Connecticut Class LL Preview
The state of Connecticut will crown four separate state champions at the Mohegan Sun Arena in early March, but the team that takes the LL title will have no qualms about calling themselves the state’s best.
With enrollment numbers putting all of the state’s biggest schools in this division, powerhouse programs like Hillhouse and Sacred Heart volunteering to play with the state’s best, and three of last season’s four state champions all in this division, Class LL will be a battle all year long.
Here is a look at the contenders:
Hillhouse High School – The pride of New Haven is loaded once again and, in our opinion, the team to beat in the state of Connecticut this year. Junior guard Freddie Wilson gives them a definite star to steer the ship. He was a more than capable playmaker last year as a sophomore and figures to be even more potent this season as a junior. While Wilson is the star that every great team needs, Hillhouse’s supporting cast is equally lethal. Six-foot-seven senior forward Tavon Allen is long and multi-versed, Jengodji Gates a sharp-shooting zone buster, Spencer Smith a scoring slasher with an improved jumper, Mike Barnes a bouncy big man under the rim, Brian Patterson a long and athletic wing forward, and Jason Burgo a bruising big man. Youngsters like John Covington and Xavier Rathan-Mayes will have the luxury of being brought along slowly and groomed to be future headliners. Add it all up and all the pieces seem to be in place for another championship season at Hillhouse.
Windsor High School – The defending state champions lose a lot in division I products Adrian Satchell and Steve Samuels and do-it-all swingman Doug Soutar. But they nonetheless return enough talent to defend their title. Tyrus Weaver is the leading returning scorer from a year ago. Best known for his ability to fill it up behind the arc, he was also consistent getting to the rim this summer. Ryan Delaire is another returning starter who is an incredible athlete inside the paint. Ishmael Kalilou is a young senior who is expected to step up and contribute in a big way this season after a successful summer of his own. Also expected to step up and produce this year are senior Brandon Jones, junior swingman Mike Fraylon, and sophomore guard Garey Allen.
Sacred Heart – The defending Class M state champions should be in class L this season by virtue of their enrollment numbers, but head coach John Carroll and his squad want a chance at being the absolute best, so they are competing in LL. With the dynamic duo of Josh Turner and Corey Andrews on board this team is the favorite in the NVL and appears poised to make a run at a second state title. Turner averaged just under 20 points per game last year and is one of the state’s top players while Andrews added 16 of his own. Wilby transfer Zaquan Nelson will sit out the first month of the season but will handle some of the ball-handling and point guard responsibilities upon his arrival next month.
New Britain High School – New Britain returns the core of last season’s 20-4 team with the devastating one-two punch of Sacred Heart bound guard Steven Glowiak and future New Haven forward Darius Watson. Glowiak is a lethal perimeter shooter with a much improved dribble drive and pull-up game while Watson is a versatile scorer who puts the ball in the basket equally well from the inside as he does the outside. The supporting cast will be the key for the Hurricanes as guys like Tebucky Jones Jr, Tarik Hightower, and Chris Hill will all need to hold their own for New Britain to challenge teams with the depth of Hillhouse and St. Joe’s.
East Hartford High School – This is the season East Hartford has pointed to for a few years now as their young talent from year’s past has matured into upperclassmen. Junior point guard Anthony Jernigan and senior power forward Jakarri McCallop challenge Glowiak and Watson for the Central Connecticut Conference’s top duo. East Hartford also features a more than capable third scorer as senior Jevon Williams is a good sized wing capable of heating up from behind the three-point line. Fellow senior Tim Washington joins McCallop along the frontline to provide a fourth three-year starter in the line-up.
St. Joseph’s High School – Arguably the FCIAC’s most talented team, St. Joseph’s was upset by a half court buzzer beater in their opening game. Nevertheless, they have their best group in years and should be poised to make a deep post-season run. Senior Greg Langston will lead the team in the scoring column while sophomore big man Timajh Parker-Rivera is capable of being dominant inside the paint on both ends of the floor. Oscar Assie provides an equally imposing physical presence at the center spot, giving St. Joe’s perhaps the state’s top frontcourt along with sophomore big man Pat Hopkins. James Jennings provides an explosive athlete in the backcourt who is a threat to create his own shot at anytime, Brandon Jones a versatile junior swingman, and Sam Wilson a steady point guard.
Bridgeport Central High School – Last year’s state semi-finalists returns a balanced and talented group. Jerome Parkins averaged 16 points per game last year and returns with an expanded skill set in his senior campaign while Andrew Victoria is expected to continue to bulldoze people around the rim with his physicality and toughness. Senior guards Jerry Washington and Chris Colon are returning double figure scorers in the backcourt giving Bridgeport Central four potential starring players.
Bulkeley High School – After capturing the class L state title last season, Bulkeley returns most of their core with the eyes on the big prize this season. Despite a one point loss to New Britain on opening night, Bulkeley could be primed to make another post-season run. They return four starters from last season’s championship team including DeShawn Hamlett, who averaged just under 19 points per game last year as a junior, and Brandon Jones who averaged 15.
East Catholic High School – Last season was about development for East Catholic as they featured a talented, but young group. They should reap the rewards this season as they feature three potentially starring players who have grown by leaps and bounds. Expect junior guard Jerome Harris to have a breakout season this year as he has benefited from the guidance of head coach Luke Reilly while big men Rohan Brown and B.J. Cardarelli are also playing great basketball right now.
Crosby High School – Last year’s Class LL runner-up has been the pinnacle of consistency in the NVL, but this could be their greatest challenge in quite some time. They will have to compensate for the loss of senior guard Anthony Ireland, not to mention Mike Manning, Julio Vasquez, and Malik Gray, who combined for 60 points per game. Senior co-captains B.J. Kline and Ricardo Cortez will lead the way but they will need help if Crosby hopes to maintain their past level of success.
• Chris Evans has moved onto Taft for a post-graduate year which means Stamford will have to replace his production on both ends of the court to duplicate last season’s FCIAC title. The explosive Mark Ellis will anchor this team in the middle and be ably assisted by forward Marc Guirand and guard Jethro Anilus who are both returning double figure scorers.
• Longtime Western Connecticut assistant coach Casey Bock takes over the reigns at Danbury. They may be a year away because of their youth but there is some talent in place with guys like junior guard Malik Sanders and sophomore forward Tim Jackson Jr. Ian Ratchford will provide senior leadership.
• Always one of the toughest match-ups in the state, Harding High School will again be very dangerous. Laquan Mendenhall is the team’s top talent, but he will need to heed the advice of head coach Charlie Bentley for him and his team to reach their potential.
• When you are well coached with good point guard play you have a chance and with Gary Palladino returning to the sidelines for Notre Dame West Haven and Sean Dempsey back to run the point, Notre Dame has their sights set on being even better than they were last season (18-7).
• Xavier is always among the challengers in the SCC and this year will be no different as Tucker Landy, Jordan Hyman, and Mike Boornazian help to overcome significant losses.
• Similarly, Hartford Public doesn’t have as many big names this year but has experience in their senior class and some potentially good young players including Ebrahim Jallow.
• Good size in the frontcourt with 6’9” senior Clay Graham and 6’10” sophomore Al Azulphar makes Greenwich dangerous but they will need consistency in their backcourt to be contenders.
• The SCC has a handful of dangerous teams in LL including: Cheshire with Brian DeBisschop; Fairfield Prep with Steve Goolish, Max Link, Robbie Bier, and freshman Tim Butala; Hamden with Tom Williams and Ryan Vilmont; and West Haven with Gary Williams.