Blood and Basketball at Canisius

November 30, 2017


BUFFALO, NY - Those who move in basketball circles often consider themselves family.  The meaning is somewhat literal for the Nilands, whose family legacy was born three generations ago at Canisius – and continues today. 

“I’m pretty sure one of my first outings as a baby was to a Canisius basketball game,” laughs digital media arts major Annie A. Niland ’18.  Annie is the great niece of Joseph P. ’46 Sr. and Thomas J. Jr. ’47.  The brothers are Sports Hall of Fame inductees and famous names in Canisius basketball history. 

Joe and Tom were pursuing their Canisius degrees when World War II intervened.  Both put their studies on hold to serve.  Both returned to finish their educations at Canisius.  And both went on to hardwood glory: Tom spent 26 years as Le Moyne College’s (first) basketball coach and took seven teams to the NCAA Division II Tournament.  Joe fashioned a coaching career at Canisius that put the Golden Griffin basketball program on the national map, posting a 76-61 record in five seasons. 

Basketball remains in the Niland family blood, as does Canisius.

Joe Niland Jr. is head coach at the University of Mobile (Alabama).  His brother, David F. Niland MS ’93 is head coach at Penn State-Behrend College.  Their first cousin is John Beilein, the head coach at the University of Michigan who started his Division I coaching career at Canisius. 

Coming from such a prominent pedigree, however, gave James (“Jake”) Niland ’20 cause for concern when he began to consider colleges.  

“I thought I wanted to go someplace where no one knew the Niland name,” he says.  In addition to Jake’s famous family members, his older sisters, Sarah ’07, Kaitlyn ’10 and Annie all came to Canisius.  “I especially didn’t want to be known as ‘Annie’s little brother,’” he laughs.      

In the end, Canisius’ pre-engineering program and small class sizes won Jake over.  He even concedes that it helped knowing Annie was “nearby if I needed a safety net.”

Together, the siblings now represent the next generation of Nilands at Canisius. 

“It’s a little bit of pressure, I won’t lie.  But we carry it with pride,” concludes Annie.  “We get to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.  All of these great people came before us and started a story that comes with my last name. Now we get to write our own chapters.”



Joseph P. Niland ’46

Thomas J. Niland Jr. ’47

Frances Niland ’55

Matthew Niland O’Hanlon ’80

David F. Niland MS ’93

Eileen Niland MS ’96

Sara Beilein Capen MS ‘99

Sarah Niland ’07

Kaitlyn Niland ’10

Mariah Niland Glass ’10

Annie Niland ’18

Jake Niland ’20