Looking back at most memorable boys basketball teams in area's history

Published on Sunday, 12 April 2020 16:23
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER and MATT HORNICK

@SportsinCT

A world without live sports has offered a chance to look back on past teams and players that are still recognized as the best the local area has ever produced.

This marks the start of a series where we will list the most memorable teams, across every sport, from the Bristol and New Britain areas. Boys basketball kicks off the series, boasting state champions and repeat champs from as recent as last year to as far back as 50 years.

Here are the 10 most unforgettable boys basketball teams the local area has ever seen:

NEW BRITAIN, 1949-50

The decade of 1940-50 could be considered the golden age of boys basketball at New Britain. After reaching a state title in 1944, the Hurricanes won two straight to close out the decade, including its victory in the title game in 1950, a 58-46 win over East Hartford.

The team was led by All-State talent Archie Tolis, and would represent the team’s last state championship appearance until more than a half century later, when the 2001-02 squad reached the final and lost to Weaver.

Along with Tolis, both state champion teams also had prolific talents like Don Paris, Marty Reisner and Eddie Staskelunas. All four, along with head coach Chick Shea, are enshrined in the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame.

TERRYVILLE, 1983-84

Art Hamm’s final two seasons at the helm of the Terryville boys basketball team were arguably his best. With the leadership of All-State selection Art Whitehead for the 1982-83 season, the Kangaroos won their first of two consecutive Class S championships. 

After qualifying as the top-seeded team in its region, Terryville only needed one win to reach the quarterfinals, which came by nearly 20 points over Gilbert. Despite both teams already qualifying for the main draw, The Kangaroos fell to Shepaug Valley in the regional final 48-46 before winning its next three games to grab supremacy over Class S.

Following a 25-point win over East Catholic in the quarterfinals, Terryville needed two overtime periods to get past Bacon Academy in the semifinals. This set the Kangaroos up for a revenge game against Shepaug for the championship, and they came out on top 61-46.

Terryville was unable to replicate its seeding from 1983 when it looked to repeat in 1984 and needed to pull off six wins to earn another Class S championship. With wins over East Hampton, Shepaug and Thomaston in the regional bracket, the Kangaroos were halfway there.

Terryville’s six-point win over Suffield in the quarterfinals was its closest game to date before beating second-seeded Stafford to reach the championship game for the second year in a row.

Facing top-seeded Cromwell, the Kangaroos were able to complete the repeat season with a 65-62 win. 

ST. PAUL, 1974-75

The 1973-74 iteration of the Falcons qualified for the Class M state tournament with a 12-8 record in the regular season. Labeled “The Cardiac Kids,” St. Paul won all five of its postseason games by a combined nine points including three one-point games with every game coming down to the final 10 seconds.

Anchored by junior Mark Noon, who was putting the finishing touches on his first All-State season, the Falcons survived a series of dramatic finishes to cut down the nets as state champions. Starting in the first round against Northwest Catholic, a steal by Noon led to a foul, which allowed him to give St. Paul a one-point win by knocking down two free throws.

After a four-point win over Nonnewaug in the second round, St. Paul trailed Notre Dame-Bridgeport by five points entering the final two minutes of the game and came back to win 72-71. The Falcons punched their ticket to the championship with a 64-62 win over Guilford that ended on a halfcourt shot from Frank Owsianko.

Noon took complete control in the championship against Daniel Hand. He posted 33 points on 14-of-19 shooting to earn championship game MVP honors on the way to a 71-70 overtime win. 

In what was Gary Palladino’s final season as head basketball coach at St. Paul, Noon was one of four starters to return to St. Paul for the 1974-75. The Falcons entered the Class M tournament as the top-seeded team and won three of their four games by more than 20 points on the way to back-to-back state titles. Noon received the championship game MVP again in his second All-State campaign and went on to play basketball at the University of Hartford, where he earned All-American honors.

BRISTOL CENTRAL, 1989-90

One of the most successful teams in Rams’ history, the 1990 boys basketball team brought home the only state championship in program history and did not lose a game in the process. Finishing the year ranked as one of the top high school basketball teams in the country, Central capped off a 20-0 regular season with four wins in the Class L state tournament.

