MERIDEN — The All-Record-Journal series for the winter season wraps up with boys basketball, where there is no mystery, no suspense and no need for an envelope.
Team of the year? Player of the year? Is there really any debate?
Platt boys basketball commanded the stage with a 16-4 regular season that was followed by unprecedented runs to the semifinals of both the Central Connecticut Conference and CIAC Division III tournaments, and the Panthers were led there by the guy who scored more points than anyone in program history.
Exhale now on the off chance you were holding your breath: Anthony Nimani is the Record-Journal Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
And the Platt Panthers will be one of the finalists for R-J Team of the Year, which will be decided in the spring.
Nimani, in combination with junior forward Makhai Anderson, made Platt must-see basketball this winter, especially in March, when the stakes and excitement rose with each successive step deeper into the postseason.
Meriden mobilized in hopes of a “Run to the Sun” championship date at Mohegan Sun Arena. There were two trips to the University of Hartford for the quarterfinals and semis of the CCC Tournament. There were jaunts to Milford and Naugatuck for the quarterfinals and semifinals in states.
Behind head coach Shawon Moncrief and the Platt bench, the bleachers were full, and it wasn’t just students.
“Our conference and playoff run at the University of Hartford and Naugatuck, if you looked, there were numerous teaches and staff who were in the crowd,” Moncrief remarked.
It was a team that captivated all ages, and its quest for a state crown fell one round shy on the night of March 15 against eventual Division III champ Waterbury Career Academy. But what a trip. Platt hadn’t seen the likes of it since 1998 — and even then the Panthers didn’t reach the semifinals.
At the hub of it all was Nimani, a once-in-a-generation player, a two-time All-Stater and the two-time R-J Player of the Year.
Across town, Maloney also made the postseason. So did Southington, which had its own riveting story, going from four wins to 16 under a new coach.
The area’s three Central Connecticut Conference teams were the area’s three playoff teams, and they furnish the All-Record-Journal Team.
Six area players made All-Conference. All six are All-RJ: Anthony Nimani and Makhai Anderson of Platt, Marquis Ward and Tadrique Jones of Maloney, Aidan Buck and Ryan Hammarlund of Southington.
Three additional players, one from each playoff team, are All-RJ Honorable Mention: Platt’s Justin Black, Maloney’s Donte Kelly and Southington’s Luke Penna.
That’s the story in a nutshell. Here are the details that lay between the lines.Platt
1,626: That’s how many points Anthony Nimani scored in his four years of varsity basketball on the West Side.
And yet even 1,626 doesn’t seem to fully measure Nimani’s game. The 6-foot-4 guard did so much along with scoring — rebound and run the floor, distribute and defend.
“He was definitely a blessing,” Moncrief said. “His freshman year, you saw the potential; he just wasn’t strong enough yet. But we knew it was coming, if he stuck with it. It was a joy to watch him progress the way he did.”
Lead: Nimani did that, too. He was team captain for three seasons and he took a 1-19 program to 20-6.
“You saw the change in team atmosphere as he stuck around,” Moncrief said. “He was a sophomore captain, but he had to learn how to be a leader. Toward the end of his sophomore year, I think he grew comforable in that position, and then from his junior year on, it was the sky’s limit as far as leadership and culture building.”
Nimani will likely put in a post-grad year at a prep school before moving on to college ball. He’s still deciding on which one.
Moncrief, meanwhile, jokes that he’ll have to start coaching again without him.
Nimani was indeed a floor general. There were no set plays for him. While other sets were deployed expressly for a certain player to shoot, there were none for Nimani. He was entrusted to just shoot when he had the shot.
That’s why some of the point totals could catch you by surprise. So much of his scoring just came in the flow of the game
”Some of his games where he topped 30-plus points, I honestly didn’t know he had that many points, because you expect him to do so much — and he’s doing so much — you don’t notice the point totals,” Moncrief said.
