DCT Sports

Covering Connecticut high school sports

COLUMN: CIAC basketball “Final Four”

I thought I had a good idea going into championship weekend at Mohegan Sun, but now that I saw a majority of the teams play it doesn’t look so good.

I had always thought that a Connecticut high school basketball “Final Four” would be a cool idea.

I want to see who the real number one team in the state is by playing a game. The four teams that win a championship would them play each other to determine the true “state champion.”

It would be an interesting idea, but doesn’t make any sense.

I watched the Class M and LL boys championship games on Saturday at Mohegan Sun and wow! there is a huge difference. I thought Weaver was a top team in the state coming in, but they got handled pretty easily by East Catholic. Then I stayed for the nightcap to see what all the hype was about and the game lived up to its billing.

Either of those two teams, Fairfield Prep or Bridgeport Central would dominate any other team in the state, it wouldn’t even be fun to watch.

The top of the smaller three classes are pretty similar, with probably M and L being the closest in talent level, but LL is far and away the best in the state.

My idea would have had maybe the LL winner play the M winner and then S and L play and then the winners play in the finals, but we already know Central would destroy East Catholic and then most likely Windsor. They are loaded with talent.

I never really understood why the CIAC divided schools up by size, but now I do. If you have a large pool of kids to choose from, you will have a better chance of having better players.

Although it is all about money so, whataya say CIAC? Can we make this happen?

COLUMN: DCT Sports top 3 games of 2014

As some of you may know, I started writing for GameTimeCT during the second week of February. Because of this, I can’t write a “top basketball games of the year, because I started late. So here are my top three basketball games I saw in 2014.

#3: February 10 – South Windsor vs. East Catholic

The first game I covered as a member of GameTimeCT was the girls South Windsor at East Catholic in Manchester. It took me all day to figure out which game I was going to cover, but when I finally noticed that South Windsor was undefeated at the time and they were playing an East Catholic team that had won four in a row and played the Bobcats closely in the first game they played.

The No. 3 team in the GameTimeCT/Register rankings that week, came out strong, but the Eagles stayed close enough to make a move in the second half. In the fourth quarter, East Catholic was down 47-45 before scoring six straight to take the lead for the final time, handing the Bobcats their first loss of the season.

South Windsor went on to play in the Class LL state championship game, losing to Lauralton Hall.

#2: February 11 – New Britain vs. Newington

This is the second game I covered, but that’s not the reason I chose it.

I didn’t know much about the rivalries in the CCC, but I figured this would be a good one. I walked into the gym at Newington High School and could feel a buzz. It wasn’t the buzz of that in Mohegan Sun this past weekend, but it was there.

The stands filled with student section from both towns and the trash-talking started.

New Britain was the eighth ranked team in the GameTimeCT/Register poll and sat atop the CCC standings. Newington jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, led by freshman guard Jared Simmons, one of the best freshman I saw play this year. He attacked the Golden Hurricanes inside and out. Four 3-pointers were made in the first quarter, the second best first quarter scoring performance I saw this year.

It would have been a great game if Newington ran away with this won, but the more impressive part was New Britain coming back and taking control.

The big three of Annuel Saint Juste, Curtis Hyman and Craven Johnson got the Golden Hurricanes back on the board and Hyman capped off the night with a huge dunk to seal the deal. The first of many I saw this winter.

New Britain won the CCC regular season title, but faltered in the tournament, losing to Weaver in the second round and then to Greenwich in the Class LL quarterfinals. Newington beat Hall in the state tournament qualifying round, but then had to play Fairfield Prep. We all know how that turned out.

#1: February 28 – Weaver vs. Middletown (CCC tournament)

This was the first time I saw Weaver play this season. I was asked to cover the game for the Middletown Press and happily obliged, not know what I was getting myself into. It was a good thing.

The 8/9 match-up in the CCC tournament would spark the Beavers into a rhythm that would take them to Mohegan Sun in the end.

