A blue Section VI championship patch and reaching the 1,000-point club in your senior season are excellent bows to any high school basketball career, but for Fredonia senior Tyler Putney the path he took to get there makes it a little sweeter.
Along the way, Putney’s road to success could have ended several times. If he was someone else, it might have. But Putney’s drive to be great, to work, and to be the best teammate he could be pushed him to overcome several hurdles.
“I’ve literally watched him grow up over the last five years, back to when he was in eighth grade,” said Fredonia coach Nick Bertrando. “The maturation process with him, and his desire, want and determination to get better is what put him where he is today.”
When Putney was young, baseball was his sport, but in fourth grade, his parents discovered that he had a central nervous system issue, which caused him to experience double vision and to have a functional view the size of a quarter. Although he was playing baseball well despite having problems with his vision, he was struggling in the classroom. After going to a specialist and undergoing light therapy, Putney was able to get the vision corrected, but the process to do so was something Putney described as “terrible.”
Because that restricted vision was all Putney had ever known, he never thought to ask for help, and once the problem was corrected, it took a couple years to truly get it right. It wasn’t until he was in seventh grade when Putney decided baseball wasn’t his sport anymore, and he wanted to give basketball a try.
His dad, Mark, wasn’t going to force Tyler to do anything, so Tyler switched over to organized basketball in time for his eighth-grade season.
Putney was no stranger to the sport, having grown up playing basketball in the driveway with Mark, who would beat Tyler every time. Throughout his early life, Mark taught Tyler some lessons about the game and the competition.
“I helped him a lot when he first started,” Mark Putney said. “I grew up playing ball, but I didn’t want to force him into playing. We would play in our driveway, and we’d play one-on-one and I’d keep on beating him 11-0. I told him this is going to be what you’re going against.”
Though Putney started on the junior varsity team as an eighth-grader, he broke his wrist early on and missed a majority of the season. Around the time Tyler entered his ninth-grade year, Mark knew Tyler was ready for something bigger. It was around that time, Putney’s freshman year, that he finally beat his dad.
“I knew he was doing well,” Mark said.
When Tyler recovered from his wrist injury, he made the varsity team in his ninth-grade year, as a 6-foot-1 skinny kid who could do one thing well: Shoot. The the team finished 4-16, it taught Putney some lessons that would help later in his career.
“The seniors that year showed me how to be a leader,” Putney said. “It’s definitely because of them how I led my last two years.”
Despite the team’s record, they made the playoffs as a 13-seed, and was even able to make some noise. After winning a couple games Putney’s freshman year, the Hillbillies found themselves playing No. 2 MST Prep. Even as a young player, Putney got one of his first lessons in closing out pressure situations.
“It was a three-point game at the end, and I had like 15 points,” Putney said. “I got a late rebound and was fouled with 15 seconds left, so I knew if I made both free throws, we’d win.”
Putney went to the line and sank both, sealing the Fredonia upset, and advancing on to play No. 1 Newfane for a chance to play in the sectional semifinals. On top of that, the game was scheduled on Putney’s birthday.
Because of how well Putney had played the game before, Newfane was ready for the freshman. So ready, in fact, that Putney didn’t score,, because they showed him respect and taught him another lesson that would be a pivotal part in Fredonia’s team success later in his career.
“They face-guarded me the whole game,” Putney said. “It taught me I had to get better.”
And progressively, Putney did. His sophomore season, the team improved, adding then-freshman sensation Nick Whitfield to the mix, giving Fredonia two young building blocks. As the team improved, so did Putney. His scoring average went from 8.8 points his sophomore year to 15.9 his junior year. His 3-point percentage also rose from 41% to 49%.
From his sophomore to junior season, Putney doubled his point totals, and raised his 3-point percentage even higher. But although Putney was scoring more, and his team was really good, the sectional title patch hopes would have to wait one more year, as Fredonia lost in the sectional semifinals to the team that filled the role of Putney’s kryptonite — Allegany-Limestone.
Determined to get better, Putney’s workouts never ceased, as he was back in the gym the day after that loss. Riding his bike home, another snag hit. His knees, specifically his right knee, had caused him some discomfort over the last few years, but on that bike ride home, it became a sharp pain.
“I was a bigger kid, and I lost a lot of weight quickly,” Putney said. “My knees were killing me, but especially the right knee. I had a limp when I ran, and it hurt but I played through it.”
Putney went to physical therapy, thinking the pain was related to how fast he grew. But after that bike ride, he couldn’t even bend it. Right as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Putney thought he had torn his knee. But that wasn’t the case. After going to another specialist, the root of the problem was discovered.
“I had a dead bone in my knee that broke off when I grew too fast,” Putney said. “I played with it for three years. It started to curve into the nerve, but I got it taken out.”
Putney had it removed in July of 2020, with the pandemic serving as a period for Putney to be able to relax and heal. By the time practices started in January, Putney was just getting over the pain. But now that he was fully healthy, his game evolved even further.
Putney averaged just over 20 points a game this season, and although his 3-point percentage dipped back down, he was finally able to drive the ball more effectively. But there were still more hurdles to overcome.
On top of playing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Fredonia lost Whitfield to injury in the Hillbillies’ first game. On top of that, Putney hurt his ankle late in the season as well. But despite all that, the Hillbillies were able to make the playoffs, and beat Olmsted, Wilson, and Roy-Hart on the way to winning the sectional title patch on their home court. And even though they didn’t play them in the playoffs, Putney was able to go out with a win in his last game against Allegany-Limestone, too, scoring 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the win.
“The Allegany-Limestone game this year was a big hurdle,” Mark Putney said. “He wanted it so bad. He couldn’t figure out what they were doing to him, so I helped him. We figured it out and he played great.”
Although Putney is undecided on where he wants to go to school, wherever he goes will be lucky to have him. He’s garnered interest from a lot of different schools, including a couple D-1 colleges, which is a strong testament to the quality of player and person that Putney is.
“He’s a class kid,” Bertrando said. “A great teammate, a great student, and a great friend. I would mold guys in the future to be like Tyler.”
And for Putney, all he wants is to get better, which is the thing he’s looking most forward to about playing at the next level, along with another big feature the next level will provide.
“Wherever I play, I can’t wait to play with and against these players to get myself better,” Putney said. “It also will be nice not to get face-guarded. I barely remember what an open shot is.”
A four year varsity starter. A career-high of 40 points. A three-time First Team All-Conference team member. A First-Team All-Star. The eighth 1,000-point scorer in Fredonia men’s basketball, joining Jim Edgerton, Matt Cherry, Michael Heary, Brian Kern, Pat Mahany, Dylan Meyer, and John Piper. A sectional champion.
Tyler Putney is walking away from Fredonia basketball as one of its most decorated members, and has overcome seemingly countless hurdles to achieve those milestone. And with his work ethic, talent, support, and drive to get better, what’s a few more college-sized hurdles to clear?