2020 OBSERVER All-Stars
Fredonia’s Nick Whitfield is 2020 OBSERVER Player of the Year
OBSERVER Sports Editor Braden Carmen and Sports Reporters Anthony Dolce and Christian Storms have selected the 2020 OBSERVER All-Stars for boys basketball in the winter sports season. Listed below are the players honored from the OBSERVER coverage area, which includes 11 high schools: Brocton, Cassadaga Valley, Chautauqua Lake, Dunkirk, Forestville, Fredonia, Gowanda, North Collins, Pine Valley, Silver Creek and Westfield.
Player of the Year: Nick Whitfield, Fredonia
After a 17-point performance in the season opener and an 18-point performance the next time out, highlighted by an awe-inspiring alley-oop slam right after the opening tip-off, it was clear early on that Nick Whitfield was poised to do great things for the Fredonia Hillbillies this past season.
As high as Whitfield soared for that alley-oop, it felt as if things never quite came down much from there for the rim-rattling star of the Hillbillies. He proved at times to be a dominant force, like he was against Dunkirk the first time the two rivals met, with 11 straight points including a pair of thunderous slams to carry Fredonia to a 61-37 victory.
“He held his own last year, but this year, he was a completely different player. The maturity he showed this year is what impressed me,” said Fredonia coach Nick Bertrando. “With all the tools that he has, like his athleticism and his instincts, he still had a lot of assists. He’s willing to hit the open guy. He’s just so unselfish.”
Whitfield amassed 361 points on the season to lead the Hillbillies in scoring, despite never hitting the 30-point mark in a game. Whitfield was just a consistent scorer for Fredonia all year long, as he reached double-digits in scoring in all but one game he played in — the final game of the year. To have that sort of consistency as only a sophomore bodes well for his future in the orange and white. To already have the kind of athleticism to bring the Fredonia crowd to its feet countless times and leave opponents in awe — with two years still left to grow — shows that the future is even more exciting.
Fredonia’s young star captivated Chautauqua County basketball this season, and he left little debate as to who the OBSERVER Player of the Year should be.
Fredonia junior Tyler Putney
Back when he was a freshman in his first season on varsity, Tyler Putney would draw chants of “He’s a freshman!” from the Fredonia crowd whenever he would drill a 3-pointer off the bench. Two years later, the crowd didn’t need to remind the rest of the league who Putney was.
Fredonia’s dangerous outside threat developed his game even more in his third season, becoming more of a threat to drive, defend and rebound, as he became one of the best players in the CCAA West 1 Division this past year. Putney earned First Team All-Star status in his league this year, which was all but a certainty after his huge 40-point game featuring nine 3-pointers against Southwestern. He solidified his case two weeks later with a 30-point game against Olean in a thrilling contest in Fredonia to cap off a sweep of the eventual Class B overall winners in Section VI.
“It’s a testament to the amount of time the kid puts in all year round,” said Bertrando.
Putney will return next season, as will teammate Nick Whitfield, as the Hillbillies hope to advance to the Sectional title game after falling one win shy in back-to-back years.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see them both grow and evolve like they have,” said Bertrando, referring to Whitfield and Putney.
Westfield senior Nathan Culbreth
On the basketball court, far too often players are measured just by how many points they score on a nightly basis. While Nate Culbreth didn’t keep up with the rest of the First Team All-Stars on this list on a consistent basis, there is no better example of a player that does all the little things to help a team win. Culbreth did it all for the back-to-back CCAA West 2 League Champion Wolverines. Culbreth gave a consistent effort on the defensive end, neutralizing some of the best players in Western New York — like when he held Section VI leading scorer Cameron Barmore of Panama scoreless for an entire quarter playing straight up man-to-man. His willingness to take a charge from anyone he was guarding was apparent on a nightly basis, as it seemed like there wasn’t a game where he didn’t try to “take one for the team.”
Culbreth was also one of the best passers in the area, who frequently rifled cross-court no-look passes right on the money to open teammates. Culbreth recorded 131 assists on the season, which led all CCAA players by a large margin. He also had 127 rebounds and 51 steals on the year. Culbreth may have been snubbed on other lists because his scoring numbers didn’t jump off the page, but he is definitely deserving of a spot on the OBSERVER All-Stars First Team.
Silver Creek senior Dominic Jamison
One of Dominic Jamison’s best traits is his unpredictability. You have to honor every pump fake, stutter step, and dribble hesitation because no defender can be certain what he’s going to do. When it looks like he’s going for a layup, he’ll throw a behind the back pass. Just when a defender thinks the pump fake is exactly that, the three point shot is in the air, and with Jamison, it’s through the net pretty often.
Jamison’s craftiness has to be honored because he backs up his ball fakes with the ability that keeps a defense honest. He is a wildly gifted passer, one of the best overall athletes on the floor at all times, a volume scorer that can hit a few threes in a row at the drop of a hat, and a tenacious defender, capable of picking a pass or knocking a ball loose at any given moment. Jamison never gives up on a play or drags his feet. He’s always a kid giving his best effort, and most of the time, that is good enough.
North Collins senior Tyler Robinson
Tyler Robinson had both the individual and team success that most players strive for.
