The first season for the newly constituted Connecticut Technical School Conference has been a showcase for Wilcox Tech.
The fall sports performed well, now that the tech schools have shed the baggage imported by Capital Prep and the Bridgeport public schools and the experiment-gone-bad that spelled doom for the Constitution State Conference. The boys basketball race now looms as a compelling battle between the Indians and Prince Tech.
The Tribe adds depth to a wealth of returning talent that includes the leading scorer in the area last year, point guard DeJuan Ransom (23.0 ppg.).
“We’ve set the bar kind of high,” coach Randy Farkas said. “We feel we can compete for a championship.”
Ransom has the complete package. His ability to penetrate paint sends him to the foul line frequently (an area-high 148 made free throws last year). When the defense sags, he utilizes the space to bury threes (40).
“He has the ability to finish at the rim,” Farkas said. “He’s very crafty, lightning quick and can finish with both hands. He’s going to break the 1,000-point mark in midseason, maybe sooner.”
Opposing defenses will have to think twice before doing any double-teaming. Center Will Pawlik and wiry forward John Soto both averaged in double figures last year. Nick Milslagle, second to Ransom in dropping treys, grew several inches during the offseason.
“He’s a guard, but rebounds well and plays well defensively,” Farkas said.
Sixth man Bryce McClendon, who can play guard or forward, will break the starting lineup. Farkas didn’t use his reserves much last year, but Derek Strillacci, Donny You and Devario Reid gained enough experience at multiple positions to be counted on as contributors this year.
“Derek is going to play a lot. Joey is going to play a lot. Donny, too,” Farkas said. “I’ve got three kids of the bench that I’m not afraid to put in.”
Sophomore guard Joey Scala is emerging as a viable backup when Ransom needs a rest or fouls become an issue.
The changes in the postseason landscape have the Tribe in Division IV, populated by public schools from smaller towns like those in the northwestern and northeastern parts of the state. Vying with small, rural schools like Coginchaug, Ellington and Bacon Academy gives a good CTC team a ray of hope for a deep tourney run.
If summer league results matter (three-way tie for first with Xavier and Farmington), it may just be an Indian Winter.
The Blue Knights showed cohesion in an early preseason scrimmage against Maloney, which portends that they can be looking at their best year since 2010-11, the last time they qualified for the CCC Tournament and won a state tournament game.
They qualified for states last season for the first time in four years and lost to Hillhouse, but a core of players return from that team to lead the way.
“Everybody needs good fortune. Everybody knows that’s part of it, but I love our guys,” coach John Cessario said. “They’re most committed group you can have and it’s starting to show. We’re going to need it in a competitive conference.”
Jeremy Mercier returns as a power forward with varsity experience dating back to his freshman year.
“He’s one of our four horsemen,” Cessario said. “He’s nursing an ankle that he sprained before tryouts, but he’ll be full-throttle for Glastonbury (Monday).”
Andrew Lohneiss earned his varsity spurs as a sophomore and the depth of his experience projects him as a special player. Lohneiss led the team with 31 threes last year and is equally effective roaring toward the rim off the dribble.
Colin Burdette is a smart, efficient point guard. Tim O’Shea, the leading receiver on the football team, mans the center slot. Cameron Clynes was an oft-used frontcourt reserve last year.
“Colin really has to get rattled to turn the ball over,” Cessario said. “In four scrimmages, he’s had less than two a game. He takes care of the ball, which is what a point guard has to do.
“O’Shea is a solid anchor in middle. His toughness on the glass allows us to run off rebounds. He’s learned how to hit the 15-footers.”
Guard Ryan Gesnaldo and forward Adam Hunter are among last year’s JV players scrapping for playing time.
“Gesnaldo scored 14 points in one quarter in our last scrimmage,” Cessario said. “He’s had an incredible offseason.”
A quintet of five sophomores wait to contribute depending on how quickly they can adapt to the pace of the game.
Coach Howie Hewitt has major challenges as he moves into his 32nd year guiding the Spartans. He’s got two top-quality seniors in guards Romello Samuels and Damian Pantoja, but the rest of the developments will require experimentation and development, both individual and within the group.
“We will need our seniors who didn’t play much varsity last year to contribute both offensively and on the backboards,” Hewitt said. “I expect to play 10 players each night.”
Samuels, limited to a half-season last year after serving a CIAC-imposed transfer penalty, averaged nearly 19 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor and 34 percent from three-point range. Pantoja, the prototypical slasher, made 45 percent of his shots, but just 55 percent from the free-throw line. Both began their high school careers at Platt.
Pantoja was also the team’s leading rebounder, which supports Hewitt’s notion that he’ll need determined board work from his front line. He has the size. Anthony Forbes, another Platt transfer, is a hulking 6-foot-6 space-eater. Confident senior Alex Martel stands 6-3 and sophomore offensive lineman Trevor Santiago is 6-4.
Kam Henderson, Jose Roman, Jayden Malave and yet another ex-Panther, Divine Ransom, are among the many who seek to fill out the Spartans’ rotation.
Elliot Good remains questionable after missing the football season with a cracked vertebrae.
Change can be hard to manage, but few confront it more diplomatically than Panthers coach Shawon Moncrief.
His four top scorers from last year’s offensive-minded lot are gone. Two of his top reserves can now be found on the east side of the city wearing Maloney green. He’s lost 84 percent of his offense.
“I don’t mind. It’s rejuvenating, he said. “It’s not like we went 20-0 last year.”
Last year, All-State candidate Isiah Gaiter was recruited away by Sacred Heart-Waterbury.
Moncrief never entertained a negative thought. He just focuses on the athletes he has rather than the ones that left. And one that he has is his captain, 6-5 forward Carson Coon.
“Carson’s been shooting a lot of jump shots, but I don’t want him to fall in love with them because he’s our strongest rebounder,” Moncrief said.
Two new starters earned some varsity run last year. Tre Carter inherits the critical point guard slot. Desmond Davis can handle the ball and shoot effectively from the perimeter. Elijah Felton, fresh from a productive football season, is a first-year senior who can send bodies flying.
“He has active hands and feet and a good motor,” Moncrief said, “but he hasn’t played a lot of basketball.”
Tall, but slender Malcolm Andrews is getting a long look at the wing and, defensivel,y Moncrief sees him as a formidable front man in the zone. The coach also noted an upside in the preseason play of Roemello Leary.
“I have to get these guys to mesh and learn the system,” Moncrief said. “On paper, we can win. Our size and speed will be hard to match. I don’t think we’ll give up as many points as we did last year (70.6 per game) because we have a different makeup. Last year, we were undersized and tried to outscore opponents. I think we can go far.”