SANBORN — When Frank Rotundo first took over the men’s basketball program at Niagara County Community College, he knew that he wouldn’t turn the Trailblazers into contenders overnight.

On the verge of his fifth season, he’s finding out how challenging it can be to build a consistent program at a two-year school.

“When you’re at the junior college level, you’re bringing kids in from all different programs,” Rotundo said. “They’ve all been coached certain ways, so it takes a while for them to buy into your program. You don’t know what to expect from them, they don’t know what to expect from you because they’re only with you for a year or two.”

There might be no bigger advocate for the basketball talent that is produced in Western New York than Rotundo — and that’s a good thing, since circumstances largely prevent him from recruiting outside the area.

Lack of student housing and the absence of scholarship money from the school are two of the key obstacles.

Nevertheless, Rotundo has been able to pull some local diamonds out of the rough.

“We have more depth this year,” said tri-captain Neil Clements (Grand Island). “We’re four or five deep on the bench. I feel like I’m being challenged every day for my position. That pushes me that much harder. So absolutely, we can compete with those other schools that can recruit more.”

The Trailblazers took a beating in Rotundo’s first year, going 3-23. They went 13-14 the next season and made the playoffs. The last two seasons, they went 5-19 and 9-15, just missing out on the playoffs by tiebreaker both times.

So despite a career coaching record of 30-71, Rotundo believes the program has made great strides.

“I think they’re happy with what I’ve done here,” Rotundo said. “I bring good kids in and we don’t have any discipline problems. I think we’re turning it around. We’re very competitive.”

Rotundo, 42, has been a basketball coach for 20 years. He spent his first 15 years with Pat Monti at LaSalle, where Rotundo played in the 1980s. He went with Monti to Niagara Catholic in 2000 for one season before he got the chance to head up a program of his own.”

“When I interviewed for the job, I said this was where I wanted to be,” Rotundo said. “I was with Pat for 15 years, and this was a chance to finally have my own program. This was a great opportunity. I’m going to stay as long as they’ll have me.”

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