BY TIM TAYLOR
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA COUNTY — If you look back on the individual histories of this past season's All-Tioga County boys basketball team, you will notice a common bond amongst the majority of them. They built their basketball skills at the youth level in the TC Hawks organization.
The Hawks, who were based out of Owego, rode a wave of success during the latter part of the last decade by bringing ballers from different communities together to build a formidable travel club. Among the group are five seniors who were named first-team selections on the 2019-20 All-Tioga County squad. They include Scott Woodring, the Player of the Year, and first-team selections Sam Taylor from Tioga, and the Owego trio of Brendan Evans, Evan Hamed and Mike Wasyln.
The Hawks organization, under the direction of two former Tioga County high school standouts, also groomed numerous other local athletes for their careers on the high school courts. Head coach Chris Evans played at Owego and is a longtime head coach for the Indians. Assistant coach Bob Taylor played for Tioga, where he has also helped coach at the youth and high school levels.
"I was trying to think back about the years. It must have been 2013 when it started, maybe earlier," Chris Evans said. "They were all fifth graders in 2013. And because we mixed a lot of age groups (younger kids playing up) our kids played a lot of basketball with Christian Sage, Kobe Bogart, Isaiah Bishop, Cam Neira, Dylan Evans, etc. We had Scott, Brendan, Sam Taylor, Nate Bennett, Joey Higgins, Michael Wasyln and others early on. Evan Hamed ended up joining us a year or two later."
Woodring may be the most notable of the group — he's certainly the most noticeable. A towering 6-foot-8 dominator, he bounced back from a devastating junior-season injury to post an impeccable senior campaign. In addition to being named the county's top player this past season, Woodring was voted the IAC South Large School MVP, was selected to the Basketball Coaches Association of New York Section IV All-star team and earned a New York State Sportswriters Association Class B first-team nod (he was a NYSSWA honorable mention as a sophomore).
In fact, each of these five players were named first-team all-stars by their respective leagues. The Owego trio received STAC All-Metro recognition and Sam Taylor was an IAC South Small School pick.
Each can recall a group of guys who worked well together during their days with the Hawks.
"I thought we meshed well together and only got better as we got older playing together," Woodring said. "We all had our own personal strengths and attributes that fit nicely into one team. The whole team was always a nice bunch of kids to be around not only on the court, but off the court as well."
"As a group we just clicked," said Evan Hamed. "I moved to Owego from Seton in the sixth grade and once I started playing with these guys it all just came together. Growing up I was always a baseball player. Once I got the chance to play with these guys and for coach Evans I really fell in love with the game of basketball."
"We all meshed very well," added Sam Taylor. "Our coach, Mr. Evans, made us feel like a big family. I got closer to some of those guys than the guys on my school team."
"Sam and I had already been friends, but all of us meshed together so well from the start, it was like we had played together forever," Brendan Evans commented. "Playing with that team helped me tremendously, we played in so many tournaments against so many great teams, and it really helped all of us develop, especially against bigger, stronger, and more athletic players and teams."
"I joined the TC Hawks team one or two years after the team started up after a lot of talking with Brendan Evans and Evan Hamed, as well as Coach Evans," Wasyln said. "I decided to play and I am forever grateful I did. ... myself, Evan, Brendan, and Scott were all on the team in the first tournament I played with them.
"Our first one was in Brockport and after playing against kids that were 6-7 while I was in eighth grade I didn’t really think it was right for me. However, as time went on we really started to mesh as a team and started winning a lot of games."
Their time with the Hawks also helped each player develop his individual skills.
"Playing for the Hawks, my game became a lot more advanced," Sam Taylor said. "We played very good competition, and we all learned how to play harder than we knew we could play. Our Hawks team was very good, we won quite a few tournaments and were always toward the top of the leaderboards."
"Over the years of playing together we learned exactly how we play together — even to this day," Hamed remarked. "We began to know where each other would be on the court. We learned the (personalities) of one another and never forgot it. That being said, we were able to just go out there with smiles on our faces and just play the game we love without a care in the world."
"Playing on the TC Hawks throughout the years (5th-8th grade) helped my game tremendously," Woodring stated. "Everyone was fundamentally sound and played the game the right way and that reflected onto me. This all started with coach Chris Evans and coach Bob Taylor. They were a big reason why we were successful then and throughout our own personal careers. They taught us the little things about the game and held us very accountable for our play and character from a young age. And the offenses and defenses we ran were very good and advanced for our age group."
"Playing for the Hawks, my game became a lot more advanced," Sam Taylor said. "We played very good competition, and we all learned how to play harder than we knew we could play. Our Hawks team was very good, we won quite a few tournaments and were always towards the top of the leaderboards."
Teamwork was clearly a driving force behind the Hawks' success.
"The TC Hawks team is one of the best groups I’ve played for, not because we would consistently win games, but because of what we learned from one another and from coach Evans that helped each of us as we played for our school teams," said Hamed. "I was lucky enough to continue my basketball career at OFA alongside Brendan and Mike. The three of us complimented each other well."
Wasyln noted that playing AAU basketball helped him develop his inside game due to the competition being bigger and stronger at that level, but enjoyed the entire travel team experience.
"I think playing on travel teams with other players from the area made playing in the regular season way more fun," he said. "For instance, I played with Scott for a lot of years, then, when AAU ended I got to suit up in a different color uniform and battle against him inside, which was always a fun experience for both of us. We really had to play at our best against each other which is another thing that made both of us better throughout our careers.
"It was just a great experience for me all around to be able to play in those tournaments with that group of guys.
