Photos and story by CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor, wellsvillesports.com
CUBA — Whenever you think of Cuba-Rushford basketball, you think of a name that can be identified no matter where you go. It’s a five-letter last name recognizable not only from within both the Cuba and Rushford communities, but across Allegany County and even further beyond, in New York State.
Without a shred of doubt, basketball runs through the blood of this family, through and through. With guys like Patrick and Aaron heading the school’s basketball programs to this very day, it all simply leads back to the top of the family tree. Where they came from, and who they were taught by not only as a coach at one point, but in life itself, as their parent.
He’s a man that needs no introduction. The numbers can speak for themself.
A career that has spanned just over four decades, beginning at the turn of the decade in 1971 and going all the way until 2012 as an educator before taking the helm as the Varsity boys basketball mastermind — a role he would hold across the next 36 years. In that time, an incredible and illustrious tale was authored.
421 career wins. Five Sectional Championships — the first, cementing his legacy in an instant, as he led the Cuba Greyhounds to the very end of the highest level one team can possibly reach in a season, capturing the New York State Championship in 1979. He was also named Coach of the Year four times, once in the State in that same year and three more times overall in Section V itself.
He is a two-time Hall of Fame head coach. But when Patrick looks back at all of the accomplishments and success stories that were told when he was younger, to the very last chapter of the coaching saga, to even Friday night on a special and emotional night for a standing-room only crowd in attendance for a night of immense devotion and appreciation, it was done by someone that he continued to repeat over and over again.
That three-letter hallmark: Dad.
“He’s Dad. He’s Coach. I would never imagine playing for someone else. He’s Cuba-Rushford and he has been for the last 40 years stomping around this place. The pictures that I see, I remember all of it and what happened in those pictures. Growing up, everyone called me Little Gary. I made some fun of it at first, but growing up, it was something that I really embraced. Seeing what he meant to everyone around the community, it really meant a lot to me. He’s simply Dad, and dads are dads. He is one of the very best ones out there.”
As the community from far and wide began to flood into the gym, the first thing they noticed right by the first set of double doors, was a signature. One that will serve as a constant reminder for what Cuba-Rushford basketball is all about. It was Gary Wight’s signature. The court where he had told those stories in the past, and even now in the present day, stories his sons continue to tell themselves, had now bore his name.
Gary Wight Court was born.
The legendary Cuba-Rushford head coach was in attendance for a special night that no one in the packed bleachers, and standing on the hardwood in front and behind the near baseline itself, will ever forget. Alongside his six sons at center court, Wight thanked the crowd for their everlasting appreciation as emotions were shared, and plenty of tears were shed.
There wasn’t a single dry eye in Wighthouse.
That trademark on the floor won’t be the only one you see entering the gym however. At a later time, a second one will be placed down — right in front of the Cuba-Rushford bench. To serve as that massive piece of motivation for both Patrick and Aaron every time they get on the court for game night.
“I can’t wait until the court is officially done when the same signature on the court will be over here in front of the bench when I’m coaching. It brings even more to the table,” Pat said. “Everyone was emotional, and everyone said he was heartless, but when you look up into the stands and see 500 people crying as he’s talking, he’s not so heartless. I couldn’t be more proud of him as a parent, and I just hope I can continue to instill into the kids what he taught me not only as a coach, but as a T.A, a health teacher and everything else in life as my dad.”
Wight continued on the special dedication saying that “It’s something when we’re planning it, you’re planning originally for 50 people. I start getting letters from people, texts from people. Now it’s become even bigger to plan. A lot of coaches don’t really like being in the shadow, but for me, it’s a shadow that I’ll forever be grateful to be in.”
After the festivities, there was a game to be played. The very first of the brand new campaign for the Rebels of Cuba-Rushford, as they welcomed the Ellicottville Eagles into town for a game where the color white for Wight could be seen from across the gym. Although the first few minutes in time moved slowly up and down the court, the Rebels were able to make the most of their opportunities. Even if they came at a rarity.
A first quarter run would do just the trick.
Cuba-Rushford went on to set a tone that Ellicottville could not match, as they ensured a victory on Gary Wight Night behind a scoreless jaunt of the Eagles that would span across the first six minutes, setting up shop for what came to be a 46-27 season-opening triumph on a night that meant more than just basketball itself.
“The offense might not always be there, but defense has to be consistent,” Wight said. “The rebounding has to be consistent. To shut a team out for six minutes in the first quarter, it was there. I was really happy with the defense, but the offense is something we can clean up. There are a whole lot of new parts in there after losing kids like Jack (Frank) and Jake (Smith) who have played for three years are hard to replace, but we’ll figure it out. Some were a little scared to take those big shots, but by the end of the night, they got more comfortable shooting it.”
Led by the likes of Luke Brooks and Peyton Joy down low for much of the battle, the Rebels (1-0) were able to grab the start they wanted right away against Ellicottville by scoring the first 11 points in consecutive fashion. Although the Eagles were able to end the scoreless drought with the quarter’s last four points — all tallied by Owen Chudy, the hosts in white were able to pick up where they left off in the second quarter to further extend their advantage behind some stellar defense across the board to grab a 21-8 halftime lead.
In the second half, the focus was sustaining the double-digit advantage, as they used a big Finn Ricketts three-pointer towards the tail end of the third quarter to further cement the team’s lead to 17 points — the team’s largest lead of the night, at that point.
They never relinquished power in the driver’s seat, and on a night like this one, walking out of the building with a win is everything for Wight. He was all smiles at the end of it.
“I can’t say enough about Kaden Bell and what he’s been able to do tonight running the show. He got very limited minutes last year, and now he’s starting for me,” he said. “A senior guard, and he only had a couple of turnovers, six or seven assists. I will take that any night, every night out. We had some struggles overall, but on a night like this and to get a win, I’m walking out of here happy anyway. Tonight was bigger than basketball. I’m grateful for Ellicottville to come over and play, the community and the admin for putting this on. This is what it’s all about.”
Brooks led all Rebels scorers on the floor with a game-high 13 points, while Joy followed behind with 11 of his own. Ricketts concluded with nine points, and Kaden Bell posted six.
Up next, Cuba-Rushford will take their talents over the road for the first time this season on Wednesday, as they prepare for a 7:30 p.m. visit to Whitesville to take on host Andover/Whitesville.
Ellicottville 4 4 8 11 – 27
Cuba-Rushford 11 10 12 13 – 46
ELLICOTTVILLE: Owen Chudy 3 5-10 11, Cameron Mendell 0 2-4 2, Carter Smith 2 0-0 4, Blake Smith 3 1-2 9, Will Benatovich 0 1-2 1. Totals: 8 9-18 27.
CUBA-RUSHFORD: Braeden Wight 1 0-1 2, Kaden Bell 2 2-4 6, Luke Brooks 5 3-4 13, Eli Sleggs 1 0-0 2, Dean Frank 1 0-0 2, Finn Ricketts 4 0-0 9, Tristan Clayson 0 1-2 1, Peyton Joy 4 2-5 11. Totals: 18 8-16 46.
3-point goals: Ellicottville 2 (B. Smith), C-R 2 (Ricketts, Joy).
Total Fouls: Ellicottville 18, C-R 18. Fouled out: Chudy (ELL), Joy (C-R).