By Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos by Geoff Schneider
As you pull out to Bishop Timon High School it looks the same as it did 25 years ago. The brick building on the outside has a water mark stain from a fire back in 1992. The trees are still in the front yard and the Franciscan still has his arms raised to the heavens.
In the early days students would call him the touchdown Franciscan because he resembled the same pose as touchdown Jesus at the University of Notre Dame.
As I pulled up to the back parking lot at the school on a rainy night, you could see there was a lot of buzz going on for a Friday night. As I got closer to the doors to the gym you could hear the squeaking of sneakers and bouncing of basketballs and the Timon was going through their first week of practice of the new season.
Inside the gym there were some spectators watching from the seats to the left. Others were sitting on the stage. In the middle of the action was Jason Rowe, the second year boys’ coach of the Tigers.
He is running practice like he always does - calm. There is zero screaming going on in this gym during practice. Rowe isn’t your typical basketball coach he doesn’t scream at his players to do drill.
He doesn’t scream at them if they make a mistake. Rowe may be the most calm basketball coach someone has every witnessed - and it seems the kids enjoy it. As I walk into this familiar gym the kids are going hard for a coach that many might not actually know how good he was.
To those who are old enough to remember, Rowe was the man back in the mid 1990s with his Buffalo Traditional teams. But, to these young guys at Timon he just coach - and a very successful one.
It wasn’t the hey day of basketball in Western New York, but it was pretty damn close. The 1990s produced a lot of baseball talents from all over Western New York. The 90s had a lot of local talent dominating the local scene and getting noticed by Division I schools. It was as close to a golden era of hoops that you could get to.
One of those teams that was fun to watch night in and night out was Buffalo Traditional. Traditional could hang with anyone in WNY and the Yale Cups games were something to behold.
Night in and night out some of the best hoops where being played in the city of Buffalo. And one of the best players on those nights was a young kid named Jason Rowe - yeah that Jason Rowe.
One could argue that Rowe wasn’t even the best player on his team - but his game wasn’t made at Traditional. His game was made at the rec center. If you had game you would know exactly how much game you had.
“I was forntuate enough to go to Masten Boys Club,” stated Rowe. “It was like the mecca of basketball in the city. No matter who you were, or you think you should be, you had to go through Masten Boys club and prove yourself. I think three out of five of the boys who made All-Western New York my senior year came out of that boys club.”
These games being played at the center were probably more competitive than high school games during the Yale Cup season on a Thursday night. It’s where Rowe shaped his game and the type of player he would become.
“I had a lot of fun with my teammates,” stated Rowe. “ A lot of us were childhood friends, and I think, honestly, that’s what made the difference in the amount of wins that we had because we were close away from the court.”
It’s where he learned the play game. It’s where he shaped his game to become a force for Traditional during the years in the 90s. It’s why colleges coaches ams calling for his services. He was one of many to go to a Division I college to play hoops.
He didn’t stay around the area and go to Niagara, Canisius or St. Bonaventure like some of his friends. Instead Rowe went down to Maryland and played for the Greyhounds of Loyola Maryland.
There he had a stellar career before leaving college. Like most kids, Rowe wanted to still play the game that he loved. Back then there wasn’t a developmental league for the National Basketball League players like there is now.
For Rowe to continuing playing he had to venture overseas.
Getting paid to play a game that you love and being able to see, and live, in some of the greatest cities in the world isn’t a bad gig to have. That’s what life was like for Rowe. Sure his dream, like every kid playing basketball, was to play in the NBA.
But, not everyone is able to play in the best league in the world. Playing overseas, however, is the next best thing. The competition overseas is at a top level and Rowe had to be at his best every night.
During his 15-year career overseas, Rowe played against players who now star in the NBA. How crazy is that to think that one day you are guarding Danilo Gallinari or Allen Iverson. Rowe was going up against Manu Ginobli and Marco Bellinelli. Stars of the NBA today.
“My uncle played overseas and Trevor Ruffin played overseas, so I had two great mentors to kind of help me prepare myself to go overseas,” stated Rowe. “The style of basketball is completely different. (In Europe) you have to use your head. Unlike the NBA where is it more one on one, Europe is way more team orientated.”
It showed the type of player that Rowe was. He was able to hold his own during a 15-year career that saw him play in Cyprus, Israel, Poland, Argentina, France, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Ukraine, and Morocco.
“I was blessed. I was paid to play basketball,” stated Rowe. “It was a lot of fun. The biggest adjustment was really just learning your teammates. Each country has its style of play. Turkey is very physical, France is athletic - they get up and down the floor. I wasn’t a big party guy, because I was just so deep in trying to have a career in basketball.”
During that time Rowe never had any desire to be a coach. Because you are a good player doesn’t mean that you can become a good coach. Some of the best players in the word have struggled at coaching.
They can see the game at a pace a lot quicker than those they are coaching - and it’s hard for some to get there message across. Wayne Gretzky even said that at one point. Saying he knew where the puck needed to be even before the puck was there.
Jumping into coaching wasn’t something that Rowe wanted to do or even thought off.
Last year saw Bishop Timon goes through an ugly summer with the principal being let go and the athletic director stepping down. When that happened, the basketball coach also left and went back to his alma mater at West Seneca West.
That left a vacant head coaching position at a school that has had a lot of basketball history walk through its doors. The great Mel Palano coached at Timon and is one of the winningest coaches of all time. His son, Jimmy, followed in his footsteps and made his own mark at the school.
When the job came open, new athletic director Joe Licata made a call to Rowe to gauge his interest in taking the leap.
“There was no pressure (coming here) in the challenge of becoming a coach,” stated Rowe. “I stayed away from becoming a coach for a long time. The challenge of being a coach was something that I gave into. I don’t like stress. I like to smile and be happy.”
You would think the transition has been easy for Rowe, and his staff. After all, the team won 19 games in his first year before losing to Park in the semifinals of the Manhattan Cup. But, there were some growing pains.
As an ex player Rowe knows what the play needs to be. He just needed to be able to convey his toughest to his team. Once he was able to do that that rest was history.
“That’s the biggest difference, as a player I could physically go out there and do it,” stated Rowe. “As a coach, now I have to use my voice and lead in a completely different way. It’s a really good challenge. I have learned to adjust to different personalities even more as a coach. It’s a challenge, but a challenged I accepted when I became the coach.”
One thing you will never see Rowe do on the sideline is yell and scream at his players or officials. It’s actually kind of strange to see. Normally when you go to a basketball game you see coaches barking out plays and being very animated on the sidelines.
Not Rowe, that isn’t his style. He is very laid back and his team takes his personality. There is no such thing as a bad shot - just a bad thought process. He doesn’t mind you hoisting up a shot - but think about why you are shooting it at that moment in time.
His team plays loose and has taken on the personality of its coach.
“One of the compliments that I have received, and that I really appreciate, is that I don’t yell,” stated Rowe. “Kids know when I am upset and when I am happy. I think it is rubbing off because they don’t loose their cool, they don’t panic. I try to get them to see the bigger picture. You miss a shot get over it. You are going to miss a lot of shots. I try to explain it to them in a way that they are going to have fun and learn at the same time.”