Middletown took an early lead, but after a technical foul issued to Makai Hunter, Weaver made four free throws and the tides turned. The Beavers employed their full-court press forcing 14 steals, the only player they couldn’t stop was Brandon Simmons who scored 38 points, the highest point total I saw all season.

Weaver went on to win the CCC tournament title over Maloney and advance through the Class M state tournament with ease before falling to CCC North foe East Catholic at Mohegan Sun.


Honorable Mention: March 19 – Weaver vs. Lewis Mills (Class M semi-finals)

This may not have been the most exciting game or competitive, but the shear dominance is what impressed me the most.

Weaver had been the team throughout the tournament that no one wanted to play. Joe Morelli said this early on and the Beavers proved it to be true, winning their state tournament games by an average of 36 points.

In the first quarter, against the top-seeded team in the Class M tournament, No. 12 Weaver dropped 31 points, including seven threes on their way to the 89-33 semi-finals win.

Like I said, this wasn’t the best game to watch, but it was the most dominant. Three players for the Beavers scored at least 19 points, with KeAndre Fair leading the way with 20. Senior Josh Jones hit three 3s in the first quarter.

Although Weaver ended up losing the Class M title game in convincing fashion to fellow CCC member East Catholic

COLUMN: Good and bad of championship weekend

The CIAC state basketball championships at Mohegan Sun is always one of the most exciting weekends of the year for Connecticut high school sports and this past weekend was no different.

I got to the arena around 9:30 a.m. and for some reason I was surprised at the amount of people sitting in front of slot machines that early. As I was told later by Jimmy Zanor and Tom Yantz, there is no time in the casino.

I received my press credentials and found a seat court-side for the start of the day.

First up was the girls Class L finals, Capital Prep vs. Weaver. I had been following Weaver for a little while this year which made it more fun to watch this game with coaches and players I had gotten to know.

In the first half it had looked like the Beavers were going to knock off the No. 1 team in the state, but they had been at the top for a reason. They shook off the rust and ran away with the title.

The second game was the one I got to cover.

Honestly, this was the game I was most excited to cover, two CCC teams, including the No. 12 Weaver Beavers who had faltered early, but since Reggie Hatchett took over as coach midway through the season, lost just two games, including winning the CCC tournament and making other teams in Class M look silly on their way to the finals.

Well, they were the ones looking silly in the second half of the championship game. Weaver played like a 12 seed (which means nothing), but didn’t really have it together. They fell behind and didn’t know how to come back, losing their second straight finals game.

I made my way backstage to find the coaches and get some quotes before settled down in the media room to write. This was the real deal, real journalists from all over the state churning out stories and photos. I caught the end of the Thomaston/St. Paul girls Class S game on television. That looked like a great one.

Once I was done with my story and eating lunch with two people I look up to in the business (Yantz and Zanor) I made my way back to the court to watch some more basketball…and tweet until my fingers hurt.

The common theme of the day was the “underdog” getting an early lead and then the “favorite” coming back in the second half to win the title. That happened again with the girls Class LL game between Lauralton Hall and South Windsor. I saw the Bobcats played a few times this year, actually they played in the first game I covered for GameTimeCT this season. They are good, but the Lauralton Hall/Mercy rivalry I had heard about since last year’s championship game must have really prepared them for this game, coming back to take the LL crown.

The nightcap was the game of the ages.

I stayed, because I had heard so much about this undefeated Fairfield Prep team and their huge center, Providence bound Paschal Chukwu. I hadn’t looked around, but at one point before the game started I sat back and gazed through the arena. Wow! The place was packed.

The game tipped off and already had the feel of a heavyweight bout. Those kids were moving so fast and playing like their life depended on it. Threes were raining and Chukwu was defending the basket, scoring and dunking like no one else was in the gym. This was the game to see.

Late in the second quarter I turned to my new “friend”/co-worker Pete Paguaga of the Register Citizen and told him, “I just realized that I hadn’t looked at the scoreboard all game.”

Prep was up by double-digits, but I thought it was a one-possession game. It was that exciting and that fast-paced.

