Drake Steps Down As Jamestown Basketball Coach
Ben Drake stands at the podium at one end of Darrah Hall at Christ First United Methodist Church, site of the Jamestown High School boys basketball banquet.
As the event — celebrating the Red Raiders’ 2022-23 season — draws to a close, the longtime coach offers a few words of advice for the underclassmen.
“Don’t be one of those players that looks back and wishes that they would have done something that they didn’t do. That’s my challenge,” Drake says. “Set goals for yourself. Make them optimistic, but also make them realistic.”
Then he wishes the gathering a goodnight and the room begins to empty.
What Drake doesn’t tell them, however, is surely the biggest news: after 25 seasons, the winningest coach in school history is stepping down.
How good has Drake been on the sidelines at his alma mater?
Well, the numbers tell the story.
Since he took over for Ron Frederes to start the 1998-99 season, Drake has posted a 425-131 record (.764); won 17 Erie County Interscholastic Conference Division 1 championships, seven Section VI titles and three Far West Regional crowns; and made three trips to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four in Glens Falls, reaching the championship game twice.
To suggest that those coaching accomplishments could have possibly been forecast a quarter-century ago would be a reach. After all, who coaches at such a high level for that long? What is certain, though, is that basketball figuratively got hold of Drake at a very young age.
And it never lost its grip.
Growing up on Jamestown’s northside, Drake, his sister, Julie, and their parents, Dan and Bonnie, lived in a two-family home. While they occupied the downstairs, they rented the second floor for several years to Jamestown Community College men’s basketball coach Nick Creola.
Predictably, Drake found his way to the Physical Education Complex on campus for practices and games. He was even permitted to be part of the Jayhawks’ pregame layup drill before standing-room-only crowds. That’s when the greater Jamestown community was introduced to “Dr. B” — Drake’s nickname in the early 1980s — for the first time.
It was just the beginning of his hoops odyssey.
After a standout senior season at JHS — he was The Post-Journal’s Player of the Year for the 1989-90 campaign — Drake continued his academic and athletic career at SUNY Brockport. After four years, he finished in the top 10 in 10 different categories, including consecutive games with a 3-point field goal (23, first); career free-throw percentage (.843, second); and career points (1,266, seventh). In combination with a strong commitment to the classroom, he was a third-team CoSIDA Academic All-American as a senior, the first Brockport male to be so honored. Four years after his college graduation, Drake, who had previously served as athletic director at Keshequa Central School, was named the varsity boys basketball coach at his high school alma mater.
“Honestly, it was one of the best days of my life looking back on it,” Drake said last week. “It seems like it was yesterday. The years have flown by so fast. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years. I’m so thankful to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me that opportunity. I feel as though that came from Him that He led me to this position, so I’m just thankful to be able to coach for the Red Raiders for the last 25 years. I felt it was what I was meant to do.”
Drake’s memories of his time on the Jamestown bench are, in a word, “endless.”
“The lifelong relationships I have with so many players are what I’ll remember the most,” he said. ” … So many of those kids were really like sons to us. I really enjoyed those relationships and continue to have great relationships with a lot of those guys.”
There have been plenty of memorable on-court moments, too, including the three trips to Glens Falls; 22 trips to the sectional final four at Buffalo State; and down-to-the-wire victories at McElrath Gymnasium.
One of those occurred against Riverside, a school from Buffalo.
“I look back at that game and it was an improbable win,” Drake recalled. “We were down like seven points in the fourth quarter and came back and won. I remember Carlos (Rivera) making a shot to tie it or bring us to within a bucket. I felt like the gym was shaking under our feet. I don’t remember it ever being that loud. That was definitely one of the best games in the ‘Mac.'”
Moving forward, Drake will be trading in his seat on the bench to one in the bleachers. His resignation letter was accepted at Tuesday night’s Jamestown Public Schools board of education meeting.
“In many ways, it was a difficult decision, because I still love coaching and I still love teaching the game of basketball,” he said. “But it’s the right decision and I know it’s time.”
Drake credited his wife, Karen, for her many sacrifices through the years as he pursued his coaching passion.
“We have six children and one grandchild, running in age from 2 to 24, and it can be very challenging with so many kids,” he said. “With (Marley and Trey) heading off to college, we look forward to being able to go watch them play and have the flexibility to do that when we want to do that.”
Drake, 51, noted that he hopes to have a new varsity head coach in place by the end of April.
“For the benefit of the program, the sooner we move on that, the better,” Drake said. “I’m already making plans for summer league and getting emails for games for next year. … I would like to have that done fairly quickly.”
Drake credited his staff — varsity assistant Marty Stockwell, junior varsity coach Billy Miley, volunteer varsity assistant, former freshman coach Tage Hall and current freshman coach Luis Castro — as one of the main reasons for the program’s success for more than two decades.
“It’s very unique to have a group of coaches together for that long,” Drake said. “Having guys who either played for me, and with me, for so long has been special, unique.”
So what’s next?
While Drake said he will remain as the Jamestown Public Schools director of athletics, physical education, health, and family and consumer sciences, he noted that he plans to “spend more time in ministry and preparing my next steps as the Lord leads.”
He added: “There are seasons in life. My next season, rather than (coaching), is going to focus more on family and ministry. … I’m sure there will be times next season when I’ll miss it, for sure. I loved game night and I loved teaching in the middle of winter, 7 o’clock at night … in the gym and getting a team to come together, but I know it’s the right thing to do.”