Season previews always take a certain amount of guesswork, but in over 30 years as a sportswriter never has more speculation gone into any I have written than what you are about to read. Westhill’s Tyrell Alexander, a second-team selection a year ago, is the only player back from last year’s first and second All-FCIAC boys basketball teams. There is no consensus for the preseason Player of the Year — and there are only a handful of choices — and little agreement on the four teams that will earn the top seeds in the FCIAC Tournament, though most feel Danbury is the favorite.
The league — which wasn’t exactly strong last year — was decimated by graduation losses. Every team’s prospects for success is going to depend more than ever on the development of unproven talent, because there is no team that can feel completely confident based on past performance.
Debate me on my rankings here and I will be unable to defend any with certainty. At various times I have had Brien McMahon anywhere from second to sixth on my list, and it very well could make me look foolish at the end. On the other extreme, I am banking highly on what teams like Ludlowe and Trumbull could do. Fairfield Warde is my sleeper; if the Mustangs can be consistent with their outside shooting they will be a dangerous out each night. Staples, Greenwich and Darien are not now in my top eight and could end up battling for middle seeds if all breaks right.
If you are hoping for top-quality play this season, we remain in a downward cycle. If having unpredictability and close games almost every night are a suitable compromise, you will be likely be most pleased with the next three months.
Top 5 Teams
Hard as it is to believe, 24 years have passed since the great Anthony Harris-led run brought three straight FCIAC titles to Danbury. The trophy case has not seen any additions since. In a year with so many questions, about the only given is that most believe the Hatters are the team to beat. There is no doubt about the athletic ability at coach Casey Bock’s disposal. In discussions with coaches asked to name the league’s best players, four different Hatters were mentioned. It remains to be seen if any will emerge as a go-to player, but more importantly the Hatters will benefit greatly if their top six players — Marcus Fox, Scott Nesbitt, Titus James, Judah James, Pierre Moudourou, Tyren McCrea — all make equal contributions. Danbury will likely go to the hot hand on any given night and hope for a balanced attack. Their athleticism should suit them well on the defensive end. The ingredients are there to end the championship drought.
2. Fairfield Ludlowe
The Falcons were the surprise second seed a year ago with their strong fundamental play, and while they were hit hard by graduation losses it would be less of a shock if they grabbed the No. 2 spot again. They lost almost all of their scoring and rebounding, save for center Hayes Kelchner, who averaged 9 points and 6 rebounds. What Ludlowe has is size — four of its five starters are over 6 feet — and a lot of potential. Greg Lawrence played well as a freshman last year. My player to watch this winter: 6-5 senior Mason Rush. He showed flashes of dominance a year ago. It will be interesting to see what he will do in an expanded role.
The Vikings are coming off a dream season: an undefeated run through the league schedule and playoffs and a buzzer-beater away from taking the state title. Unfortunately, Jeremiah Livingston and three other starters have departed. The one player back is a good one: center Tyrell Alexander averaged 13.5 points and 12 rebounds. How will he handle being “the man” on offense? It remains to be seen. A lot will depend on the players around him. Westhill is counting a lot on 6-5 Lenold August, who averaged 5 points and 7 rebounds. Coach Howard White is hoping this is the season guard Parish Rowell breaks out. In a normal year this might be more of a rebuilding project, but if players mature quickly Westhill will have a legitimate chance to successfully defend its FCIAC title.
I jumped on the Eagles’ bandwagon early last season, and they got hot over the second half of the season to finish with the fourth seed in the league playoffs. They were hit hard by losses — seven players graduated — just like most of the rest of the league, and similarly are hoping to get quality production out of a few players from a large pool. Trumbull should be set inside with the power game of Ben McCullough. It will help if the team can develop the same perimeter scoring it had a year ago.
The players who accounted for nearly every point a year ago have graduated, so the Bears will not be accused of failing to live up to expectations this season. They finally discovered their game at the end of the regular season and now we will see if a different cast can carry it into the new year. Forward AJ Jerome should be the leader of an athletic team that has a good mix of seniors and underclassmen.
