstanding College careers.
    It is great to hear stories from my dad and his friends about how great local basketball was during their time. And I finally got a taste of that when I watched Niagara Falls HS go on their magical run in the 04-05 season. Hopefully there will be many more seasons like that to come!

    Patrick's avatar
  2. Ben Kirst May 22, 2012 @ 4:29pm

    SUNY Fredonia could have had Lazar Hayward? We would have OWNED you, Oswego!

    Ben Kirst's avatar