Top Players in the CIAC
The calendar might suggest that a new CIAC Basketball season is upon us but with Sacred Heart returning the uber-talented core of a team that has won back-to-back State Championships, '15-'16 might have more of a Groundhog Day feel to it than coaches across Connecticut would like to admit.
Leading the way once again for Sacred Heart is senior Mustapha Heron, a powerful swingman whose well-rounded skillset has matured while his Top-30 national ranking has held firm over the last three years. Heron, a lefty who recently signed a Letter of Intent to reaffirm his commitment to Bruce Pearl's Auburn University program, led Sacred Heart to a statement victory over traditional New York City power Christ the King at The HoopHall Classic last season. It was a game that helped the Hearts realize that they were not only the premier team in Connecticut, but that they also deserved to be mentioned with the elite basketball programs from across the country. It also served as a coming out party for Tyrn Flowers, a rangy 6'8" forward whose game and recruitment has risen several levels since his 15-point 5-rebound effort against 5-star prospect Rawle Alkins' Christ the King squad.
The statement victory at the HoopHall, to go along with back-to-back State Championships and the 32-game winning streak that Sacred Heart is carrying into the '15-'16 season, plants a bullseye squarely on their back and ensures that they'll receive their opponent's best effort every time they take the court. If that wasn't enough, opposing coaches were recently given one more motivating factor to work into their pregame David vs. Goliath speech; USA Today ranked Sacred Heart at #25 in their preseason Super 25 National High School Basketball Rankings.
If any team in the recent annals of Connecticut High School Basketball were equipped to rightfully deserve, confidently handle, and proudly defend all of the individual and teams honors that have been bestowed upon them, it is this year's Hearts.
Heron, whose hard-nosed style makes it easy to imagine him going over the middle against an SEC defense while playing wide receiver for Auburn's football program, leads Sacred Heart's attacking up-tempo offense that can beat opponents in numerous ways. With Flowers' game blossoming last summer, it would be a disservice to everyone if he had to focus his efforts exclusively inside the paint. 6'8" senior center J.T. Riddick allows Flowers to drag opposing big men outside and create nightmare matchups inside against smaller defenders and outside against slower big men. Riddick, who runs the floor effortlessly, provides Sacred Heart with an elite rim protector and will undoubtedly benefit from the attention given to Heron and Flowers
The backcourt duo of 6'1" senior PG Charles Fisher and 6'2" sophomore combo guard Raheem Solomon, Heron's brother and one of the premier players in CT's 2018 Class, are enough to give opposing coaches nightmares based solely on their own individual talent. Fisher, who recently picked up a scholarship offer from Post University, is known for his tight handle, calm demeanor, and confident stroke on the offensive end. But it's his ferocious on-ball defense that will win over coaches at the next level, along with his willingness to unselfishly do the little things that can't always be seen in the box score. Solomon is a young prospect who's taken advantage of the opportunity to battle with a top-25 player in the country every day in practice and is making his own strides every day. Both of these young men could average 20+ points on a nightly basis for other programs across the state, but instead they're reaping the benefits of playing alongside other talented players.
The senior leads by example and shows maturity beyond his years, knowing that he can provide buckets when necessary (Fisher routinely put together 20-point games while playing AAU ball with Stamford Peace this summer) and dutifully digging in defensively against opposing guards and wings alike.
The sophomore took his game and recruiting interest to new levels this summer while running with the NY Rens. His breakout summer culminated with an invitation to play in the underclassmen showcase at The Big Strick Class in NYC, which has played host to some of the best players from across the country since its inception. Solomon's skill set will be on full display this season, as he diligently prepares himself for the day in the near future when the program's reins will be passed down from his brother's hands and into his own.
The only thing stopping Jon Carroll's squad from winning a 3rd straight Class S Championship is the CIAC itself. No, they're not banning the Hearts from postseason play for being "too good" or threatening player suspensions if margins of victories exceed 50-points. (And I apologize in advance, since the CIAC's brain trust might actually find these to be bright ideas!) Sacred Heart has been moved up to Class M for the '15-'16 season, where Mustapha Heron and Co. will welcome any and all competition with open arms.
Other Top CIAC Players To Watch
KeAndre Fair, Chaylyn Martin, Jaecee Martin & Andre Lyons, Weaver: Fair averaged 18 points per game last season while the Martin brothers combined to average over 26 per gamefor Reggie Hatchett’s state title team. Together they form as good of a perimeter trio as there is in the CIAC while Lyons, a 6’6” big man who put up 23 points and 11 rebounds in last year’s state championship, anchors the team inside the paint.
Mark Carbone & Mike McGuirl, East Catholic: Carbone is a self-made player whose hard-work in the weight room is duplicated only by the amount of time he spends getting extra shots up in the gym and as a result he’s already committed to San Diego. McGuirl also has a division I offer in tow after his breakout summer and figures to be one of the best juniors in the state this season.
Patrick Harding, Rich Kelly & John Kelly, Fairfield Prep: The junior big man is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign and presumably ready to take another step forward this season. Harding is skilled, cerebral and as good of a passing big man as there is in the state. Senior guard Rich Kelly runs the show in the backcourt while his young brother John, a skilled sophomore forward, who be poised to announce his arrival to the state as well.
Joe Kasperzyk, Hillhouse – One of the premier playmakers in the state, Kasperzyk should be ready to lead the Academics back to the top of the SCC and into contention for their latest state championship. Fellow junior Isaiah Jones will play a pivotal role as well along with one of the state’s deepest sophomore classes.
Jordan Powell & Tyler Coyle, Windsor – If you’ve paid attention to Connecticut high school basketball at all in the last decade plus, you know that Ken Smith’s club is always one to be reckoned with and this year it’s Powell and Coyle who will lead the way, giving the Warriors two impact players on their frontline.
C.J. Seaforth, Hamden: He’s another guy coming off a breakout season in the AAU ranks who should now be able to take the next step and assert himself as one of the top players in the CIAC. A quick, playmaking guard, he’s a highlight waiting to happen for Hamden.
Alex Preston, Darien: The 6’7” post player is ready to assert himself as one of the premier bigs in the state and top players in the FCIAC and he has the benefit of learning under a young coach who has been there himself in former St. Joe’s product Charoy Bentley.
Nick Casiano, Rocky Hill – The junior guard averaged 20 points per last season and will continue to do the heavy lifting for the Terriors. Has a smooth stroke from deep and can break down a defense geared to stop him and create for others.
Donovan Lighty, New Britain – Lighty can score in bunches (17ppg in '14-'15) and is a sniper from behind the arc but he'll have to improve his efficiency and continue building his game in order to reach a new level and bring the Hurricanes deep into the playoffs
Jesse McIntosh, Notre Dame Fairfield – He missed Notre Dame’s inspired run to the Class M final a year ago and now that he’s back healthy, he and Jordan Petteway give the Lancers one of the best one-two punches in the SWC.
Brad Landry, Sheehan – A hard-nosed competitor and talented guard who has shown great improvement in his game over the last 18 months, Landry appears ready to be the focal point of Sheehan’s attack under longtime head coach Joe Gaetano.
Jarrod Simmons, Newington: After averaging close to 20ppg as a sophomore last season, the underrated Simmons could be in line for a jump in both his team and prospect status this year. Explosive and intelligent, Simmons is a menace off the bounce and can beat opponents from deep.