By Jon Gagnon
Olean High basketball coach Jeff Anastasia sat home with four of his players weeks after the team’s final loss of the 2012-13 season. Headlined by forward Wil Bathurst, who has verbally committed to Cornell, the group watched film of the crushing loss.
The room was silent.
“It’s a terrible feeling to re-watch it and relive it,” Bathurst said. “Everywhere I go I hear about it to this day.”
Olean held a two-point lead with seven seconds remaining against Batavia in the Class B Far West Regional. On the ensuing inbounds, there was a collision and a loose ball that fell into the hands of Batavia, who nailed the buzzer beater and eliminated Olean.
Bathurst described it as a surreal feeling and something you see in movies but never expect it to happen to you.
Bathurst, a 17-year-old senior, was selected to the All-Western New York First Team last season, where he averaged 18.4 points per game and led his team to its second consecutive Section VI Class B title.
At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Bathurst does it all for Olean – score, rebound, assist or start for the varsity football and golf teams. But on the basketball team: “I do whatever I need to do for the team, I just want to be successful,” Bathurst said.
Through this point, he has been.
Bathurst became a varsity starter in his sophomore year and wasn’t always the team’s go-to player. Big man Sam Eckstrom, standing at 6-foot-7 and a second team All-WNY pick last season, held that role.
But last year, according to Anastasia, it started to switch. Teams began highlighting their focus on Bathurst but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
“If you’re going to double team Eckstrom, Bathurst is really going to hurt you,” Anastasia said. “And if you take the double off of Eckstrom, then he’ll hurt you.”
Both averaged over 18 points despite rarely playing the full game, as Olean consistently blew out opponents last season.
This year will be different. Olean has an independent schedule that Bathurst says will help prepare them for tougher opponents in the playoffs.
It will be a different year for Bathurst, too. Last year, he commanded attention from colleges across the state, before finally deciding on Cornell. The university’s head coach told Anastasia they’re going to put around 20 pounds onto Bathurst and he is going to be an incredible player.
Bathurst said the recruiting process wasn’t a distraction and it was a great feeling. “It’s always been a dream of mine,” he said.
An athletic player who does it all, Anastasia says that one of Bathurst’s best qualities may be his hatred for losing – a mentality that poises Olean for another run at a state championship.
“We expect to go to states every year,” Bathurst said. “If we don’t win states it’s a downfall for us – that’s just the way our program is.”
Cornell will have to hold off a year. Bathurst isn’t finished at Olean just yet.