Dutriel Contavio had the biggest basket in Trinity Catholic’s Class S championship win over Westbrook Saturday afternoon.
A little later, away from the public eye, Contavio also had the most important assist for the team’s future. In a sense it was the start of the title defense, while the celebration was still on the upswing. It is the story of 10 minutes that pushed the needle for Mike Walsh, the Crusaders’ coach, as he went from admitted uncertainty whether to retire to nearly an all-out declaration that he will be back next December for his 39th season.
Contavio’s development had the greatest impact on the Crusaders’ run to their seventh state title under Walsh since 1995. After Westbrook had cut a 10-point lead down to one and wrested away the momentum in the final at Mohegan Sun, Contavio called for the ball inside and dunked, beginning an 8-0 run that spurred the 61-52 win.
Walsh has contemplated the end of his career at the school, but never more seriously than this winter. He has six grandchildren and a seventh will arrive this summer. Walsh felt the Crusaders had a reasonable chance at winning a title in their fourth class, which intensified the process.
“This is probably the year I’ve thought most about retiring,” Walsh said this morning, on his 70th birthday. “I went into the game, I thought if we could win it maybe it would be a nice time to step away with a championship. I was probably closer to it than I’ve ever been.”
Thoughts and sentiments crossed after Saturday’s win, with Walsh’s family on the court and then the surprise appearance of Schadrac Casimir, the former Trinity star who less than 48 hours earlier was playing three times zone away, with his Iona team that lost an NCAA Tournament first round game to Oregon.
“It was emotional,” Walsh said. “I think I had a tear in my eye. Looking around Mohegan Sun and holding onto my youngest grandchild and thinking ‘Wow, this is great, I’ve been blessed.’ Maybe I need to spend more time with them. It certainly crossed my mind as I walked into the locker room. Obviously I was very happy for all the kids from Trinity but for myself, it crossed my mind.”
That was until Walsh went through the corridor and entered the locker room to find a raucous celebration. Walsh walked around the room shaking each player’s hand. Then he got to Contavio, a junior.
“I went into the game, I thought if we could win it maybe it would be a nice time to step away with a championship. I was probably closer to it than I’ve ever been.”
“He pulled me aside, actually to a different corner of the locker room, there was a little room on the side there, and he gave me a big hug, almost a bear hug, and he’s a pretty strong kid, and he said, ‘Coach, you’re coming back next year right?’ ” Walsh said. “It kind of took me by surprise to be honest with you. I almost at first didn’t know what to say and I kiddingly said are you coming back? He said we’re coming back. Right there and then, I don’t want to get religious, but I thought maybe the good lord was telling me I should come back.”
Walsh said he spent the two-hour bus ride back to Stamford in contemplation.
“You have Schadrac Casimir, 24 hours earlier was playing in Sacramento in the NCAA Tournament but made it a point to come to Mohegan Sun, and I said to myself, it just kind of hit me that my players have been good to me and maybe it’s not time to leave,” Walsh said.
Walsh was surrounded by his entire family this weekend. His oldest son Mickey lives in Jacksonville, and Walsh, who abhors traveling, has gone to visit him the week after Christmas the last three years. Yesterday one of his grandchildren was baptized, today a birthday celebration. Walsh discussed continuing coaching with his wife Lisa.
“I think she kind of likes me out of the house during basketball season,” Walsh said with a chuckle.
Walsh will have a good chance to add to his 616 wins, seven state and six FCIAC titles. Other than point guard Pete Galgano, the nucleus of his team returns.
Besides, coaching has always been Walsh’s lifeblood, and he admittedly is uncertain about the prospect of what life would be like without daily practices and games twice a week. And the events of the past two days were a tangible display that is important to any coach or teacher: their work matters.
So while Walsh is leaving a small out to change his mind, he put the odds at 99 percent that he will be back.
And a half hour after Contavio had perhaps his biggest basket of the season, he already had his first assist for next year.