In many respects the most impressive aspects of the FCIAC basketball season were nowhere on the script back in December. The rise of Darien to contention. Unpredictable outcomes as compensation for a down year.
Two stories will resonate most of all. First was the FCIAC championship game, one of the best scenes in recent memory. It brought back reminders to the old days as Fairfield University was packed by fans of Ridgefield and Wilton, two teams that had never played for a title.
They were treated to a double-overtime battle between the border rivals. The Tigers completed a late-season run with the win. And both schools brought out hundreds of students in a scene that looked like it could have taken place a few decades ago at the Wilton Field House, where, wisely, the semifinal and finals will return next year.
The other was the way Wilton came together and supported its team, particularly the students. The section behind the basket had crowds of 200-300 on an average night. During the playoffs the numbers grew and took over first Fairfield Warde and then Fairfield University.
The night of the final home game, a quarterfinal state playoff win over Crosby, it seemed like half of the senior class ended up at Orem’s Diner for a final celebration. And it wasn’t just the students, though they stood out most. It was the entire community.
For the last three months, Wilton reminded us that the idealism of high school athletics still lives on.
As for what took place on the court, our postseason awards.
Most Valuable Player
Alex Preston, Darien. Preston was voted the most outstanding player by the coaches, and we are in agreement. Preston was a force at both ends of the court, averaging 18 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists. Preston altered the game more on the defensive end, where teams were intimidated to enter the paint against the 6-8 center.
Preston controlled the boards and there were few teams that had size to match up against him in the paint. And, as we have said here many times, Preston is one of the best passing big men in recent memory, with great court vision.
It remains to be seen how Darien’s season — earning the No. 2 seed in the FCIAC Tournament — will be viewed in the big picture. Is this the start of a breakout for the sport in town or one memorable run? Only time will tell. However this year ends up, Preston had one of the best years in school history.
Most Improved Player
Dutreil Contavio, Trinity Catholic. Last year, as a sophomore, Contavio was selected to the All-Divisional team. By last Saturday, after helping lead the Crusaders to the Class S title, he was the runner-up to Preston for MVP.
Raw and unpolished, Contavio improved his game in all areas. On the defensive side he altered shots he didn’t block, as Westbrook learned in the championship game. Contavio developed an offensive game as the year went on, especially with second-chance points.
Perhaps the real indicator of his growth came in the fourth quarter Saturday, after Trinity’s 10-point lead had been whittled to a point. It was a close to a must-score possession, and Contavio demanded the ball inside and ended up with a dunk.
With another year of development, Contavio may prove the lone Division I player in the league this season.
Most Underrated Player
Drew Connolly, Wilton. This was easily the most difficult category. Ridgefield point guard Zach Esemplare received consideration. So did the Warriors’ Jack Wood, who before a season-ending knee injury often shut down an opponent’s leading scorer.
In the end, I am not sure Connolly was given the consideration he earned, and he proved his worth in the state tournament, when the team was shorthanded and he played well off of Kronenberg to lead a run that ended with a trip to the Class L semifinals, where Connolly scored 26 points in a game Wilton faltered.
During the first half of the season, Connolly was the least-heralded of Wilton’s triple-headed monster. Williams and Kronenberg got the acclaim, but Connolly was an integral part of one of the Warriors’ best seasons.
Coach Of The Year
Charoy Bentley, Darien. Bentley was an easy choice at the time the league coaches voted, but the gap narrowed. Andrew McClellan did a superb job in leading Ridgefield to its first league title. Joel Geriak led his shorthanded roster to its first conference final and the longest run in the state playoffs outside of Trinity Catholic. And Buddy Bray deserves strong consideration for coaching the regular-season champion.
The three closed the margin, but not enough to overtake what Bentley did with the Blue Wave. In a town where basketball has rarely registered on the radar, Bentley helped Darien exceed expectations by getting his team to play fundamentally sound and finishing with the second-best record.
A poor three quarters against Danbury in the quarterfinals of the FCIAC Tournament cost the Blue Wave, despite a furious late comeback.
Many expect Bentley to leave Darien and return to Harding, his alma mater, where he starred, now teaches and where his father had a Hall of Fame coaching career. It would be an understandable move, though a big blow for the Blue Wave.
Dutreil Contavio, Trinity Catholic
Conor Harkins, Greenwich
Matt Kronenberg, Wilton
Brenden McNamara, Ridgefield
Alex Preston, Darien
Sean Conway, Fairfield Warde
Eric Day, Brien McMahon
Marcus Fox, Danbury
JJ Pfohl, Trumbull
Justin Seideman, Staples
The picks here would have been slightly different if we based them solely on the regular season. Both McNamara and Kronenberg secured spots on the first team during the postseason; McNamara for the role he played in the Tigers’ run to their first league title, and Kronenberg for the way he at times carried the injury-depleted Warriors. This was a year in which the top players were again of fairly comparable ability and the FCIAC had an easier time with an eight-player first team. It also says something that no school has more than one player represented, though Wilton’s Jack Williams would have been a certain pick if he had stayed healthy.