Once my computer connected to the WiFi again, I started tweeting again, just like everyone on press row, this was a good one…you had to be there.

You know the details now, Bridgeport Central came back from being down 19 to beat the “best team in the state” for the Class LL title. What happened immediately after the buzzer sounded was a different story and I had a first-hand look of the situation.

I’m lucky I wasn’t injured like a Central cheerleader was.

After the arena cleared out, a few people were hanging out behind the basket where this took place. EMT’s and a stretcher were brought in to tend to a cheerleader who had an apparent concussion and was not responding normally. This is what no one is talking about. Yes, the Hilltoppers may have pulled off the biggest upset in Connecticut basketball history and have every right to celebrate, but there’s a cost. There’s a reason why Mohegan Sun and the CIAC made it clear the no one would be allowed on the court to celebrate, injuries can occur. This time the players went into the crowd, trampled people, broke equipment and injured a classmate.

When did this become a respectable way to celebrate? Enjoy the time with you teammates, accept your trophy and medals like adults and then have a celebration, parade or whatever you want when you get home. Don’t jump into the crowd with no regard for the people who are there and come away injuring people. Multiple bodies were laying on the ground for an extended period of time while players jumped into the arms of classmates, taking their shirts off and celebrating. It got out of control and the security didn’t know how to handle it so they let it go.

When the mob cleared, I retrieved my backpack with broken headphones inside. A Mohegan Sun security person told me I should bill it to the school, which I wish I could, but when the Central administrator talked to me, he said it was a liability I agreed to working there and they weren’t going to do anything about it. Fine, I will get my headphones replaced either way, but when your school brings its own security, because you expect something to happen and it does and it can’t be controlled, something is wrong.

Thank god it’s baseball and spring sports season.

Lay off the referees

I’ve been covering high school sports for a while now, but more recently with GameTimeCT.com and have noticed one glaring problem with the whole thing.

The gyms are becoming more and more full, especially during tournament time, which means they are louder and louder. The students are coming out in droves to cheer on their friends and classmates, dressing all the same and making clever signs and parents are coming to the biggest games of the season.

These are the most pressure packed, stressful games these kids have ever played in, but you know who else feels the stress and pressure? The officials.

These people are not professionals. Sure they have been around the game for a while, taken the classes and passed the exams to be a certified referee, but they are not professionals. They have day jobs just like you and I. They get paid a small amount per game to do something they enjoy, be a part of the game of basketball.

That is why these people don’t deserve to be ridiculed and insulted non-stop for 32 minutes a night.

Parents are the worst offenders.

The student sections can be loud and they can come up with cheers for their team or against the opponent, but they don’t trash the referees like the parents do. I can’t even count the amount of times a parent has yelled at a game official over the last few weeks while they can’t say anything back. They are doing their job.

How would you like it if you were sitting at your desk and someone stood their watching you the entire day and insulted everything you did wrong? Every time you made a mistake, when you didn’t do something fast enough? That’s what the parents are putting these referees through on a nightly basis.

If they made every call that they should, the games would last four hours and every single point would be scored at the free throw line. The players wouldn’t break a sweat.

The best is when I hear, “That’s a foul!” on one end of the court and then “Let them play!” when the call doesn’t go your kids way. Then the player goes up for a shot under the basket, is blocked and is called for a foul, the parent yells, “Awful call!” But when their child is blocked cleanly, it has to be a foul on them, because their kid can do know wrong.

You have to lay off these officials a little bit. Of course they are going to make mistakes, maybe more than you would like, but you have to remember, this isn’t the NBA, this isn’t the Final Four where the best referees in the country are working. These are men and women who enjoy the game of basketball as much as you and I and want to be a part of the game for as long as they can.