6. Brien McMahon
7. Fairfield Warde
8. Trinity Catholic
Preseason Honor Roll
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jahmerikah Green-Younger, Brien McMahon
Tyrell Alexander, Westhill
Giacomo Brancato, Fairfield Warde
Ben Casparius, Staples
Jay DeVito, Stamford
Marcus Fox, Danbury
Conor Harkins, Greenwich
Judah James, Danbury
AJ Jerome, Norwalk
Ben McCullough, Trumbull
Scott Nesbitt, Danbury
Alex Preston, Darien
Omar Telfer, St. Joseph
(Based on information from coaches who responded to The Ruden Report)
Bridgeport Central: John Hartley, Ra’Quan Riley, Dashawn Riley, Jordan Edmonds, Kashaun Washington, Wilner Agramonte, Sam Payton, Keith Bush.
Danbury: Marcus Fox, Scott Nesbitt, Titus James, Judah James, Pierre Moudourou, Tyren McCrea, Messiah Crandall, Marvin Payton, Tyler Scalzo, Jordan Alleyne.
Darien: Alex Preston.
Fairfield Ludlowe: Cole Prowitt-Smith, Thomas Duffy, Aidan Kudzy, Greg Lawrence, Mason Rush, Hayes Kelchner, Frank Lumaj, Francisco Guillen, Sean Close, Paul Cipilargo.
Fairfield Warde: Chris Smaldone, Marcel Parsons, JJ Conway, Giacomo Brancato, Mark Schwartz, Sean Conway, Antonio Brancato.
Greenwich: Mike Gianopolous, Henry Golden, Conor Harkins, Kieran Carrol, Robert Clark, Quin Carroll, Joey Lanni, Connor Langan, Victor Simonte, Ryan Harford, Kevin Woodring, Ben Kranniger, Patrick McTiernan.
Brien McMahon: Jahmerikah Green-Younger, David Civil, TJ Burden, Jared Fields, Marvin Best, Joe Cantey, Matt Saint-Louis, Eric Day, Brendan Quinlan-Huertas, Saheem Liburd.
New Canaan: Tyler Sweeney.
Norwalk: Jakari Gainer, AJ Jerome, Levaughn Lewis, Mark Crafter, Tyrique Langley, Eddie O’Hara, Zach White, Ryan Seamless, Tony Coleman, DeAndre Russell.
Ridgefield: Matt Saporito, Matthew Bartolucci, Chris Longo, Chase LaVesque, Matt Lombardo, Brendan McNamara, Nick Laudati, Joe Newborn, Alex Price, Zach Esemplare.
St. Joseph: Tim Dineen, Curtis Eller, Chandler Hutcherson, Jordan Island, Joseph Lucy, Patrick Morrisey, Will Quigley, Omar Telfer, Camren Menefee, Thomas Montelli, Jack Greene, Jack Moulder, Alec Pelletier, Josh Reaves.
Stamford: Jay DeVito, Yan Carlos Marte, Steffan Harding, Nico Laveris, Noe Jacobin, Nii Pobee, Ryan Holbrook, Tevin St. John, Jerome Atkinson, D’Angelo Malcolm.
Staples: Justin Seideman, Dylan Dreyfuss, Ben Casparius, Sean Pritchett, Brendan Massoud, Jared Vishno, Max Sussman.
Trinity Catholic: Pete Galeano, Jon Lyons, Johnny Somers, Anthony Lombardi, Thomas Tamliokas, Dimitry Moises, Dutreil Contavio, Bryce Lucas, Tim Val, Willie Sadler, Jack Soucy.
Trumbull: Ben McCullough, Jack Moore, JJ Pfohl, Chris Lyons, Alex Recker, Ed Giovaninni, Jon McElroy, Joe Nemchek, Jake Cappello, David Caisse, Jack Lynch.
Westhill: Tyrell Alexander, Lenold August, Parish Rowell, Tarik Rivers, Nate Jefferson, Voshon Natteal, Jared Yaghoubian, Aaron Pettiford, Jake Dardis.
Wilton: Matt Cronenberg, Drew Connolly, Jack Williams, Jack Wood, James Maloney, Kyle Maatallah, Kyle Shifrin, Mike Brown, Sean Breslin, Robbie Hermann, Scott Vollmer, Nick Kronenberg.