A reluctant good-bye to another hoop season
I admit to a large degree of exhaustive melancholy. From Kennedy to Wamogo, Thomaston to Holy Cross, East Windsor to Wilby, New Britain to Sheehan High School in Wallingford and finally to Mohegan Sun I have covered 18 games in the last 30 days.
It is without a doubt the best time of year. The time when you see dreams live and die and gyms seething with energy and excitement. You watch the great players and great performances and cringe as careers inevitably have to end. You see towns and teams exalt and despair. It is a cornucopia of emotions that dig deep and linger, the good sharing space with the numbness of lost hope.
And then it is over. I woke up Monday morning and had no place to go. No tournament brackets to run off, no coaches to call, no previews to write, no directions to figure out. There was a peace to that, finally no rushing around.
But a dull emptiness pervaded also. It was over and part of me pined away for more. Another season in the books and saying good-bye isn’t easy. Monday afternoon I looked into several gyms and baseballs were being tossed around along with softballs. Track athletes were going through their routines.
It all didn’t register. It was still basketball season and the rest was a mirage at least in the mind. It will pass especially when the snow finally melts, but letting go is harder than leaving the casino without putting at least a five-spot in the slots.
Memories still fresh flash off and on like the caution light in the middle of the night. It was another banner post-season. Any season that ends at Mohegan Sun with a rooting interest is always a good season.
This decade you can’t get away from the Thomaston Bears when it comes to the post season. More on them later on this week but a few thoughts here. A fifth straight state title game appearance is flat out off the charts for any program but for the 106-girl public high school? I still don’t think the accomplishment is appreciated as much as it demands.
In a year the Bears lost five of their top seven players from last season, this was no automatic. Sure they had All-Stater Casey Carangelo and guard Julia Quinn, but there were a lot of questions.
Yet there the Bears were, standing tall on the last day of the season. Again. They lost for the second year in a row to Canton, 60-51 after wrecking Sacred Heart in the semifinals and putting on a stunning effort in a quarterfinal win over a very good East Windsor team.
Still, they were at their second home and once again you had to talk Thomaston. Oh, and Julia Quinn was the best player in the tournament hands down. She was marvelous, as Northwestern Regional coach Fred Williams said after the final, “you can’t guard her”. She hit for 23 against Canton, 24 against Sacred Heart and 27 against East Windsor. With a 25-foot jump shot and blistering speed to the hoop she was simply the best
Holy Cross also provided a ride. The Crusaders program is always top notch but it had been 10 years since their only state title and never had they been to the Sun. But, they stunned the Connecticut basketball world when they took down Capital Prep in the semifinals on Aiyana Ward’s late basket, handing the Trailblazers their first loss to a Connecticut team since 2012.
It was a different player every game for the Crusaders who didn’t have one big weapon just 10-12 really good weapons. If it wasn’t Ward, it was Meah Austin or Idalis Miranda or Izzy Plant and the list goes on.
Holy Cross lost to a very good Hand team after a difficult second half but still it was another step forward after three straight trips to the semifinals. And, Ward, Austin and Century McCartney are all back along with Hannah and Allie Brown and others. You get the idea this was just a progression for Holy Cross and they will be back.
I met Bloomfield coach Gary Barcher when the Warhawks defeated Holy Cross in the boys semifinals. I knew this was Barcher’s last season after 32 years at the helm. You couldn’t help feel good for him and his team after losing three straight seasons in the semifinals to powerhouse Sacred Heart.
Barcher got to go out at the Sun losing in the late going to Brookfield. Monday morning Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs told Barcher’s story about being run out of Bloomfield by out-of-line parents and obviously a school board and administration that didn’t stand up for him.
It is a story of the very worst of the parent trap and lack of school support. Dig it up and give it a read. It will make you angry and sad. This is a man that was the 2016 Connecticut High School Coaches Association basketball coach of the year and had been at Bloomfield as a teacher and coach for 37 years. He was 285-149 at Bloomfield.
There is more. But, go read Jeff Jacobs’ column. In the meantime appreciate Barcher. I have advocated for coaching contracts before and this is the perfect reason why. They work for peanuts with little protection. This is sad.
After my son Jonathan’s team was eliminated in the first round by Creed he joined me on the road for as many games as he could. He sat with me as Creed bounced Wamogo in a memorable triple overtime thriller.
He was with me when Bloomfield and Holy Cross locked up in a high-flying thriller and Sacred Heart in a battle gainst Windsor. He helped me out at times taking a picture of the scorebook while I was interviewing people or tweeting scores.
Tournament time has always been special to me. The most special part of it through the games and performance is having my son with me. The tournament doesn’t last. These memories do. Very cool stuff.
Sacred Heart continued to write its incredible story with a fourth straight state title. There was no Mustapha Heron this year and top player Raheem Solomon was injured before the tournament. But the road was little rougher this time. But in the end coach Jon Carroll’s club had another plaque.
Come late February and through March, there is not better job than this. It is a privilege
Best Dunk of the Tournament? Easy one. Holy Cross Nyzair Rountree stormed down the middle of the floor against Bloomfield and went up for the jam. And then he went up some more finishing it off with a thunderous hammer down. It was awesome. Only the roof stopped his trajectory.
Luncheon Light Moment – I asked Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo how he tells sophomore twice guards Hannah and Allie Brown apart. He couldn’t and either could one of the assistant coaches. Which makes me wonder if he knows who is putting in the game? Does he just yell, “Brown go in the game?”
Most Appreciative of the Hospitality Room at the Sun – The biggest Athletic Director around, Sacred Heart’s Mike Madden was in la-la land Sunday with the final supper of the season being pulled pork in the press room. He might have been just as happy with the Hearts’ championship but I’m not sure.