Since taking the reins of the Daemen men’s basketball program in 1988, Don Silveri has seen dozens upon dozens of student-athletes come and go, the vast majority of whom work hard enough academically to walk across the stage at the College’s commencement ceremony each spring. While Silveri is, in his words, “prouder than anyone will ever know,” of all the basketball players he’s seen graduate in the last 24 years, four former players hold a special place in his heart. For former Daemen basketball players David Skolen, Shaunessy Ryan, Tim Foley, and Alex Nwora, wintertime in Western New York is about one thing: winning basketball games. This quartet not only represents some of the finest players to ever walk into Lumsden Gymnasium, but the four share a bond as the main limbs of Silveri’s “coaching tree,” providing a tangible link to the profound effect that he has had on their lives.
“To know that I may have played even the smallest of roles in the success of these four guys is so humbling for me,” said Silveri, who boasts more than 500 victories at the college level — 366 of which have come at Daemen — in more than 40 years as a basketball coach. “They all should be commended on the programs they’ve built at their respective schools. It is refreshing for me to see these young guys still have passion for the game.”
Perhaps the most obvious example of Silveri’s lasting impression can be seen in Skolen, a man who has literally spent his entire adult life as a member of the Daemen community — first as a studentathlete from 1986–90, the last year of which was under the direction of Silveri, then as a Silveri assistant, and finally as the College’s head women’s basketball coach for the past 20 years. In his time with the women’s program, he turned the Wildcats into a perennial power in the northeast with seven conference championships and 14 seasons of 20+ wins, including ten straight.
“Playing for Coach Silveri was very enjoyable,” Skolen said. “He has a great knowledge of the game and I was able to take away a lot from the experience, which really helped me when I became the head women’s coach here just two years after playing for him.”
Ryan played at Daemen from 1995–97 and famously got married to fellow Daemen alum Rebecca McKerchie at Lumsden’s center court. He got his start in coaching as Silveri’s assistant from 1998–2007, helping the Wildcats to three NAIA National Tournament appearances in that span, including a run to the Elite 8 in 2004. Since leaving the Daemen bench, Ryan has become the boys varsity coach at the International Preparatory School at Grover Cleveland in Buffalo, leading the Presidents to the Yale Cup, Section VI Class C and Far West Regional Championships. All this while also making an appearance at the New York State Class C Semifinals in 2011, finishing the year as the #1 ranked small school in the Buffalo News Poll.
“Playing and coaching with Coach Silveri was an invaluable experience that taught me much more than just the X’s and O’s of the game of basketball,” Ryan said. “Coach Silveri is a fantastic motivator who strives to create relationships with his players and works to make them better people and responsible young men.”
Foley starred as a guard on Silveri’s teams from 1990–95, dishing out 328 assists, ranking 3rd on the all-time list. He too got his start in the coaching profession under Silveri, as an assistant coach from 1995–97.
“Playing for Coach Silveri and the time I spent at Daemen was without a doubt the best time I had playing basketball at any level and among the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Foley said. “One thing that really sticks out to me was that Coach Silveri really cared about his players — as people, students, and players: in that order. With the exception of my father, who was also an assistant under Don for a period of time, I have taken more from him than any other coach.”
After breaking into the scholastic ranks as the boys modified coach at Frontier High School for one season, Foley moved on as the boys varsity coach at Lackawanna High School, a post he has held since 1998. In the past 14 seasons, Foley’s teams have racked up a 218–93 record (.701 winning percentage), four Section VI Championships, and nine ECIC IV Championships. In 2006, Foley led the Steelers to the New York State Class B Championship and was named the BCANY Section VI Coach of the Year.
Proving that Silveri’s influence crosses traditional barriers is the story of Nwora, a native of Nigeria, who played for Silveri in the early 1990’s and who has now called the Buffalo area his home for more than 20 years. Nwora, although undersized at his power forward position, was a beast of a player under Silveri, still ranking as Daemen’s all-time leading rebounder and the only player in team history with more than 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“Coming to Daemen was a big opportunity for me,” Nwora says now. “I had come from Nigeria, but I was very raw in terms of basketball skills and knowledge. Coach Silveri helped me hone my skills and pushed me to be the best player I could be. With his help, I was able to break school records.” Once his playing career was over, Silveri helped Nwora break into the coaching profession, recommending him for an assistant job at Buffalo’s Medaille College, a position he held from 1996–99. When Reggie Witherspoon left Erie Community College (ECC) to take charge at the University at Buffalo in 1999, ECC called on Nwora to assume the head coaching duties. Over the past 13 years he has guided the Kats to eight 20-win seasons and five Region III titles. His 266 wins rank first in ECC history and he’s had his team in contention for a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II National Championship in each of the past two years. As if that wasn’t enough, Nwora was also named head coach of the Cape Verde National Team in 2009.
“As a coach, I still look to Don Silveri for guidance from time to time. Every year we get our teams together to scrimmage and we discuss players. I am happy to have come to Daemen so that I could learn from one of the best.”