FAIRFIELD — Westhill coach Howard White was already talking to reporters following Friday’s 64-60 win over Norwalk for the FCIAC boys basketball championship when I joined the gathering.
All of a sudden, like his star point guard, Jeremiah Livingston, White made a spin move on the conversation.
“I have to say this,” White said. “All year my kids have been doing what they’ve wanted to do. I felt overall we didn’t get the respect we deserved. Okay, really. To go 18-0 and come in here and pick up three great wins, now give my kids the respect they deserve.”
I had to pull White aside to see if his words were directed at me, which they weren’t. He wanted to express his opinion in front of as many media members as possible.
I told White I disagreed with his assessment: I think the Vikings’ road to an unbeaten conference season had been fully appreciated and well-covered by a dutiful press corp.
What White didn’t say, and it would have been a fair point if he wanted to step on a soapbox, is that the job he did coaching the team had flown underneath the radar.
Unlike the few teams that have gone unbeaten in FCIAC play, the Vikings were not THAT much better than the rest of the pack. They didn’t just steamroll over teams; they were tested often and always found ways to win.
And Friday night’s game was a perfect example, as the Bears threw their best punches, landed many, but Westhill in the final quarter summoned its resiliency, in large part because no one found a way to shut down Livingston with an outcome on the line.
What White also didn’t say — and it wasn’t his place — is that the Vikings’ victory, their first title in 26 years, was a fitting bookend to a crazy season. They started the season as the favorite and finished as the champion. They were the lone constant in as unpredictable a basketball season as the league has experienced.
Just think how the view of teams changed literally on a nightly basis. Bassick went from being out of the playoff picture at midseason to a No. 6 seed. Trumbull went from being on the verge of playing itself out of the tournament with three weeks remaining to a propulsion up to the No. 4 seed.
Wilton can be offered up as the patron saint of this year. On the final Monday of the regular season, it played at Ludlowe for the No. 2 seed. It lost and returned to face Ludlowe five days later, winning an opening round game after falling all the way to the No. 7 seed.
Norwalk may have sat around the past three days, before Monday’s state tournament opener, thinking both about how close it got to victory and perhaps thus as itself as a failure.
The latter would be grossly unfair; a strong case can be made that the Bears gained in defeat. After early exits the previous two years, and finishing 2-5 during the regular season against the playoff field, they played up to their talent level last week.
There was no shame in their loss; if anything the Bears pushed Westhill to either perform at a championship level or see its storybook season end unrewarded, and thus not a complete storybook at all. Against any other opponent on this night, Norwalk would have won the title.
Roy Kane, pretty much a consensus runner-up to Livingston for Player of the Year, finished with 32 points in a heroic performance.
But like his teammates by the Vikings, Kane was upstaged by Livingston, who scored 13 of his 40 points in the final quarter.
In a year in which little seemed to make sense, the Vikings always did. White may have been off base about his team getting little respect, but few can dispute that it was a fitting and deserving champion.