WEST HAVEN — Nick DeFeo looked just as comfortable coaching from the sidelines when his Notre Dame-West Haven prep basketball team was trailing by 14 points in the second half as he did when the squad pulled off a 92-84 comeback win over Commonwealth Regional of Springfield, Mass. on Tuesday evening at Alumni Hall.
DeFeo’s mood never changed and his players fed off of it.
The 27-year-old Southington native orchestrated a thrilling comeback as Green Knights, in their inaugural season as a post-graduate program, improved to 13-11.
DeFeo is a 2010 Southington High School graduate who now lives in Shelton. He was a standout on the basketball court and as the setter on Southington’s 20-1 state championship volleyball squad the spring of his senior year. DeFeo was an All-CCC player in both sports.
After Southington, DeFeo went on to Western New England University, where he earned a Bachelors degree in sports management and a masters in communications.
He also played three years of Division III basketball at the Springfield, Mass. school and was captain in his final two seasons. During the offseason at Western New England, DeFeo worked at a nearby Five Star Basketball Camp.
His coaching career began in earnest at Springfield’s Commonwealth Academy. DeFeo spent a year there after graduating from Western New England, then moved to Arizona to help build Aspire Academy, a program that has since moved to Louisville, Kentucky.
DeFeo, meanwhile, came back to Connecticut as Woodstock Academy was starting its post-grad basketball program. (He coached Woodstock Blue; Woodstock Gold is the main team and it has been nationally ranked.)
It was at Woodstock where DeFeo gained his first head coaching experience. He was there for two seasons before taking up the reins of the new program at Notre Dame last January.
DeFeo developed the love of basketball from his father Mike, who coached him and his three siblings — Samantha, Jared and Michael — in several sports throughout their youth. Candee is DeFeo’s mother.
“I’ve always loved basketball,” DeFeo said. “When I became a junior in college I started to realize that I wanted to coach. In my senior year, I started putting out some feelers. I was fortunate to meet some good people along the way.”
DeFeo said he’s “more relaxed” than other coaches.
“I try to put the guys in the best position to be successful,” DeFeo said. “I try to be accountable, up front and honest. I want to put the kids in the best position possible moving forward.”
The Green Knights play other prep and private schools from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire. Several college junior varsity teams are also on the schedule.
“The goal is to play the best teams in the country and we are playing four of the top 15 teams in the country,” DeFeo said. “We want to get exposure for guys that may not have gotten it in high school.
“A lot of guys get recruited out of high school, but their coaches may not help with the process. We got through the entire process with SAT prep and they take four classes each semester. This team gives the guys exposure and lets them know what they do and don’t do well.”
“We are helping everyone find a home for college basketball,” DeFeo added.
At least one of DeFeo’s players is “close” to Division I looks. Several other players are getting looks on the Division II level.
Among the players on ND’s inaugural squad is D.J. Ransom, who broke Meriden scoring records while at Wilcox Tech.
Waterbury’s Kerwin Prince (16 ppg., 10 rpg.) is the Green Knights’ leading scorer. Fabian Cox, of Hamden, nets 14 points per game. A.J. Edwards, of New Haven, and Timmond Williams, of Trumbull, average 10 points per contest.
It was Williams who, with a 3-pointer with 1:55 left to play, gave the Green Knights their first lead Tuesday night against Commonwealth Regional. Prince and Cox had slams in the closing minute to seal it.
DeFeo is pleased with how the maiden campaign has gone at Notre Dame.
“There are challenges being a first-year program,” DeFeo said. “From experience, I’ve seen all of this before and it can be challenging at times, but I’m so happy with the support we’ve gotten from Notre Dame. We are looking forward to Year 2, which I’m excited about.”
Notre Dame-West Haven athletic director Jason Shea said he is very satisfied with the first year of the program.
“I think it’s had a tremendous start considering we started really late in the process,” Shea said. “We’ve had a full team with such great success. We have a group of local players coming together to showcase their ability to college coaches and I couldn’t be happier with Nick. He’s energetic and knowledgeable and very much on top of things and supporting the student-athletes here at Notre Dame. From an athletic directors point of view, I’m very happy.”