Rockville Centre resident Jesse Winter became the career scoring leader of the SUNY Cortland men’s basketball program when he put up 13 points in a home game against Oneonta on Feb. 5.
Winter, 22, a 5-foot-11-inch senior, is a four-year starting point guard for the Red Dragons. He said that his accumulated time on the court helped him set a scoring record of 1,421 points — which he increased by 16 points in Cortland’s 78-46 win against Oswego last Friday.
“I’ve definitely come a long way,” Winter said. “I was hoping I would start as a freshman, but I wasn’t expecting I’d be playing as many minutes as I was right away. It wasn’t until last year that I really thought maybe I’d have a chance to break this record.”
The previous mark, held by Jason Thomas, who played from 1992 to 1995, was 1,419 points.
This season is one of the best the Cortland team has had since Winter joined it, he said. The team is ranked 24th in the nation in the NCAA’s Division III, and it has won 11 straight games to improve its overall record to 18-3. According to Winter, he and his teammates are hoping not only to win the SUNY Athletic Conference title but also to do well in the NCAA tournament.
His pursuit of the scoring record was almost becoming a distraction from his main goal of helping the team win, Winter said. “You want to get it over with so the focus can get back on the team,” he said. “Everyone is talking to you about it before it happens. You don’t want to admit you’re thinking about the record, but when you have people coming up to you … I was just glad to get it.”
Facing Buffalo State College on Feb. 2, Winter needed only 17 points to break the record. Since he averages 17 points a game, he thought the mark might fall that day, but instead he scored a season-low 5 points in Cortland’s 88-72 win. The timing worked out in the end, however, he said, because he was able to break the record in a home game three days later.
“It meant a lot to me to do it on my home court, because when there was a pause in the game, I received a standing ovation from the crowd,” Winter said. “When I looked up at the crowd, I put my hand up to show that I did it, and that was not only a very emotional moment for me, but one that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Cortland beat Oneonta on Feb. 5 84-56.
Winter said he believes his choice of schools paid off, though he had a number of other options after graduating from South Side High School in 2009.
“I knew I wanted to pursue basketball in college,” he said. “I got recruited to two Division II schools, but they told me I wouldn’t be getting much playing time. I figured I’d rather go somewhere where I could have an impact right away.” Nearly 100 Division III schools recruited him, he said, but he “definitely chose the right place” with Cortland.
His coach, Tom Spanbauer, agreed. “We play in a very physical league, and Jesse has been the focus point of opposing teams’ defenses on a regular basis,” Spanbauer said. “His mental toughness, along with his high level of skill, has made him achieve such a great milestone.”
Winter will graduate in May with a degree in communications, but, he said, he plans to keep playing basketball as long as he can. “I’m not going into the real world just yet,” he said. “It’s looking like I’m going to play somewhere professionally overseas. One of the places I’d like to play is Israel, and I have some family there.”
Winter credited South Side High School, and other basketball programs in Rockville Centre, with nurturing his love for the game. “I definitely grew up in the program, not only as a player but as a person as well,” he said. “There’s a really great support base in Rockville Centre, where everybody is looking out for your best interests. It’s a great experience, a great tradition and program to grow up in. The program really made me love basketball.”
“Jesse is one of the hardest-working players I have ever had the pleasure of coaching,” said his coach at South Side High, Jerry D’Angelo. “His drive and determination is unmatched, and he’s a fierce competitor. He has truly made his coaching staff and his high school proud of all his accomplishments.”
Reflecting on his scoring mark, Winter said, “It was a great accomplishment for me on a personal level, because it really shows that years of dedication and hard work really paid off. Getting that record was extremely humbling, and was a tribute to my teammates and coaches throughout the years for always pushing me to be the best that I can be.”