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Girls basketball: BCANY coaches benefit from all-star experience

Times Herald-Record logo Times Herald-Record 8/6/2022 Ken McMillan, Times Herald-Record

The Summer Hoops Festival is an opportunity for dozens of players to hone their games with and against the best the state has to offer but it’s also a learning experience for the coaches.

The Mid-Hudson select squad representing Section 9 this weekend at the Basketball Coaches Association of New York event has four coaches who have led their high school teams for a long time.

From left, Wallkill coach, AJ Higby and Onteora coach, Andrew Occhi give instructions to players during Monday's Basketball Coaches Association of New York team practice at Wallkill High School on August 1, 2022. © Patrick Oehler, Patrick Oehler/Times-Herald Record From left, Wallkill coach, AJ Higby and Onteora coach, Andrew Occhi give instructions to players during Monday's Basketball Coaches Association of New York team practice at Wallkill High School on August 1, 2022.

Wallkill’s A.J. Higby, a veteran of more than 30 years, is the head coach. Michelle Bouffard of Pine Bush once coached junior varsity under Higby in the mid 1990s. “It’s like a full circle now,’’ Bouffard laughed. “A.J. has been around a long time … I call him the fossil.’’

Andy Occhi has coached 19 seasons at Onteora and even had his daughter play for the BCANY team back in 2013. Arturo Santana has been running the show at Newburgh Free Academy. It’s a very representative staff from the OCIAA and MHAL and also from different school classes.

“You learn every day,’’ Santana said. “As a coach I never think that I know everything about basketball or any subject matter. When you have three other coaches have had many years of experience you can pick up things, already (in practice) not only from the coaches but from the players and how they react to my instructions and how they react to the other coaches’ instructions.’’

From left, NFA's Arturo Santana and Pine Bush's Michelle Bouffard observe during Monday's Basketball Coaches Association of New York team practice at Wallkill High School on August 1, 2022. © Patrick Oehler, Patrick Oehler/Times Herald-Record From left, NFA's Arturo Santana and Pine Bush's Michelle Bouffard observe during Monday's Basketball Coaches Association of New York team practice at Wallkill High School on August 1, 2022.

“We all have pretty similar philosophies,’’ Occhi said. “We’re all kind of exchanging ideas. We’re putting our ideas together and coming up with the best plan for the group is pretty cool.’’

“I love all (three) of them,’’ Bouffard said of her colleagues. “We all get along. Working with them is fun.’’

A unique aspect to the Mid-Hudson staff is all four coaches are head coaches for their respective high school teams so three of them have to adjust their methods and actions to that of an assistant to Higby.

“He’s done an amazing job at Wallkill,’’ Bouffard said. “He does a really good job but he keeps it grounded.’’

On the Mid-Hudson staff, Higby and Santana are the “louder” ones while Bouffard admits she is more on the quiet side.

“I know when I took the challenge,’’ Santana said, “I wanted to commit to be near the system and asked myself, ‘What can I do to help this team be successful?’ I said to myself I’m going to give ideas, I’m going to put my two cents in and help the team be great. I’m a believer that it doesn’t have to be my idea.’’

For all four coaches, the opportunity to coach an all-star team and observe the best habits will help them during the school season.

“To be working with some of the best players in our area is exciting,’’ Occhi said, “and I’ve really enjoyed it for sure.’’

Occhi is the only coach who does not have one of his players on the Mid-Hudson squad. Higby coaches Emma Spindler and Zoe Mesuch; Bouffard coaches Jah-esa Stokes and Ketura Rutty; and, Santana coaches Isabella Suero.

It should be noted that Pine Bush and Newburgh face one another once or twice per season so Bouffard and Santana are not going to reveal too much from the school play books here.

“We bounce ideas off each other,’’ Bouffard said, “but the joke is I’m not throwing my stuff out there … We don’t want you to see this.’’

“We’re both doing the best we can without giving too much of our suggestions that are going to affect us during the (school) year,’’ Santana said.

kmcmillan@th-record.com

Twitter: @KenMcMillanTHR

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Girls basketball: BCANY coaches benefit from all-star experience

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