Led by All-State senior Malcolm Huckabee, Central entered the postseason as the top-seeded team and began its tournament run with a 96-59 win over Seymour in the second round and a 92-40 victory against Windham in the quarterfinals. After a three-point win over reigning runner-up Harding in the semifinals, the Rams met fellow undefeated and second-ranked St. Joseph’s and All-State selection Doremus Bennerman in the championship game, which Central squeaked out 66-65. 

This season completed a historic career for Huckabee, who left Central as the program’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,645 points and then went on to play for Boston College before playing professionally overseas and briefly in the NBA.

INNOVATION, 2018-19

Has there been a more dominant local boys basketball team in recent history than the Ravens, who rolled to a Division V state championship to for the school’s first-ever state title in any sport?

Innovation began the season by winning 17 of its first 18 games, then went on to win its second straight CRAL Tournament championship in dominant fashion, routing Aerospace 76-45 in the semifinals before upending Parish Hill 62-49 in the final. Once the Division V state tournament got underway, the Ravens kept punishing their opponents, winning their first two tournament games by double digits before grinding through a tough 42-38 win over Valley Regional in the semifinals. The game was close, and Innovation led by just two with 1:20 left in the game, but the Ravens never trailed from beginning to end.

The team went back to its dominant ways at Mohegan Sun Arena, punishing Old Lyme 62-41 in the final after forcing 21 turnovers to complete a 24-2 season.

This Innovation team boasted what was arguably one of the best frontcourts in the state that year, thanks to senior Lenny Okonya and junior LJ Hazelwood, who both were named All-State. Okonya, who went on to play at Clark University, averaged 13.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, while Hazelwood, who is committed to Eastern Connecticut State University, averaged a double-double as well.

BERLIN, 2005-06

Talk about a team that captured the hearts of a city for a few memorable weeks in March. The Redcoats, who had never won a state championship after losing in their only two state final appearances, lost eight games in the 2005-06 regular season before catching fire in the Division III state tournament. Entering the tournament as an 11 seed after reaching the Northwest Conference Tournament final, Berlin smacked Wright Tech 81-45 in the first round, then faced a tough test in No. 4 Waterford on the road in the second round. The Redcoats survived for a 49-45 win, then rolled over No. 3 Coventry 72-43. Led by a pair of 6-foot-7 playmakers in junior Doran Mitchell and senior Kyle Zarotney, Berlin continued its march to the championship game at CCSU, where the Redcoats nipped Wilby-Waterbury 58-53 behind 26 points from Mitchell, who was named the MVP.

Mitchell was named to the NWC all-conference team, while Zarotney, who had eight points and nine rebounds in the title game, was a McDonald’s All-American nominee after reaching 1,000 career points earlier in the season. The team was inducted into the Berlin High School Hall of Fame in 2019, and remains the only state champion in program history.

PLAINVILLE, 2005-06

This historic Blue Devils team may go down as the most improbable state champion in the history of local boys basketball. Plainville finished 8-12 during the regular season for the 26th seed out of 28 teams in the Division IV state tournament, and things looked especially bleak after the Blue Devils dropped six of their last seven games in the regular season, picking up one win over St. Paul to qualify for the tournament.

But Plainville turned it on at the right time, upsetting No. 7 Portland 67-57 in the opening round before picking up a thrilling 49-46 victory over Plainfield in the second round. The nail-biters continued from there with a six-point win over No. 18 East Windsor in the quarterfinals, but behind 24 points and nine rebounds from senior Javon Mathis, the only soon-to-be graduate on the team, the Blue Devils ended the drama with a convincing 14-point win over No. 3 Morgan-Clinton to advance to the title game.

Plainville trailed by one midway through the fourth quarter in the championship against No. 5 Putnam, but a jumper by Alex Bulger with 4:27 to go gave the Blue Devils the lead for good in a 64-61 win. Mathis had 22 points in the win, and A.J. Wilkerson led the way with 26.