Here’s an idea for the parents who think they can make a better call from the bleachers than on the court, “Parent Referee Night.” Why don’t we have a night where a couple of parents officiate the game to the best of their ability and see what it’s like. Be right in the middle of the fast-paced game of basketball trying to decide between a blocking foul and a charge while hundreds of people are yelling and screaming. Try to decide if the block was clean or if the shooter got hit on the wrist. Deciding not to make a call, because it would slow down the game too much or it wasn’t obvious. These are all things that an official goes through numerous times each game, while getting taunted.

The coaches are to blame too. I was covering a game recently where the coach said it was the worst set of officials he had ever seen. Yes, they may have missed a call, I will admit that, but again, this isn’t the NBA Finals, this is the CIAC State Tournament. Yes it’s a big deal to players and coaches, but the officials also take it seriously, so lets let them do their job and enjoy the game of basketball that these kids love to play.

Covering high school sports is fun

As I stated here about a month ago, I am covering the Central Connecticut Conference for GameTimeCT. Well, it’s been a lot of fun so far, but also difficult.

The first game I covered was South Windsor vs. East Catholic girls basketball. South Windsor was undefeated at the time the game started, but not when it ended…and this was just my first day.

The next game I covered was New Britain vs. Newington boys basketball. I thought I was going to see another upset, but New Britain, the best team in the CCC at the time and one of the best in the state, came back to beat their cross-town rival. The bright spot of this game, now that I like back on it was freshman guard Jared Simmons of Newington. The kid can do it all. He’s not afraid to drive and go after the bigs, he can shoot from anywhere on the court and has great vision. He will definitely be someone to watch in the coming years.

Starting in the middle of the season was strange, but I am trying to get some contacts and my name out there, especially during tournament time…which has been an experience in itself.

The first tournament I covered was the CCC girls basketball tournament at New Britain High School. The tournament was supposed to be 16 teams, like the boys was, but had to be shortened due to weather. This caused some fans to comments and show their displeasure, but it was a great tournament anyway. The top seeded Farmington lost in the semi-finals and #2 Weaver won it for the first time.

On to the boys tournament.

I have sort of developed a liking for Weaver basketball. I’m not sure how it happened, but I don’t mind. I went to Middletown High School for the first round of the CCC boys tournament last week vs. Weaver. The Beavers pulled the “upset” and moved on to the quarterfinals where they actually pulled an upset against #1 New Britain. They are playing in the CCC semi-finals tonight vs. Hartford Public in the only capital city school that didn’t make the semis, Bulkeley.

That game is sure to be wild.

The first of two semi-finals will be Glastonbury vs. Maloney where two of the best guard in the conference, Jalen Ollie and Tracy Rumley will face-off.

Tonight will be fun. Look for my game stories on GameTimeCT later.

Covering the Central Connecticut Conference

It’s official

I will be covering the Central Connecticut Conference (#CCC) for GameTimeCT.com.

I got a taste of the area during the fall when I covered a couple of football games, but then took a break. I am back now and will cover the huge 32 team conference to the best of my ability.

I love using Twitter and will live tweet every single event I am at. I would like to find the Twitter accounts of all of the schools in the CCC, so I can tag them in my tweets. If you run one of these accounts or know what they are, let me know (@DCT_Sports).

Along with using the traditional Connecticut high school sports hashtags, i.e. #ctbb, #ctgb, #ctbase etc. I will begin using the same for the CCC (#cccbb, #cccgb, #cccbase). I look forward to everyone joining the conversation with me and learning from the fans of the Central Connecticut Conference.

Also, if you have stories or games that you feel like need to be covered, feel free to let me know.

I am one person and won’t be able to cover every school, but I will be at the ones that need to be covered and will try to keep updates on the rest of the schools.

I look forward to this new opportunity and will have fun with it!

Shaun White is the best snowboarder ever

We all know by now that Olympic snowboarder Shaun White has pulled out of the first slopestyle event to ever be held during Olympic competition due to safety concerns, but that’s not what his competitors think.

Earlier in the week, Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo, one of the favorites to medal in slopestyle crashed in a practice run, breaking his collarbone and forcing him to go home. Just a couple of days later, White pulled out of the same event.

