Here was the situation: Since I’m no long the regular beat writer for the Connecticut Post, just a sports web producer and commentator, I have the pick of the litter on where I spend a my basketball nights.
So, where to go Stamford at Bassick or Trinity Catholic at Central. I wasn’t overly impressed with Bassick in its second game at Ludlowe and Stamford was… well, despite its high preseason praise and a rout of Danbury, still of a question mark. I mean, they’re good with big man Mark Ellis back, but without Chris Evans — who’s going to run that show this year?
And then there was Central-Trinity Catholic, though Central hadn’t beaten the Crusaders in years, it’s always entertaining. And I hadn’t seen Central yet, so I figured it was best to hit Bassick first (it’s close to the home office, anyway) and then fly up and catch the end of Central-Trinity.
After the young Lions had pressed and harassed and outhustled the shocked Black Knights en route to a 35-23 halftime lead (and an eventual 63-43 win — somewhat impressively, I’ll add, the Lions remain anonymous but they can play — I jetted out to Central.
When I pulled up to the gym, people were actually streaming out of there.
The Hilltoppers had a 76-34 lead after three.
I’d thought I’d missed all the good stuff. But no, Central’s foot was still on the gas.
They were running, jukin’, jivin’, throwing down vicious dunks and droppin’ 3-point bombs. All of the starters — seniors who, along with most of the North End, had been waiting a long, long time for this — were having a ball.
Now, granted, Trinity Catholic this year is going through a phase right now. They were 2-0, but their top player, Takari Smalls, is now gone. They needed and got a miracle to beat St. Joseph. They’re going to be a decent team this season because — well — they’re still Trinity Catholic and I don’t see many other great FCIAC teams out there.
But Central… Central is incredible. Everything, and I mean the sun, moon and stars, was going its way tonight. The Hilltoppers went over 20 points in all four quarters and had six players in double digits in their decisive 101-43 victory.
Let that sink in.
101 (One hundred and one) to 43 (forty-three).
“This was just like the New Canaan game,” said guard Christon Gill of the game dubbed ‘The Big City Beat Down’ in these parts. “Exactly like it.”
But, as good as it was, Gill’s football team didn’t win a title. They were beat by Staples in the FCIAC championship and were edged out of Class LL in playoff points.
What better way for Gill to make amends than with a hoops title? “It’s my senior year,” he said. “I’m getting that championship.”
And he has quite a cast: Jerome Parkins, the sterling and versatile forward, leads the show (he had 22 tonight). Guards Diontay Washington and brother Jerry Washington play fearless both inside and outside. Point guard Chris Colon is now a savvy veteran. Center Andrew Victoria is big and strong up front. And they have some talented reserves in Andrew Coore and Damien Francis.
Coach Barry McLeod has had this group for a while and it showed Tuesday night in front of a relatively large crowd at Reilly Gym (one that included Hillhouse coach Kermit Carolina and, of course, royalty in Joseph “Hoops” Morelli.)
Afterward, McLeod reserved some cautionary tones for us and the MSG Varsity broadcasters. This is, after all just Game 3. But you could tell he enjoyed this early Christmas gift: Seeing his team perform precisely how he expects it to perform: all out, with the pedal to the metal. Heck, even Trinity Catholic pulled the ball out late in the fourth quarter to slow things down, their way of saying, ‘No mas.’
But Central just wasn’t going to be denied 100, especially not against Trinity Catholic.
“Well, I told coach, `We’ve lost seven straight years to (Trinity Catholic), we’re coming out strong,’ ” Parkins said. “When we were at 92, I told him, `I’m not trying to be cocky, but coach, I want to hit 100. It’s a big day for us; it’s our home opener, we got to hit 100.’ ”
You could just feel it walking out of the gym. The North End is fired up about this team. They’re already looking down the road. St. Joseph is coming to town in two weeks. Then Bassick. Then Harding.
“We’re all seniors,” Gill said. “We’ve been playing together for a long time. We feel this is our year.”
Everybody else, frankly, should get out of the way because, right now, this team looks like a freight train that’s only starting to build up a head of steam.