By Owen O’Brien
Sam Eckstrom scored his first varsity points for Olean high school as a freshman. Four years later, it’s not the points he’s after.
He wants a championship.
Eckstrom, a center, is entering his senior season with the Huskies. His career accomplishments include; a three-time Big 30 First-Team All-Star, All-Western New York second and third team member and Co-CCAA Division I Player of the Year. He averaged 18.2 points, eight rebounds and 1.9 blocks last season.
“I’ve done some good things but I want to reach our team goal of a state championship,” Eckstrom said. “I think my experience will help me and my teammates throughout the year.”
Head coach Jeff Anastasia has seen 6-foot-7 Eckstrom both physically grow and mature since his freshman year. Anastasia saw great inside footwork from Eckstrom upon first impression but now says his jump shot will be one of the most dangerous elements of his game.
“He has really developed a great jump shot,” Anastasia said. “For three seasons, he’s played with his back to the basket. I think he’s going to surprise some teams this year.”
Eckstrom has accepted a full scholarship from Division II The College of Saint Rose. Despite drawing interest from D-I schools, such as Albany, Binghamton, Bucknell, Western Michigan and Colgate but he loved the coaches, location and opportunity to contribute immediately at St. Rose.
When St. Rose visited him, Eckstrom made 17 of his 18 jump shots. St. Rose’s coach told Anastasia “Sam can shoot it. You are going to have to let him go outside this season.” Anastasia responded by telling the coach Eckstrom will “have the green light.”
The expectations are always high at Olean. In Eckstrom’s sophomore season, the Huskies advanced to the state final four. Last season they lost a tough game to Batavia in the Far West Regionals.
Eckstrom and the rest of the team use these eliminations as motivation. He’s been lifting and cutting weight during the offseason in preparation of his senior year.
His teammate – senior Will Bathurst – is one of the best players in Western New York as well. Bathurst was the Co-CCAA Division I Player of the Year with Eckstrom last season and an All-WNY first-team selection.
The two guarded each other every day at practice, despite the fact they played different positions. Anastasia believed this was the best way to make them both better. Bathurst will be playing at Cornell next season.
“If they want to lean toward Will instead of double teaming Sam, he’s going to score,” Anastasia said. “It just becomes a matter of picking your poison.”
Eckstrom said the two push each other both during practice and the game. They help keep the defense honest and open up lanes and scoring opportunities for one another.
The four-year starter already has over 1,000 career points and although he hopes to be a first-team All-WNY selection this season, his ultimate goal is a state championship.
Dec. 6 will be his last “first-game” at Olean when the Huskies begin their quest towards a state title against Maple Grove. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.