Nimani opened the season with 28 against Wethersfield and, in the process, went over 1,000 for his career.
He followed with 31 against Enfield. In January, there were 33 against Middletown and 31 against Bristol Central.
In between, on Jan. 20, came 44 against Maloney. That was the area’s single-game high for 2022-23.
In the penultimate regular season game, in Rocky Hill, Nimani rattled off 30 in three quarters and broke Jamel Riddle’s program record of 1,455 career points, a mark that had stood for 24 years.
In his final game, in the D-III semis against Waterbury Career, Nimani scored 36. That gave him 647 for the season, an average of 24.88 a game, and 1,626 for his career. Both are Platt records.
Where does Nimani rank on the all-time Meriden list?
Well, it depends on where you want to draw the lines. Most of the big numbers were put up by Wilcox players, who some will say played against less stout competition. Nimani’s numbers are No. 1 among Platt and Maloney guys.
But, for the record, let’s spell it out. Here are Meriden’s most prolific boys basketball single seasons.
■678 DeJuan Ransom, Wilcox Tech (2018-19);■649 DeJuan Ransom, Wilcox Tech (2017-18);■647 Anthony Nimani, Platt (2022-23);■619 Rich Pasinski, Wilcox Tech (1968).
And here’s the Meriden boys career scoring list.
■2,154 DeJuan Ransom, Wilcox Tech;■1,984 Roosevelt Shider, Wilcox Tech;■1,628 John Frasco, Wilcox Tech;■1,626 Anthony Nimani, Platt;■1,526 Joe Annino Jr., Maloney;■1,513 John Penwell, Wilcox Tech;■1,491 Rich Pasinki, Wilcox Tech;■1,455 Jamel Riddle, Platt.
Incidentally, there was a guy who fell just shy of that 600-point single season club, and that was Namani’s fellow All-State teammate, Makhai Anderson. Give him another year. He’s only a junior.
The 6-foot-5 forward, with height and power inside and a shooter’s touch outside, scored 594 points this season, averaging 22.8 a game. He was almost always in double figures for rebounding, as well, averaging better than 11 board a night.
When college coaches came to check out Nimani, they were checking out Anderson, too. He has approximately 950 points in his two seasons at Platt since transfering from Hamden.
“He’s another special player, another luxury that we have,” Moncrief said. “He’s a mismatch for a lot of teams because of his ability to go inside and outside. He’s super-athletic and I think we’re just scratching the surface of how talented he can be.”
With two superstars on the team, it wasn’t easy for other players to be regular scorers. Junior guard Justin Black found his niche, though, and often factored in 10-12 points a night. Moncrief also cited the work of 6-5 junior forward Jason Delevante.
“They’re both really good kids — the whole team, actually,” Moncrief said. “The culture and the quality of character is really high on the team.”Maloney
It’s tempting to speculate on where the Spartans would have wound up if point guard Justice Hanna hadn’t gotten hurt so early in the season.
It’s tempting to speculate on where the Spartans will wind up next year considering Hanna is due back with fellow junior guards Marquis Ward and Donte Kelly.
Maloney loses just one senior from this year’s 11-11 squad. The player, though, was a good one: 6-foot-3 senior center Tadrique Jones, an All-CCC South and All-RJ selection who averaged 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists a game.
“He did a great job leading the team this year as the lone senior,” remarked Maloney coach Dave Parness. “He played out of position and had to guard players much bigger than himself all season, but never complained. A true team-above-self guy.”
Fittingly, Jones had one of his best games on Senior Night. He delivered a season-high 28 points, including the game-winning free throws, in an overtime victory against Simsbury.
Around that time, the Spartans were without Ward, who missed a series of games in February with an ankle injury. Prior to that, the 5-foot-10 guard was reeling off double figures game in, game out, including 19 and 20 in back-to-back outings against Lewis Mills and Bristol Eastern.
