What was another unspectacular FCIAC boys basketball season — we have had too many of these lately — was partially compensated by more competition in the league and a much better postseason showing.
The eight playoff spots were not decided in January, like last year, and a greater number of teams that did not qualify got wins over teams that did.
Ridgefield navigated the course that is the conference tournament to win its second title in three years. Trumbull, the regular-season champion, pulled off the biggest shocker in the CIAC Division I Tournament win a quarterfinal win over Sacred Heart.
And then there was New Canaan, which galvanized its community in a way the sport hasn’t in some time, to the tune of a 16-4 regular season, its first league tournament appearance in 11 years and then, on Saturday, the first state title in 57 years.
The Rams were the best story of the regular season. Close behind was Wilton, which continued a run of recent success by finishing with the second-best record. Both teams flourished behind balance and the contributions from a number rather than a few.
Trumbull came up short in the semifinals of the postseason tournament, while Danbury was stopped in the final from a second straight title.
Statewide issues affected the FCIAC, to a greater extent, like the continued dearth of top-level talent — the feeling is, particularly in the cities, fewer kids are playing the sport — and on the norm, with the need for a shot clock to reward teams for trying to score, not holding the ball.
One big positive that doesn’t get enough attention: the support from student bodies continues to soar. It was nice to go to Wilton, Fairfield Warde, Trumbull and Ridgefield, to name a few, and see the stands filled. The culture certainly is changing in New Canaan.
I did away with the most underrated and improved categories this year because there would be two to three candidates on New Canaan and Wilton alone, before even considering other schools.
And what do you do when you really, really, REALLY can’t decide on your Player of the Year? Create two prizes.
Here are my picks for the best of the best.
Most Valuable Player
James St. Pierre, Ridgefield. The definition for an MVP here is which player, if removed, would have the most adverse effect on his team.
With that guideline, St. Pierre is the easy choice. No one carried a team’s offense more than St. Pierre, who averaged over 26 points a game. After a rare off night for three quarters, St. Pierre got hot in the final period and helped shoot the Tigers to a win over Danbury and their second FCIAC title in three years.
In the second round of the Division I Tournament against Immaculate, St. Pierre did everything possible to keep Ridgefield’s season from ending, scoring 37 points in an overtime loss.
What sometimes went overlooked is St. Pierre’s work on the defensive end of the court. He shut down a number of the league’s top scorers, demonstrating he is a complete player.
St. Pierre is hoping to end up at either the Air Force Academy or West Point. Wherever he goes, he is the kind of hard-nosed worker coaches love to put on their roster as walk-ons.
Most Outstanding Player
Timmond Williams, Trumbull. Williams was an explosive scorer who could get his points from any spot on the court. He was more dangerous on the move but could heat up and pour in 3-pointers.
Williams was dangerous on the break and the beneficiary of a deep lineup that moved the ball well. Williams had an outstanding state tournament and helped lead the Eagles to arguably the biggest win by an FCIAC team: in the Division I quarterfinals against Sacred Heart.
Williams also had a knack for the dramatic: who else could score his 1,000th point on a wild 30-foot bank shot at the buzzer, as he did against Ridgefield?
Williams closed out his career as the leading scorer in Trumbull history.
Coach Of The Year
Danny Melzer, New Canaan. In New Canaan he is known as DAN-NY MEL-ZER. That was the chant from the Rams’ Bomb Squad two to three times at every home game.
This ranks near the easiest choice in the history of easiest choices. New Canaan started the season picked by many to get the seventh or eighth seed in the FCIAC Tournament. If that appears modest, consider the past decade.
Or that Jay Egan, the school’s long-time athletic director, was only partially joking before the state semifinal win over St. Joseph that he wasn’t accustomed to driving in the daylight to a New Canaan basketball game in mid-March.
The Rams were the feel-good story of the winter, their Division IV championship a just reward that serves as both an end point for this season and a foundation toward building a sustainable program that can win at least 10-14 games most years.
New Canaan was remarkable in that, as you will see below, I have just one player on my top 15. And that player could have changed on a nightly basis throughout the winter.
What that means is the Rams were dependent on the balanced contributions of a number of players every game. And Melzer served as a compass, with a team that played great defense, often dictated tempo, shared the ball and left their egos at the gymnasium entrance. It was a mixture that could have crumbled with any dissent but it was an easy sell to Melzer’s closely bonded roster.
It was a winter that included Ryan McAleer’s remarkable halfcourt shot that ended up getting national attention, the fourth-best record in the FCIAC and the school’s first state title since 1962. Even the one disappointment, the first-round conference playoff loss to Ridgefield, looks better after the Tigers won the title.
The student fan section, led by a number of the school’s top football players, grew as the season went on and turned out for a 10 a.m. state final 90 minutes away.
One more time with spirit for the Bomb Squad: DAN-NY MEL-ZER.
Chris Brown, Trumbull
Denali Burton, Danbury
James St. Pierre, Ridgefield
Saikwon Williams, Brien McMahon
Timmond Williams, Trumbull
Matt Becker, Fairfield Warde
Javon Hernandez, Danbury
Steve Paolini, St. Joseph
Will Rolapp, Darien
Raj Walker, Bridgeport Central
Jaden Bell, Stamford
Matt Brand, New Canaan
Nick Kronenberg, Wilton
Oliver Milledge, Greenwich
Jake Thaw, Staples
For the second year in a row, making a five-player first team was pretty easy. Same with the second team; there were two players to consider for the 10th spot.
The third team was where it got difficult. There was very little separating players 12-18. Unlike with my Player of the Year choice, I stayed firm in keeping it to 15 players, though three teams of six would have made it easier.