Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meet the Beatles

The 2004-05 high school basketball season was one for the books by Western New York standards. That was the year when Niagara Falls was at its peak.

The Wolverines featured two sure-fire Division I talents in Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn. Harris was The Buffalo News player of the year in the spring of 2004 and 2005. Once Harris graduated, Flynn followed by getting the same honor in 2006 and 2007.

In that magical 04-05 season, Niagara Falls dropped out of its conference to play a national schedule. Few local teams could stay within 30 points of it. Our high school writer, Keith McShea, called the team "the Beatles" as a way of pointing out just how popular this group was. The phrase stuck around the office.

In the spring of 2005, Harris was the big star. There was talk that he could go immediately to the NBA. He was an amazing athlete in high school, doing essentially whatever he wanted on the court. A 6-foot-6 forward who could jump and rebound, he didn't have much competition. Flynn played Scottie Pippin to Harris' Jordan back then, although he certainly became a top-rank player in his own right.

Harris took a year to go to prep school and then went to Syracuse. He was the one with the big reputation. Flynn followed him there in the fall of 2007. Would Harris be one-and-done and then off to the pros?

It didn't quite work out that way. Harris was a good player for the Orange for three years, but didn't really have a natural position. When you are 6-6, you really need to be a good outside shooter to get to a level of stardom. Harris could do some scoring inside and rebounding, but he never dominated. Meanwhile, the unsung Flynn built a reputation as one of the nation's best point guards. His big moment came in the six-overtime game against Connecticut in the Big East Tournament.

When the SU season ended, there was talk that the team might be the best in the country next season if it stayed intact. But it didn't. Flynn heard the stories that he'd be a top pro pick, and entered the draft. Meanwhile, Harris and Eric Devendorf, who seemed to only have NBA-level tattoos, surprised everyone by turning pro.

Tonight, it was Pippin's turn to shine. Flynn was taken with the sixth pick overall by Minnesota. Vast NBA riches await. Meanwhile, Jordan, er, Harris, wasn't taken at all on Thursday. He'll probably end up in Europe. It reminded me of draft day about 24 years ago. Ray Hall was the big star at Canisius, but it was Mike Smrek who was the second-round draft choice and the person who won a ring with the Lakers.

It's fun to guess the future when looking at high school players. And sometimes you're wrong.

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