Ward returned for the finale against Platt and the postseason, and finished with a team-high 15 points-per-game scoring average. He was also good for eight rebounds and two steals a night.
Like Jones, Ward was named All-CCC South and All-RJ.
“His development from the end of last season was huge,” Parness said. “Last year, he was an athlete playing basketball. This season, he showed he was a basketball player who knows how to play the game the right way.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how much he is going to develop and how good he is going to be next season,” Parness added. “He should be a player to watch around the state.”
Ditto for Kelly, a gifted multi-sport athlete who was All-RJ in football and an Honorable Mention here in basketball. Kelly is simply one of those “heart of a lion” guys, a fearless competitor.
This year, after playing a big role in the Maloney football team’s run to the Class L state final, Kelly came to basketball bearing the bumps and bruises of the gridiron. The 5-foot-8 guard rounded quickly into form on the hardwood and, over Maloney’s last 15 games, put up about 16 points a game, including 20 against Platt.
Kelly finished at 12 points, three assists and three steals per game.
“He was a guy we could count on at both ends of the floor,” said Parness. “He is going to be counted on and will be a huge part of our success next season.”Southington
Sometime in January of 2022, the bottom fell out of Southington basketball.
En route to a four-win season, the Blue Knights had scored barely over 20 points in a loss to Simsbury. It was the final straw for a number of players, who quit the team.
Two starting players stuck it out, though, and combined with a new head coach brought in during the offseason, catapulted Southington back into relevance this winter.
More than relevance: First-year coach Ed Quick oversaw a remarkable turnaround in which Southington went 16-8 and reached the quarterfinals of both the CCC conference and Division II state tournaments.
It wasn’t just the 12 additiional wins, it was the change in culture, and the pillars of the rebuild were 5-11 senior point guard Aidan Buck and 6-2 junior guard Ryan Hammarlund.
“These guys have that old-school mind set,” Quick said. “They love competing and this was a true team this year.”
Buck and Hammarlund were both named All-CCC West.
Buck, as an alternate, got to play in the CHSCA Senior All-Star game and delivered 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting, including three 3-pointers. For the season, Buck averaged 14.8 points and four assists per game.
“A tremendous leader,” Quick said. “He’s a fierce competitor and practices as hard as anyone. He’s a gym rat and loved representing the town. You couldn’t ask for anything more. He should be playing Division III basketball somewhere.”
Quick noted that Buck did not shy away from the big moment or taking the big shot.
“He willed his way and the team to be successful at key points,” Quick said.
Quick describes Hammarlund in much the same way. The junior averaged 14.4 points, eight rebounds and three steals per game. He had a season-high 10 thefts to go along with 22 points in a February game against Bristol Central.
Hammarlund was also undaunted by the big moment. In the CCC Tournament against Hall, he delivered a game-winning 3-pointer.
Perhaps the games that say the most about Hammarlund are the two he missed in January. Southington had season-low scoring outputs in each and lost both by wide margins — 57-26 to Conard, 61-37 to Farmington.
“He’s an All-State player in my eyes,” Quick said. “He’s a three-way player with offense, defense and being a relentless worker.
“He has tremendous upside in college; he would match up with the opposing team’s best player because he’s a really good defender,” Quick added. “We expect him to be one of the best players in the state next year. He’s already drawing interest from colleges.”
Southington also has an Honorable Mention in 6-2 forward Luke Penna, who returned to the Blue Knights as a senior and emerged as one of their top weapons in the second half of the season. That included draining the decisive 3-pointer to beat Crosy in the opening round of the Division II state tournament.
Penna averaged 11 points and nine rebounds a contest.
”He lives the game and is passionate about the game and is a coach on the floor,” Quick said. “His junior year didn’t go the way he wanted, but he owned it and was our best player on the floor against Northwest Catholic and Crosby — some high-ranked teams.”
Penna is not through. He’s going on to play at Alfred University, a Division III program in New York.