Scott Ericson: Suburban schools making noise in boys hoops
Published 12:05 am, Wednesday, January 25, 2017
A quick look at the FCIAC boys basketball standings at the midway point of the season and one could mistakenly think they were gazing upon the boys soccer standings rather than hoops.
Your next thought might be that the standings had been somehow printed upside down, but it only appears that way.
Currently, Wilton (9-0, 6-0), Warde (9-1, 5-1 FCIAC), Trumbull (9-1, 5-1) and Darien (6-3, 5-1) sit atop the boys basketball standings.
Meanwhile, the teams who have won the last four FCIAC championships, Central and Westhill, have one league win between them.
Tuesday night was a perfect microcosm of this season so far.
On that evening, league favorite Danbury lost at Darien; New Canaan upset Trinity Catholic; and Warde went to Westhill and scored nearly 100 points, beating the Vikings 95-76.
This is an unusual season, but is it an outlier or a sign of things to come in the league?
Several suburban schools have made dramatic improvements to their programs and may not just drift back to the bottom of the standings when the current crop of players graduates.
Before we look ahead, let us look back on the history of the league regarding the utter dominance of city schools on the boys basketball floor.
The first FCIAC boys basketball champion was Danbury in 1962.
In those days, there was no championship game; it was not put into practice until the 1979-80 season.
Staples won the FCIAC in 1963 and New Canaan won it in 1969.
Since there has been a championship game, only Trumbull in 1982 and ’83 has won a FCIAC championship out of the suburbs.
St. Joseph won the championship in 2000, but since it can draw students from multiple towns we will leave it aside in this discussion.
There is more.
In the championship game era, Greenwich (2002, ’14), Fairfield (1993) and New Canaan (1983, ’84) have been suburban runners-up.
Every other championship game has been between schools from Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk, Stamford or St. Joseph.
Is this the year a non-city school finally gets back on top?
The early returns are certainly good, but the season is long from over.
Danbury has yet to play at full strength as injuries have struck key players, Trinity has enough talent to win it all if it can straighten out a few flaws, and never sleep on Howard White adjusting and turning things around at Westhill. The Vikings are not back-to-back champions by accident.
It should also be noted that Ridgefield and Trumbull have been consistent playoff participants last decade but have not reached a final.
So, is this season an anomaly? Or are these programs built to last?
In a few cases, anyway, the future looks bright.
Wilton and Warde have been building toward this the past few seasons, each making the FCIAC playoffs last season, and seem ready to pounce now with experienced, talented teams.
Darien has an experienced group that has played together for several seasons and has proved they can beat anyone in the league this season with wins over Trumbull, Trinity and now Danbury.
Warde coach Ryan Swaller suffered through some brutal seasons in his early years at Warde, but he always saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
Swaller got involved with the youth programs and helped get one going for third-grade students.
Those players involved when he began the league are now some of his varsity starters, including Marcel Parsons.
Swaller said the relationships he built with the players at a young age are the most important aspect of the Mustangs’ recent success.
“I think building the program before they get to high school has been the biggest thing for us,” Swaller said. “You can filter some of your game-planning and offensive and defensive strategies through the youth leagues so that kids start getting used to the system. My group of juniors and seniors now I have known since the fourth and fifth grade, and Marcel Parson I have known since he was in third grade.”
The youth leagues in Wilton and Darien have also both improved per people involved with them.
Along with the youth leagues, the players at the high school level are dedicating more time to the game in the offseason than most did previously.
AAU spring leagues now have teams in most of these towns; they did not 20 years ago. Players continue in summer leagues, team camps and finally in fall league.
While some play other sports, many are playing basketball either all or at least most of the year.
“We are now seeing guys commit to basketball nine or 10 months out of the year,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “The advantage the city kids always had was that they played more. All spring, summer and fall they were down at the playground. Basketball is a very easy sport to play. Just get a ball and go to the playground. I know because I played at a city school (Westhill). Now, everybody is making more of an effort and some of the teams are starting to see the results.”
If in fact the suburban players stay committed to playing more basketball, it can only mean good things for the league moving forward.
The city schools will be back, and if the suburban schools stay competitive the league will be as deep as any in the state.
For now, we wait and see whether any of them can crack the code to winning the FCIAC championship.