The calendar turns to December and gymnasiums at the seven high schools in the greater Meriden area are filled with wide-eyed candidates for boys basketball teams.
About 125 will get to wear varsity jerseys as they embark on a journey that history has proven can be an enduring block in the foundation of their lives.
The Record-Journal sports staff spends many hours talking to coaches and players, covering the games, maintaining scoring statistics, writing stories and discussing the developments as if the cameras were rolling for an unscripted neighborhood talk show.
To extend the season and pay homage to the best of the best, our staff has decided to name an All-Record-Journal team for the first time. We selected five players, the team with which we’d like to tip off in a tournament final. The final five are Jaron Cogdell (Maloney, senior forward): Dylan D’Addio (Cheshire, senior guard); Isiah Gaiter (Platt, sophomore guard); Heath Post (Cheshire, senior forward); Kyle Shea (Lyman Hall, senior center).
The choice wasn’t easy. There were others who need to be saluted. After all, we can’t win a tournament game with just five players.
Thus, the following is a list of Honorable Mention players so we can fill up our scorebooks: Will Shields (Lyman Hall, senior guard); Kevin Ransom (Lyman Hall, sophomore guard); Trayon Rumley (Maloney, senior guard); Louis Torres (Platt, senior forward); Isaiah Jones (Platt, junior forward); Brad Landry (Sheehan, junior guard); Matt Ottochian (Sheehan, junior forward); Kyle Brennan (Sheehan, junior guard); Nate Blitz (Southington, senior guard); DeJuan Ransom (Wilcox Tech, freshman guard).
Now, we’d like you to get to know our All-RJ starting five a little better.
• Sr. F Jaron Cogdell, Maloney
Cogdell, a premier running back for the Spartans’ football team, had to make the usual physical adjustment to basketball. He had a large mental barrier to clear, too.
Maloney’s 2014-15 basketball team that made it to the Class L quarterfinals was gutted by graduation, leaving only Cogdell as a player with significant varsity experience. Although he’s quiet by nature, he had to become a leader.
“My freshman year I looked up to Jay Askew. He was the leader. Everybody fed off him,” Cogdell said. “I saw that. I wanted that.”
He also absorbed the leadership traits of Mike Gulino, who set the tone for the 2013-14 squad that also went to the quarterfinals.
“Everybody kind of fed off him. He was talkative in practice.”
The 2014-15 team included the likes of Tracy Rumley, Jamel Hamans, Jordan Martin and Ethan Haxhaj, strong players all, but none had the personality to lead.
“Last year, he didn’t have to assume leadership because he didn’t have to with [all those seniors],” coach Howie Hewitt said. “This year, he was off the charts. We won 12 games, but we probably wouldn’t have won half of those without him.”
In spite of a mediocre regular season, Cogdell led the Spartans to tournament road wins at RHAM-Hebron and Harding-Bridgeport before losing to Newington in the Class L quarterfinals.
“He was a little bit tired, a little bit beat up after three games in a week,” Hewitt said. “In the game against Harding, he had to take the ball out of bounds against the pressure and we threw it back to him. He was the focal part of our offense and rebounded the ball at both ends. And we were pressing for 32 minutes. Against Newington, we were playing bigger, stronger kids. He didn’t back down. There was no quit. That was part of the whole package.
“We didn’t elect captains, but he fulfilled that responsibility better than most captains.”
Cogdell intends to play a year of prep-school football at St. Thomas More in Montville.
• Sr. G Dylan D’Addio, Cheshire
D’Addio, a two-time All-SCC Housatonic player, finished atop the local scoring stats with an average of 19.4 points per game. The great majority of them were very hard-earned.
Unlike so many guards in an era that stresses 3-pointers, D’Addio only scored 30 of his 427 points from downtown. His visits uptown — slashing drives to the hoop against one of the most difficult schedules in the state — won’t soon be forgotten by the enthusiastic Cheshire rooters. “He’s a hard-working, team-oriented player who gives 100 percent on every possession,” Cheshire coach Dan Lee said. “The kids respect him. Opponents see that and it helps out a great deal.”
His collaboration with teammate Heath Post was dynamic, but graduation forced Lee to fill in around them with untested players.
“They’ve been playing together a long time and have developed the ability to complement each other,” Lee said. “As Dylan drives to the basket, he knows he can find Heath on the perimeter, and that opens up the floor.”
And the schedule? Try Class LL champion Hillhouse twice, 2015 Class LL champion Fairfield Prep twice, difficult non-league tests against Platt and Brien McMahon-Norwalk, and then there’s the always difficult Housy slate.
“Going into the season, we knew we had a challenging schedule like we do year after year,” D’Addio said. “We pulled through and did pretty well. I did all right. I got to come here to the Record-Journal to get my picture taken.”
D’Addio, who tallied 809 points over the last three varsity campaigns, is planning to eschew playing in college to attend UConn.
