Tonawanda News — AMHERST — Tucked away in a building with an unassuming exterior — through a set of double doors, down a flight of stairs and then up a winding wheelchair ramp — is Lumsden Gymnasium: home to the Daemen College men’s basketball team.
The gym serves as a metaphor for the team’s place in the Western New York sports landscape. Currently in the midst of transitioning to the Division II level, Daemen set a school record on Feb. 13 with its 25th win of the season, but the accomplishment barely registered in the community.
Wildcats head coach Don Silveri, in his 24th season on the Daemen sidelines, is used to the lack of attention.
“I think we’re the best-kept secret in Western New York,” he said “We don’t get a lot of coverage, but the last 10 years or so we’ve been very successful.”
Daemen begins play today in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national championship tournament, and has to win three games in four days against some of the top competition the league has to offer to win a national championship.
Once the Wildcats become D-II official in the winter of 2015, they will be the only such college basketball team in the area, and Silveri’s vision will become a reality.
“As a former athletic director, I thought it would be a perfect fit for us to be the only NCAA Division II team in Western New York,” he said. “Once we decided, I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to be the basketball coach or the athletic director, because the NCAA doesn’t let you do both — I chose to stay with basketball. (This) makes us unique.”
Daemen has a special connection to the North Tonawanda community, with associate head coach Mike Miranto on staff and forward Aaron Davis coming off the bench — both former Lumberjack standouts. Last summer the Wildcats brought on Tonawanda High School’s all-time leading scorer, Jesse Lalka, who is currently redshirting as he continues to recover from a broken left leg.