OLEAN, NY — On Jan. 10, while heading to an away game by bus, Olean High School basketball coach Jeff Anastasia could only think about his players defeating the Fredonia Hillbillies.
A win that Tuesday night would be his 545th, thus securing his place as the all-time winningest high school head coach in Western New York history.
Anastasia, who is 57, vowed to treat this game no differently than past contests. He instructed his players to ignore the added pressure and hype surrounding the night ahead of them. During the trip to Fredonia High School, he told his sister, Lori, who serves as the scorekeeper for the Olean Huskies, that he had not even planned out a postgame speech in the event of a victory.
The coach considers his attention to preparation his strongest attribute. For example, prior to each game, he views film to recognize play structure of opponents as well as his own team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We’re always going to be prepared,” said Anastasia. “I would feel really bad if we lost a game due to being unprepared.”
At the end of the game’s first quarter, Olean trailed Fredonia 15-13. The Huskies came back to lead 31-22 by halftime and 51-28 by the end of the third quarter. Anastasia coached the team to an eventual 70-44 victory.
“We started out slowly,” said Anastasia. “Then we just put it in another gear.”
Anastasia said the Olean community has supported him throughout his 34 years as a coach at Olean High School, the past 30 of which have been spent with the varsity team, following three years with the freshman team and one year with the junior varsity team.
“The community’s just been fantastic,” said Anastasia. “We have a great community here in Olean.”
With the victory over Fredonia, Anastasia surpassed the win count of former Bishop Timon-St. Jude basketball coach Mel Palano.
After Anastasia tied his record, Palano who is 91, called him from Sarasota, Florida, and praised Anastasia on his commitment to coaching and his hard work over the years.
Additionally, many people, including New York State Sen. Catharine Young and Olean Mayor William J. Aiello, sent Anastasia congratulatory cards.
Anastasia grew a love for basketball at a young age, when his father set up a basket on the family’s cinder driveway, complete with floodlights.
Anastasia, who graduated from Olean High School in 1977, knew by the time he reached his senior year that he wanted to coach basketball and teach physical education.
His high school coach, Jon Baker, served as one of his role models. Anastasia said Baker stressed the importance of maintaining a positive attitude while playing basketball, a philosophy Anastasia carries on with his players.
After being hired as a coach in the district, Anastasia sought to end the pattern of Olean basketball teams losing in the playoffs to Buffalo city schools.
“The biggest thing when I stepped in was getting the kids to understand that they can compete with anyone,” said Anastasia.
He also taught his teams how to play tougher defense, be less timid and be more selfless. He said a team cannot be successful if the focus centers on one player instead of the entire roster.
“Olean basketball is getting the 50/50 balls,” said Anastasia. “Olean basketball is not being afraid to get on the floor. Olean basketball is not being afraid to take a charge. Olean basketball is playing as a team.”
Under Anastasia, Olean High School has won two state championships — the first in 2003 and the second in 2016. He claims he could not have had such success without dedicated players.
“You’re not going to win the Kentucky Derby with a donkey,” said Anastasia. “I’ve had players that have bought into my system. I’ve had players that worked really hard not only during the season but in the offseason. I’ve had players that were just incredible leaders.”
Anastasia plans to continue coaching for two more seasons. Once he ends his record-setting career, he said he intends to travel the country with his wife.
(TAP's Caleb McGuire caught up with one of the stars of last year's Olean High School team.
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