Tonawanda News —
AMHERST — On the campus of Daemen College, members of the men's basketball team are treated like kings.
Partly because of the small, close-knit community at the school, but mainly because folks associated with the college feel they have one of the best-kept secrets in Western New York: a high-flying, lightning-fast, senior-laden mixture of entertaining and talented players that are leading Daemen into its inaugural season as a member of NCAA Division II's East Coast Conference.
There's a different vibe around Lumsden Gymnasium these days. A team that's flown under the radar in recent years believes it's set to break out onto the local hoops scene as the only D-2 squad in the region. And local basketball authorities are starting to take notice.
"Daemen and (head coach) Don Silveri, they've done a great job with that program," said Canisius College head coach Jim Baron after a recent exhibition game against the Wildcats. "I think they're really good. They have a lot of chemistry, and they got juniors and seniors. They're a good team. They won 20-plus games last year and went to the (USCAA) championship game. So they're real good. I told our guys it would be a real challenge for us playing them."
And a challenge it was.
Daemen lost to the D-1 Golden Griffins, 102-85, but Baron told Silveri after the game he was worried up until about the final two minutes of regulation. Griffs standout and preseason Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year Billy Baron was also impressed with the Wildcats after running up and down with their speedy backcourt in the contest.
"Those are gritty guys and they're going to win a lot of games," Billy Baron said. "(Casey Sheehan) can play, (Gerald Beverly) is real good and (Mark Coppola) — he's a pesky little guard. They have a lot of potential and I think they'll be real good in their league."