The ability to come together as teammates also helped the players build a bond with one another.
"We all meshed very well; our Coach Mr. Evans made us feel like a big family," Sam Taylor said. "I got closer to some of those guys than the guys on my school team."
"I think a big reason for us meshing so well and becoming such a great team had a lot to do with the overnight tournaments at hotels and going out to eat as a team, etc.," Wasyln said. "We all became very close even though Scott came from a different school. I never really thought of it as different schools when we played together."
As the players grew older some of them pursued other interests or other teams.
Woodring would move on to the Red Wave, where he would be mentored by former Troy High School star and current Waverly head coach Lou Judson. Chris Evans joked that he will "never forgive Lou Judson" for taking Woodring.
"We became the OA Tribe a few years ago and are still going strong," Chris Evans said. "I ended up coaching Hamed, Wasyln, Woodring, Taylor, and Evans (all on the same team) for 3-4 years. The three Owego kids all played AAU for us up through their senior seasons, Woodring got taken away by the Red Wave and Sam Taylor’s springs were snatched away by golf courses all over the East Coast.
"We also had some other fantastic athletes play with us over the years, including Kyle Coffin from NV, Jack Coleman, who was also at NV at the time, Ethan Bigelow from NV, Steve Kern from Candor, Lance Jensen from Candor and more."
The Hawks became classic overachievers throughout the years as well. At least a portion of that success can be attributed to the fact they never stepped away from a challenge — and that they were always willing to improve as individual players.
"I think a big reason why we were successful was because unlike most AAU teams, who focused on individual development and getting recruited, we focused on playing as a team and playing for each other," Wasyln said. "I think playing together for so many years with TC Hawks helped each of our progression very much so."
"It all depended on where we were and obviously who we were playing against," Woodring said. "The tournaments that were farther away always seemed to be the toughest — with the best competition. The players we played against were always quicker and more athletic than us in those tournaments, but we made up for it with our basketball IQ and stayed in games that way. We were usually pretty successful in the more local tournaments."
"Some of the things coach Evans said over the years stuck in my head like 'don’t be a robot, be a player' and 'fake a pass to make a pass.'"
"As far as tournaments go we were a great team," Hamed said. "We were by far one of the lesser athletic teams growing up but we would beat teams twice as athletic and sometimes twice as talented because we knew the ins and outs of basketball. The fundamentals, when to slow the game down, when to speed it up. The basketball IQ of this group was special."
"We were always the smartest team, regularly beating teams who would look like they would run us out of the gym," Brendan Evans recalls. "One year we won three tournaments in a row I think. We would win at least a tournament a year and compete in every one. I’ll never forget that team, we made some amazing memories through the years."
"When we were the TC Hawks we played in local tournaments in Binghamton and Elmira, but also traveled each spring to Syracuse, Lake George, to Scranton, to Rochester, to Virginia (one year), to Albany, to Seneca Falls, to Ithaca, and many other places as well," Chris Evans said.
"Yes, we won some tournaments we probably shouldn’t have. We played teams much more athletic and much bigger. It was nice to have Scott — but although he was so coachable and had tremendous footwork, he had yet to develop the quickness and foot speed to challenge some of the other athletes. But he rebounded the heck out of the ball, was an excellent passer, and just understood at an early age (like Brendan and Evan) how to play.
"Michael Wasyln was a bit later coming to the game; he may not have played a lot of tournaments with us until his 7th- or 8th-grade year. He was a great addition because he helped Scott under the boards.
"When Evan joined us he gave us an outside stroke — he was always quite cerebral and picked up some of our schemes very early quickly.
"Brendan was our main ball handler. He got us into our stuff and rarely turned the ball over — and he was tiny! Sometimes I have no idea how he managed to weave his way in and out of traffic.
"Sam was a terrific shooter. He may have been our leading scorer in a number of early tournaments. I can remember him missing a number of tournaments as he got older — the golf craze took over!"
"But the times we had together, the late night chalk-talk sessions, the mini-golf, the go-cart races, the hotel pool craziness, the awful fast food, the sometimes excellent dinners, the winding back roads taking us to high school gyms in the middle of cow country, the superb competition (we had an 8th-grader drop-step dunk on us once), and the sleepy rides home are all memories that we created together. It’s funny because when they all get together these days — that is what they still talk about.
"What I liked the best was, of course, the basketball. We were what we all affectionally referred to as the Anti-AAU team. We ran set plays, we had multiple defenses, etc., because we had so many practices! I vowed to never do any AAU if we were playing more games than having practices. So with Bob Taylor’s help we would often practice at Tioga H.S. if the Boys and Girls Club was unavailable.
"Now the kids — they liked the basketball, but they LOVED the hotels, the going out to dinners together, the ice cream at Martha’s in Lake George, the camaraderie that develops when they spend so much time together. And, of course, getting to know all of the parents was also an absolute joy."
Even though their high school careers are over, each member of the group intends to continue various athletic careers at the collegiate level.
Woodring will play basketball at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania while Hamed will head to Alfred University. Brendan Evans and Sam Taylor will be hitting the links, having signed to play at St. John Fisher and Methodist University in North Carolina, respectively, and Evans may try his hand at hoops as well. Wasyln will be playing football at SUNY Cortland.
Regardless of what the future holds for these high school hoop stars, their youth experiences on the hardwood will always be memorable.
IN PHOTO 1: Sam Taylor (L) and Scott Woodring. ... VSR STOCK PHOTO. ... PHOTOS 2-10 COURTESY OF CHRIS EVANS.
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