PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Bills had the basketball jones at Tuesday’s training camp practice. While fans lined the fences at St. John Fisher University, angling to get some face time with their favorite players, members of the team were eager to rub shoulders with visitors from the NBA.
Jordan Nwora, the Indiana Pacers forward from Buffalo, was invited out of a hospitality tent with his family to watch practice from the sideline and greet players afterward. Jack Armstrong, the former Niagara University basketball coach now broadcasting for the Toronto Raptors, and his wife Dena, also were on-field guests, interacting with team staff, coaches and general manager Brandon Beane throughout practice.
“It’s fun that we have a team here that people really like to get behind,” Beane told WIVB after practice. “And it’s fun for us to meet them and get a sense of who they are and what they’ve done to be have success. There is a natural respect when you see stars from another sport, and there are so many things you can take from talking to them.”
Beane, an avid basketball fan who remains competitive in the Bills’ staff pickup games during training camp, was introduced to Armstrong by former Bills general manager Bill Polian. While coaching at Niagara in the 1990s, Armstrong regularly attended training camp practices at Fredonia, developing a bond with Polian and coach Marv Levy. During a lunch in Charlotte this past spring, Polian was surprised to learn Armstrong had not met Beane or Bills coach Sean McDermott.
“We are going to change that,” Armstrong recalled Polian telling him. “You need to meet these guys. They are great.”
Armstrong attended one of the organized team activities in the spring, spending most of the practice time conversing with Beane on the sideline. He was struck by how many players, including stars Von Miller and Josh Allen, recognized him and wanted to say hello — or “helloooooo,” using one of Armstrong’s signature lines. Before getting a tour of the Bills’ practice facility, Armstrong even recorded a humorous video for the Bills’ social media team teaching Allen some of his catchphrases.
“I wanted to talk to them about football, and they all wanted to talk to me about basketball,” Armstrong said with a laugh.
Beane sought wisdom from Armstrong about the recent run of winning seasons the Raptors have had, including their NBA championship victory in 2019. He also inquired about other successful NBA clubs, like the Miami Heat, whose coach Erik Spoelstra spent part of his upbringing in Western New York while his father John was a Buffalo Braves executive.
“I wanted to know what makes those teams good that he was around, and what he hears from some of the people he is friends with in the league,” said Beane, who played basketball in high school and coached a junior high team while injured during his senior season.
“In any team sport, if you’re asking what makes a championship-caliber team, there are things that stand out,” Beane added. “It’s not just having good players. A lot of teams have that. But there is a certain element, a certain confidence, swagger that championship teams possess. There are so many things that you can learn from them.”
When he was coaching, Armstrong took inspiration from attending football practices. And he’s continued that during his broadcasting career that began in 1998, with early guidance from Buffalo broadcasters John Murphy and Howard Simon.
“Assessing talent, scouting, coaching, development, recruitment, retention, there’s so many elements,” said Armstrong, who credits John Madden as a broadcasting influence. “The thing that I learned a lot from Bill and Marv when they were here, and just chatting with Brandon about it, is the level of planning and organization and attention to detail is remarkable. I’m fascinated by it.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.