University at Buffalo men’s basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon appreciates the tradition of basketball at Niagara University. He’s hoping his teams are on the way to creating a similar tradition at UB.

“I grew up idolizing Calvin Murphy, so I know what Calvin meant to Niagara basketball,” Witherspoon said after UB’s 68-59 win over Niagara at the Gallagher Center on Saturday, spoiling the celebration of 100 years of men’s basketball at Niagara. “You see the banners of the retired numbers and see many basketball legends in the crowd, and you know it’s something special.”

While UB basketball has been around since the 1915-16 season, its tradition isn’t as rich as the others in the Big 4 (Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure). While those schools were playing big-time schedules, UB was competing in Division II and Division III for many years before returning to Division I status in the 1991-92 season.

“I tell these players they can be the foundation for a successful program,” Witherspoon said of his current team. “That 30 or 40 years from now, people will be talking about them as the ones that helped make UB basketball a success.”

Witherspoon deserves a good share of credit for turning UB’s fortunes around. Taking over a problem-filled program early in the 1999-2000 season, Witherspoon has developed a team that has become a contender in the Mid-American Conference.

Last season’s team lost in overtime in the title game of the MAC Tournament and advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, UB’s first-ever postseason appearance as a Division I team. This year’s team is 6-1 and off to its best start since 1958-59.

“We want to win our conference tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament,” said center Yassin Idbihi, one of the key returnees from last year’s 23-10 squad. “That’s our goal.”

Saturday night, Witherspoon looked up at the banners hanging from the rafters of the Gallagher Center and noted that UB unveiled its banner commemorating its NIT appearance earlier this season at Alumni Arena.

His goal is to have many more banners hanging from the rafters in Amherst. A couple of years ago, when Witherspoon took over an abysmal program, such a goal would have been laughable.

Not any more.