Team wise, Robinson was the kingpin of the North Collins Eagles’ success this season. The Eagles, after winning just one game in the previous season, went 11-12 to end their season, won their first playoff game since 2004, hosted a home playoff game for the first time in recent history, then upset the Panama Panthers, the ninth-ranked small school in New York, 47-46 in the Class D Semifinals.
Individually, Robinson scored the most points of anyone in his division, as he ended the season with an even 400, while also grabbing 50 more rebounds than the next closest person in his league. Robinson was named the Player of the Year in CCAA Div. 1 East, and hit the game-winning shot, a half-court three pointer, that sunk Panama in that Semifinal win. In addition to the half court heave, Robinson in that game had 19 points and 17 boards, while out-dueling Panama star Cameron Barmore, who is regarded as one of the best players in Western New York.
Forestville junior Javier West
There were a lot of question marks surrounding the 2019-20 Forestville Hornets boys basketball team coming into the year, as they lost most of their starters and their former head coach took another job. One constant was returning starter Javier West. Once again, West was great on both ends of the floor for the Hornets. He put up outstanding numbers as a junior. West was second on the team in scoring with 16.1 points per game, had 87 assists, 139 rebounds and averaged 5.1 steals a game. There are a lot of great points to West’s game, but none better than his ability to generate turnovers and create easy buckets for Forestville. He will likely be another key contributor again next year.
Westfield senior Michael Johnson
The Westfield Wolverines often mentioned how they pride themselves on having multiple scorers in double figures. Mike Johnson was usually one of the guys they were talking about. Johnson was probably the most consistent scorer for the Wolverines this past season. He began the year with eight straight games in double digits, including totals of 20, 19, 18, 17 and 16 points in that stretch. After two games in single digits, Johnson then rattled off a seven-game double-digit scoring streak, all in league play from mid-January to mid-February. He scored in double digits in 17 of the 21 games for Westfield this past season.
Johnson always found himself open, often behind the arc. A pass out from the paint to lead to a corner 3-pointer by Johnson became a staple of the Wolverines offensive attack. Johnson and Nate Culbreth both shared the spotlight as vocal leaders of the team on the floor, never afraid to encourage their opponents or share a roar of excitement with the home-town crowd that saw their Wolverines finish the regular season undefeated at home.
Dunkirk senior Earl Stewart
On a Dunkirk team that saw its fair share of struggles the past few years, Earl Stewart was one of the bright spots. Even amidst the struggles over the last two years, Stewart was always a treat to watch. He is most dangerous when the ball is in his hands. His ability to score from anywhere on the floor often turned nothing into something. While his time at Dunkirk didn’t yield a ton of team success, Stewart was often the best athlete when he stepped on the floor — and it was usually obvious. While the CCAA West 1 Division egregiously left him completely off the All-Star teams, it was clear to the OBSERVER sports staff that Stewart belonged among the best the area has to offer.
Forestville senior Gavin Christian
In addition to Javier West, Forestville needed more players to step up in big ways if they wanted another successful campaign this season. Gavin Christian certainly answered the call. He improved his scoring average by seven points a game, for a team high of 18 points per contest this season. Christian led the team in scoring with 379 points on the season, that total was 41 more than the next closest Hornet (West).
Christian was a consistent scoring threat that could match up with any scorer in the league on any given night. Eight times he surpassed 20 points in a game, six of which reached 25 points or more, including a season-high 31 against Cattaraugus/Little Valley on Feb. 10. His scoring average on the season was tops in the CCAA East 2 Division, in a league that featured two players on the OBSERVER First Team — West and North Collins’ Tyler Robinson. While West and Robinson may have impacted the game in more ways on a regular basis, not many players in the CCAA could slow Christian when his shots were falling.
Chautauqua Lake senior Nate Adams
Nate Adams is your typical Western New York big man. While he isn’t totally lethal from the perimeter, he eats the opposition alive on the inside. Adams missed Chautauqua Lake’s first five games of the season, and had a slower season by his standards, partly due to his injury. While the Thunderbirds finished with just a 6-16 record, most of what went right for Chautauqua Lake was majorly impacted by Adams.
When Chautauqua Lake’s season ended at the hands of Middle Early College in the Section VI, Class C semifinal, the Thunderbirds were mostly outmatched by the Class C powerhouse that is MEC. Adams was the exception. He was not only not outmatched, but he looked like he belonged on the court that night.
Westfield senior Andrew Baribeau
As Nate Adams also proved, especially in high school basketball, if a team has a big man down low, they present a matchup problem on most nights. Andrew Baribeau was a great example of exactly that for the Westfield Wolverines, especially in his senior season. Baribeau led the league champion Wolverines in points (272), rebounds (158) and blocks (40) on the season, with an average of more than 14 points per game.
At times — especially in a slow-paced, half-court game — Baribeau became impossible to handle in the paint on offense and on the glass. He managed double-digit rebounds in seven games this season, including both games against Panama and a 15 rebound game against Chautauqua Lake. He also had five games of 20 points or more. Without Baribeau because of a non-injury related absence, Westfield fell in the first round of the playoffs to Salamanca. Had Baribeau been available for that contest, things could have turned out a lot differently.
Honorable Mention: Fredonia senior Kaleb Rybij; Westfield seniors Ryan Jafarjian and Dylan Scriven; Pine Valley sophomores Wayne Libby and Bryce Sercu; Chautauqua Lake junior Luke Waters; Silver Creek senior Spencer Harford.