He has been the best snowboarder over the past decade, but may be coming to the end of his competitive career. White has won the last two halfpipe gold medals in the Olympics and a total of eight superpipe gold medals at the XGames; he is by far and away the most dominant athlete in his sport, but it may be catching up to him.

It took White until almost the very last-minute to qualify for the Sochi Olympics, but he did. He qualified for both halfpipe and slopestyle, but is now going to focus on repeating as halfpipe champions alone. Here is what his competitors have to say about him backing out…

Mr. White… Its easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win…

— Sebastien Toutant (@SebToots)

and another

Shaun knows he won’t be able to win the slopes, that’s why he pulled out. He’s scared! - Max Parrot

Does he have the right to choose what he wants to compete in? Of course. Does he deserve the criticism? Yes. Should it bother him? No.

The best snowboarder in the world has proven himself already. He has the medals, he has the endorsements and he has the money. He is doing it for the love of the sport. He can pick where to ride, when he wants, but he also deserves some criticism. These guys who have called him out just want to compete against the best. I’ve read that White’s piers don’t like him, but the rest of the world loves him. They may be using this as an opportunity to bash him, but he is also the best. If they don’t get to compete against the best, it may diminish the value of their medal.

It won’t bother Shaun White though. He will focus on the halfpipe event and may even win again, but if he doesn’t, it won’t be the biggest upset in the world. We are about to see a new crop of snowboarders doing some event crazier tricks and will be just as entertained as always.

What is wrong with CCSU?

If I actually knew, I would tell you, but I don’t, so here is what I think.

First, Matt Hunter is ineligible.

His first season in New Britain was fun. He filled the stat sheet every night and even set an opponent scoring record at Assembly Hall vs. then #1 Indiana. He looked to have a huge season this year and was doing it all again before becoming academically ineligible for the second half of the season, leaving 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block on the bench. This was a huge loss for the Blue Devils who don’t have another player as dynamic as him to pick up the slack, but that’s not all.

Not soon after, junior “superstar” Kyle Vinales broke a finger in a weight room accident. This was probably the biggest loss Howie Dickenman could have dreamed up…and it happened. Vinales was again leading the team in scoring, minutes and even assists per game this year. Howie didn’t start him for a couple of games early in the year to show that he wanted him to become more of a team player and it seemed to be working before the injury.

Both of these losses seem to actually have helped the Blue Devils mature. Faronte Drakeford has begun to pick up the scoring along with Malcolm McMillan. The junior college transfer is averaging 16.6 ppg in Northeast Conference play while the captain and point guard is averaging 13.1 and 3.7 assists. Matt Mobley is a freshman who has really come into his own. He is the third averaging double-digit points in conference play.

What does this mean for Vinales’ return?

I hope he just adds his usual production and the Blue Devils can hold some of these leads they have had and possibly sneak into the playoffs. Obviously he is going to take away playing time from guys like Mobley and Khalen Cumberlander, but if they can all play well together and the bigs continue to rebound, this team can only get better.

It looked as if Brandon Peel had regressed some, but he is starting to rebound at his ability again and giving CCSU a presence down low, something they have missed greatly. Juwan Newman is another guy that has shown signs of “greatness.” If he can put it all together, the Blue Devils will be competitive in the NEC, but it’s looking more and more like “wait ’til next year.”

Does NASCAR think it is dumbing down the “Chase?”

I don’t usually write about professional sports here, because there are people who get paid to do that and are much better than me, but I have an opinion on the changes NASCAR has made to the “Chase” and just want to get it out.

The “Chase” was implemented a few years ago to give NASCAR a playoff system in order to make the season and championship more exciting and it has worked. In 2011, Tony Stewart beat Carl Edwards on a tiebreaker in the final race at Homestead-Miami. The largest margin of victory in the “Chase” era has been 141 points by Jimmie Johnson in 2009.

First it was ten drivers making the playoffs and then they increased it to 12 with drivers becoming mathematically eliminated throughout, always making for an interesting fight to the finish.