Plainville’s last game before the state tournament? A 34-point loss in the conference tournament. Safe to say the Blue Devils put that one behind them in a hurry, winning its first state title in 45 years.

PLAINVILLE, 1960-61

The Blue Devils’ last state title before their magical 2006 run came in 1961, another season when Plainville had to overcome plenty of adversity to win a championship.

The team’s star junior Bill Lasher, who went on to play collegiately at Providence University, was injured early in the season to give the Blue Devils an immediate obstacle. After beginning the season 0-2, Plainville rallied to win eight straight and finished with an 18-6 record and earned the sixth seed in the Class B state tournament. In the first round against nearby rival Newington, the Blue Devils won 47-33 behind 20 points from Earle Jackson, who combined with a finally healthy Lasher for 37 points in a rout of Abbott Tech in the second round.

Simsbury, which beat Plainville twice earlier in the season, represented a tough test in the semifinals, but the Blue Devils came away with a 39-35 win and went on to dominate on defense again in the final, beating Lyman Hall 45-36 to seal the program’s second state title in three years.

Plainville didn’t have any All-State talent on its roster that year, but collectively put together one of the most memorable seasons in school history. 

ST. PAUL, 1987-88

Entering the 1988 Class M tournament as the eighth-seeded team in their region, the Falcons were not a team expected to make a deep run in the playoffs. Boasting the talents of two-time All-State selection Carey Edwards, the Falcons played progressively closer games as the tournament advanced.

Following a 12-point win over Central Catholic in the first round, St. Paul was pitted against top-seeded Northwest Regional in the second round. The Falcons earned a 65-55 win to move on to the quarterfinals where the contests became far more challenging.

The run continued against E.O. Smith as St. Paul played its closest tournament game so far with a 58-53 win. Next up was the semifinals at Quinnipiac against Kolbe Cathedral and All-State talent Chris Smith, but the Falcons emerged victorious again with a 61-58 final score to earn a place in the championship game.

New London was St. Paul’s final opponent in the tournament and a win required all 32 minutes of play before the Falcons won their third Class M championship with a 54-52 win. Head coach Fran Serratore took over for Palladino immediately after he won his second straight championship in 1975, and after coaching many talented teams, Serratore was finally able to win a championship.

TERRYVILLE, 1994-95

The Kangaroos’ most recent boys basketball championship will be remembered for the rest of time. Coming off of a 19-1 regular season and a Berkshire League Championship, Terryville entered the Class S postseason as the second-seeded team in the tournament. 

Led by Tim Mischke, Terryville started the tournament with a 28-point win over Old Saybrook in the first round. The Kangaroos encountered BL rival Gilbert in the second round and snuck out with a 64-62 win to earn a spot in the quarterfinals thanks to a late score from Jesse Russell in the final minute of play. 

A 57-53 win over Coginchaug and a 45-43 win against Portland put the Kangaroos in the state championship game against top-seed Putnam. A close game throughout, the score was tied at 56 entering the final 10 seconds of play and Terryville had the ball. Leading scorer Tim Mischke already had 20 points in the contest, but did not have a shot. He found Russell with a pass and Russell connected with Dennis Fowler, who used a screen to drill a 3-pointer as time expired to give Terryville its sixth state championship in program history. Fowler finished the game with 17 points, including Terryville’s last seven points, and was named game MVP.

HONORABLE MENTION: ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, 1982-83

The high school may no longer be open, but the memories of the team’s three-peat in the 1980s will never be forgotten.

Searching for its third straight state title and fourth in five years, St. Thomas cruised to the No. 1 seed in the Class M state tournament and routed a pair of local teams in Berlin and St. Paul to advance to the quarterfinals, where they won in a blowout again before claiming a thrilling 73-72 win over Ansonia to advance to the state championship, where they dispatched Sacred Heart 73-57 to become champions once again.

St. Thomas was led by a pair of All-State talents in Josh Farrell and Carl Miazga, as well as Dave Styulek, who recently was inducted into the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame.



Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, Innovation, New Britain, Plainville, Southington on Sunday, 12 April 2020 16:23. Updated: Sunday, 12 April 2020 16:26.