The hallway bulletin board for the Varsity boys basketball team at Chautauqua Lake tells you everything you need to know about the team. Against a navy blue background, photographic cut-outs of each athlete float beneath a common banner: “One common goal…Last Team Standing.” Head coach Michael Putney says it’s this mentality – competitive, driven, focused – that has led his team to their undefeated record, at the time of press. Now, fresh off a victory at the Ellicottville Holiday Valley Tournament, Coach Putney tells the Jamestown Gazette what his team’s doing right this year.
Cortney: How long have you been coaching basketball? How long have you been coaching specifically at Chautauqua Lake?
Coach Putney: Well, interesting story: I coached at Westfield for around twenty years, but when my son and daughter were getting older, I decided I didn’t want to coach at Westfield and miss the opportunity of seeing them play. I knew my time coaching was winding down. Then, out of the blue, there was a coaching position open at Chautauqua Lake, so I put in for that. Now four years later, here I am.
Cortney: In the past, a lot of the spotlight at Chautauqua Lake has been on the successes of the girls’ basketball team – but this year it seems to be on the boys’ team. How have you and the other coaches built the basketball program at CLCS?
Coach Putney: The first year I started was the year the girls won the state championship, and it was a very exciting time. We wanted to get our team to that higher level, too. I’ve had great support from my assistant, JV and middle school coaches; from teachers at the school, from community members. I’ve just had phenomenal people help our program.
As far as the boys go, they all want that competitive atmosphere and they strive for the best. I saw talent in Devin Pope four years ago, so I brought him up as an eighth grader to play Varsity. In doing so, he was able to play with some great players, like Ian Clute, who was the school’s all-time leading rebounder. Now Pope’s one of our captains, alongside Tyler Meredith and Aaron Swan, and they know how to take it to the next level. Even once our players have graduated, they continually come back to the program. Over the summer, many of our former players are with us trying to build up this team. We’re a family.
Finally, I should mention the support of my wife, Melissa. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to spend the time that I do with my basketball family. She gives me endless basketball wisdom and encouragement. So this team is truly a multi-community effort.
Cortney: When you started coaching four years ago, Chautauqua Lake was newly merged with the Ripley school district. How did this affect your team?
Coach Putney: Well, those three guys I just named – Pope, Meredith, Swan – they’re all Ripley students. So I had a great core of guys from Ripley who knew how to play together, and then I also had a solid core from Chautauqua Lake. When I merged these cores together, it was a beautiful thing. I think I was able to do that because I’m not a “native” Chautauqua Lake or Ripley person: being from Westfield, I was kind of neutral. I’m the type of person who plays talent – I don’t care what town you’re from or who you are. Sometimes I take a lot of flak for that, but that’s okay. Because when the players see that, they know that if they play hard and they become one of the best players, they’re going to get the opportunity to be on the court.
Cortney: Chautauqua Lake hasn’t lost a game to date. What is your team doing right on the court?
Coach Putney: We’re playing a high level of defense. We knew at the beginning of the season that if we could play defense, we might be able to do something really special here. Also, there’s the sheer amount of work these boys put in – there were only three weeks we took off this past year when we weren’t in the gym in some sort of capacity. These boys just want it, and because of that atmosphere, they push each other to success.
Cortney: You’re in a great position going into the end of the season. What are your end-of-season goals?
Coach Putney: The team’s motto this year has been “Last Team Standing,” and they buy into it. To us, that means going all the way to states. I know people might think, wow, that’s a really high expectation – but with these guys, I don’t think so. They will never settle for anything less.
To read more of Cortney Linnecke’s creative and informative contributions to the Jamestown Gazette, please go to www.jamestowngazette.com.