Yesterday, NASCAR announced another change to their playoff system and it emphasizes winning.

16 drivers will make the Chase. If you win a race in the first 26 races, you make the Chase, unless there are more than 16 unique winners. Points will be reset at the beginning of the final 10 races. Every three races, four drivers will be eliminated and if you are a Chase member and win one of those races, you automatically move on, until the final race where it’s a winner take all. Whoever finishes highest in the last race of the season at Homestead is the champion.

NASCAR EVP Steve O’Donnell answered some questions about the new format on Twitter yesterday:

This caused a lot of fans to tweet their displeasure with the new format. With a majority of them agreeing with me. I believe that the new system is way to simple and is not what racing should be. I believe that the point of having a 36 race season spanning from February to November is consistency and I guess that’s still the idea, but not really. All you need to do is win one race in the first 26 and then win the final race of the season. Wins throughout will greatly improve your chances, but are not necessary. Also, you could finish second in every race of the season and not even make the Chase. You could be the most consistent driver in the world, but not record a win and not even have a shot at the championship.

NASCAR said they are making the system simpler so fans understand it better and there is no math along the way.

Math is not a problem, it is like they are saying their fans are stupid and they need to make it too easy. This system is almost more complex. A win and your in, but not always. Win in a round and your in, but be the most consistent and not garunteed a spot. Just make it to the final knockout stage somehow and win and you’re the champion. Seems simple, but we shall see. I hope this season doesn’t change the minds of the people, because it sounds stupid to me.

Quinnipiac wins foul plagued game with Manhattan

I have been to two college basketball games this week, first was the Central Connecticut State women at home vs. St. Francis of Pennsylvania and then last night in Hamden for Quinnipiac vs. Manhattan. If these games had one thing in common, it was the sound of a whistle.

Between the two games, 130 personal fouls were called and two technical fouls on coaches. 176 free throws were attempted and eight players fouled out in a combined 85 minutes of play time (CCSU vs. SFU played a single overtime period).

I understand the “freedom of motion” rules were being enforced this year, but it seems like things are getting a little ridiculous. A college basketball game should not take two and a half hours to be played.

I know the rules of basketball, but I have never been great with the details of officiating, so I’ll give this one my best shot.

Manhattan committed 32 fouls to Quinnipiac’s 24 in what looked like a “home job” to the Jaspers fans, but in fact, the game was called incredibly tight on both sides. QU is the second best rebounding team in the country and they showed it tonight, for the final 30 minutes at least.

Little did I know, the physical activity early in the game would lead to so many fouls.

The Jaspers led 22-13 with 9:57 left in the first half before Shane Richards committed the ninth team foul of the game sending Kasim Chandler to the line. Umar Shannon hit a three from the corner with 6:14 left in the half to give the Bobcats a 26-25 lead and the game stayed close for the rest of the night.

A number of times during the game, it seemed like no one had any idea why the ref was blowing his whistle, but only once did they hear it from the crowd of 2,038 at the TD Bank SportsCenter, because a majority of the “bad” calls went against the Jaspers.

Aside from the officiating, Michael Alvarado had a big game for Manhattan after leading-scorer George Beamon went down with an apparent shoulder injury early in the first half. Alvarado seemed to be the only player in green able to penetrate the defensive presence down low, dropping in a game and season-high 23 points (career high is 25 on Feb. 7, 2011 vs. Iona); also recording his first double-double of the season by adding 10 rebounds.

Ike Azotam for Quinnipiac had a monster game. The senior tied a career-high with 18 rebounds while pouring in 17 points to lead the Bobcats. Ousmane Drame added 14 boards while the entire team recorded 49, 2.5 more than their season average.

The game was going to come down to free throws, because it seemed like the entire game was free throws and it did. Neither team was great from the line, but QU shot better (67.4% to 50%) and that where the game was won. Quinnipiac defeated Manhattan 81-76 and continued to show that they belong in the MAAC and will be a force, especially this year with the big guys doing their thing.

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