“I don’t really know yet. I’m still hearing back from schools, but I’m leaning toward UConn,” he said. “Maybe we can form a mean intramural team. There were coaches talking to me, but none had what I wanted academically, and I love UConn.”
D’Addio plans to study nursing with a career in physical therapy a possibility.
• So. G Isiah Gaiter, Platt
With the Panthers a long way from home and seeking their first CIAC tournament win since 2003, they were locked in a tie game. With only seconds remaining, they had the ball, and all eyes in the Joel Barlow gym turned to a quiet sophomore guard with a great gift.
“He’s a very talented, special kid,” Platt coach Shawon Moncrief said. “The sky’s the limit. He’s young, 15. His birthday’s in May. He’s a hard worker. I’m sure he’ll reach his full potential.”
Gaiter drove the lane and muscled a ball on the rim that dropped through as the horn sounded, enabling Platt to advance to the second round in Class L.
Gaiter played his freshman season at Xavier. In his first season at Platt, he led the team with a 17.4 scoring average, pounded the boards and was given the ball when the game was on the line. His name will began to show on Division I coach’s lists by next season, if it hasn’t already.
“I think we took one step,” he said. “It’s one step at a time. We accomplished one goal. Next, we want an undefeated season, to go to [the title game at Mohegan Sun] and win it. We have a young core, so we have a lot of young kids coming back next year. I think we’re all set.”
Contributors Tylon Papallo, Isaiah Jones and Kejeon West return. Others like Carson Coon, Karl Jackson, and Romello Samuels earned considerable playing time as the season progressed.
When he was reminded that perhaps the Panthers could use a big center, Gaiter said, “My favorite saying is heart over height. The kid with the most heart is going to win the battle.”
The Panthers were eliminated by Windsor after the win at Barlow, and Gaiter feels the team has learned from the defeat.
“It was tough, but I didn’t put my head down,” he said. “I know we’re going to come back stronger than ever. We’re going to be back out here next year and one little thing isn’t going to bring us down.”
• Sr. F Heath Post, Cheshire
Exactly how dynamic Post’s season might have been free of injury is strictly conjecture. At 6-foot-4 with a diverse inside-outside game, he would have gotten some All-State consideration.
“He can play outside or inside and runs the floor well,” Lee said in his forecast for the season. “He can do a lot of things and his versatility is important to us this year. He has the ability to rebound and start the fast break.”
But after the first game against McMahon, Post suffered a severe ankle sprain in practice and missed the next four games, all of which Cheshire lost.
Post returned for limited duty against Lyman Hall on Jan. 11 and gradually worked back toward optimal condition, but there are many things box scores can’t relate.
“I would say that except for the last two games, I was not happy with how it was,” he said.
Post scored 237 points. As a junior, he tallied 284, but he made the most of his time sitting next to Coach Lee and his staff.
“That stuff happens. You just take it in stride,” Post said. “You learn some more things when you’re sitting on the bench than you do on the court. It’s different. I kind of liked it. I got a different perspective, but I would have liked to have been on the court for those games.”
It’s safe to say that coaching lies in Post’s future. In the meantime, he has Division III college ball in mind.
“I’m looking at NESCAC mostly. I’ve been talking to the coaches and I’m waiting to hear back in the next two weeks,” he said.
Post intends to study environmental science.
• Sr. C Kyle Shea, Lyman Hall
Imagining that the Trojans could qualify for the Class L tournament this season was hard to visualize.
Over the previous three campaigns, LH was 10-50, 1-23 in the SCC Housy and without a postseason berth since 2012.
With hard work and a sensational job by coach Rob Ruys and his staff, the Trojans went 12-11 and beat Wilton on the road in the tourney’s first round.
The second-round loss at Pomperaug did not diminish the glow of a remarkable season.
“We definitely felt like we accomplished something by getting to the state tournament and winning a game,” Shea said. “We were definitely disappointed losing, of course, but we felt like we accomplished something by getting to that stage.”
Shea was the focal point, scoring at a 15.7 clip and playing the center position above and beyond his 6-foot-3 stature. He efficiently interpreted the prerequisites of playing with his back to the basket and often battled taller players with no drop-off in production.
He also gets it done in the classroom (3.55 GPA).
“Kyle is a leader, not so much vocally, but when you watch the example he sets, the way he goes about things, there is no questioning his leadership,” Ruys said. “What he brings to the table is an unquestionable work ethic and an egoless attitude. He just goes to work every day, cares about his teammates and gives his very best.”
Shea was a one-man wrecking crew in the 72-67 loss at Hamden in the SCC Tournament with 27 points and 10 rebounds.
“This team had a lot of chemistry,” said Shea, who had 12 double-doubles this season. “We all worked hard, hustled and had positive attitudes. We wanted to win and we knew what we had to do.”
He will attend Bentley University and plans to try out for either basketball or baseball.